What the Supermarket and Fundraising Have in Common

September 17, 2015

Chalk this up for what clients can teach consultants. An experienced, skilled, and bigger-than-life fundraiser who serves as Foundation CEO at a public higher education institution shared this secret with me. Every so often on a Friday evening, he drops by the local supermarket with one thing on his list: find a stranger in the aisles and strike up a conversation with him or her. Really.

Did I say “experienced, skilled, and bigger-than-life fundraiser”? And why on earth would Mr. Successful CEO, who has already exceeded his college’s largest campaign goal ever, and personally pulled in more than a few seven- and eight-figure gifts, need to test his relationship-building skills in the canned foods aisle of the grocery store?

Because, Mr. CEO’s first name only got to be “Successful” with that kind of practice – and with a healthy dose of humility. You’ve got to be humble to convince yourself that even with lots of fundraising victories under your belt, there is always more you can learn about talking – wait, strike that – listening to people. That is one of the skills Mr. Successful CEO beats most other fundraisers at, hands down. He listens (and does so “with his eyes,” something I never forgot hearing a little child admonish her multitasking mom to do), and he knows how and when to respond so that the prospective donor feels she’s been heard.

Mr. Successful CEO has learned that one of the key components to building the fundraising coffers is building donor relationships…and you can never rest on your laurels when seeking a prospect’s trust and buy-in of your organization’s case for support. I am reminded of that every time I drive by the supermarket!

– Patricia House, Senior Vice President

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