Yes, there is a “u” in fundraising, but it’s not about you.

Fundraisers are a passionate lot and with that passion comes strong opinions on various and sundry topics. However, there’s a time to  speak up for what you believe and a time to remain silent. Specifically, if your views run counter to those espoused by a donor with whom you are engaged in conversation, keep your mouth shut.

Newcomers to development can be tempted to argue or attempt to correct. However, as veteran fundraisers know, it’s essential to keep personal opinions about politics, hot-button social issues, and theology to yourself. If a donor’s comments veer into uncomfortable (for you) territory, smile, nod, and steer the conversation back to the purpose of the visit.

Doing otherwise can jeopardize the organization’s relationship with the donor.

Yes, there is a “u” in fundraising, but the work isn’t about you, dear fundraiser. It’s about the organization that you represent — its mission, programs, purposes, and accomplishments. The work is also about the loyal friends of the organization and the giving priorities to which God has called them.


I recognize that the level of restraint I’ve just described is a heavy cross for passionate folk to bear. That’s why I encourage fundraisers to identify a sympathetic listener on whom they can unload following a troublesome encounter with a friend of the organization.

Amber Williams, writing for the Harvard Business Review blog, assures that “you do have the power to manage how, when, and to whom to raise concerns in ways that will encourage positive change in your environment” and then suggests the following strategies for using that power.

“Choose your audience carefully.” You don’t want to spout off to just anyone. Trust is essential, as is confidentiality. In Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry Thom Jeavons and I reference the importance of seeking out a spiritual adviser or spiritual director. We suggest that it is crucial, both for the health of the organizations they serve and for their own personal well-being that development staff in faith-based settings look for help in keeping themselves spiritually fit and right with God.

“Keep a cool head.” Ranting and raving feels good in the moment (I speak from personal experience), but we don’t learn much from a tantrum. As Williams advises, “It is worth stepping back, working through your emotions, and taking the time to plan what you want to communicate.” The writer of Proverbs promises that “a soft word turns away wrath,” including, I believe, our own anger toward others. The goal in talking is to let go of personal hurt as you seek to understand the one whose comments caused you to simmer.

“Create the opportunity for dialogue.” Although your conversation partner is a stand-in for the one with whom you would really like to speak forthrightly, there’s still the opportunity for dialogue. Assuming, that is, that you’re open to being nudged to consider what’s really important to the donor whose comments we found offensive. We must genuinely seek to understand how this person puts his or her faith into practice. And you should be prepared to question your own assumptions and tightly held opinions. Unless you’re willing to grow and change, there’s not much value in the talking.


Lest I give the impression that frustration is the norm for fundraisers, let me assure you otherwise. On most days, the work is a delight. For those who approach their work as ministry, conversations with donors are joyful and spiritually enriching.

As fundraisers connect with donors in shared commitment to a worthy cause, divisive issues are far less likely to rear their ugly heads. And when differences do arise (as is only human), God’s grace is more than enough to clear the air.

Fundraisers are a passionate lot. When that passion combines with faith, all things are possible, including harmony within differences.

For more on harmonious relationships with donors, see:

When saying thank you, downplay the part about you

Listening for the gift

Money talks. Are you listening?




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