Here is the full text of development strategist Kara Logan Berlin’s talk titled “How to be a better fundraiser” at TEDxSantaClaraUniversity conference.
Kara Logan Berlin – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
I’m here today to talk about fundraising, or as you probably think of it, “the other F-word.”
Because if you want to change the world, you have to know how to pay for it. I’m not talking about being a good person — you can do that for free. I’m talking about if you want to create something, start something, galvanize a community, improve the lives of others, run for office.
Every day, great ideas die on the vine, because they don’t have capital to get off the ground. And all of the work, the thought, the vision that goes into the idea, isn’t worth much if you can’t pay your bills.
And while most of the greatest social movements in history were powered purely by an idea and people’s belief in that idea, real change and impact require resources.
Real people do this work, they need real change, real impact and resources to actually make it happen. The people that believe in this work have to have the support and the resources to do it. That’s where I come in. I get essential resources into the hands of people and visionaries on the front lines, doing work that matters.
We spend the majority of our waking hours working. We spend more time working than we do with our loved ones. So I decided early on that I have to love my work, and it has to add value.
And while I would love to be one of these people who spearheads social change from the ground up, the thing I realized early on in my non-profit career is that the thing I’m good at, the thing I’m really good at, is raising money. And I love it. I think it is a privilege to work alongside bold, ambitious, optimistic leaders and the organizations they serve.
So I teach people how to do the thing I’m good at, because the more people that learn how to be good at my end of this work, the more work will get done.
And I teach everyone. I teach CEOs and presidents, and boards of directors and EDs. I teach development directors in all sorts of teams and non-profit newbies, social change agents and candidates. I teach anyone that wants to do something extraordinary how to fund their dream.
My dream is that there will be more people like me doing this work well and that development will be an undergraduate course at universities, so that fundraising animals like me will find this job out of the gate, instead of discovering it years later, accidentally.
I even have the curriculum developed, but short of overhauling undergraduate course requirements, I think tonight’s probably a good first step to get people to think about fundraising more as an opportunity and less as a dirty word.
If you want to change the world, you have to know how to pay for it. To do that well, you have to understand three big things. Your feelings about wealth and money, the importance of building relationships, and how to ask for what you want.
Let’s start at the top, your feelings about wealth and money. What is your relationship to money? Money is complicated, it makes everyone squeamish, it makes everyone act kind of weird. Anyone who’s ever had to split the check after dinner with friends can tell you this. Imagine what it was like before Venmo.
To help people learn how to raise money, you have to help them understand their deal with money, because everybody has baggage. Grew up poor? Baggage. Grew up rich? Baggage. Mad or envious that other people have more money than you? Baggage.
Think people with money are smarter than you? Baggage. Feel guilty that you have more money than other people? That’s some first-class baggage.
It’s still baggage, people, it’s still baggage.
So whatever your deal is with your baggage, you have to reconcile it if you’re going to be able to ask for money. And here’s a little tip about asking people for money. The only difference about really wealthy people and us is that they have more money than us. That’s it. Don’t overcomplicate it. They come with their own baggage.
When you think about how to do this work, it’s important to remember that money makes the world go round. You hear that all the time, but it’s true. Whether you’re a non-profit, for-profit, or you pay your own bills. We often feel like talking about it is this icky, embarrassing, ugly thing, but it’s just money. And it’s a fact of life.
So how you feel about it directly affects how you approach it. Like everyone else when I started out in this work, I had to examine and understand my own feelings about wealth and money. And I had to learn how to separate them from how I feel about raising money for important causes.
How I feel about asking for money to help people do good work in the world is not the same as how I feel about asking for money for myself. This is an important distinction.
When I go and talk to someone, I’m not asking them to pay my mortgage. I’m giving them an opportunity to invest in an idea that’s going to change the world for the better.
Why should I feel bad about that? The answer is that I shouldn’t. I wouldn’t feel bad about giving them the inside tip on a hot stock. And I am not going to feel bad about giving them the inside tip on empowering social change either.
If you want to be good at raising money, you have to be able to reframe the ask, both for yourself and for other people, as an opportunity.
Next, you have to get prepared to build some relationships. People give to people, they don’t just give to ideas. And if they don’t believe in the person running the place, you’re already dead in the water. This is true whether you’re in stocks or venture capital, politics or nonprofits.
Building a relationship with people takes work. You have to care about more than just what you want or need, you have to also value what someone else wants or needs. I know, it’s a shocking, terrible idea.
But oftentimes, closing gifts is understanding the person, more than it’s important to know the product. And if you think building a relationship with people takes work, building a relationship with someone you’re asking for money from takes work, and it takes homework.
Have you done any research? Do you have any idea what they care about? Do you know why they should invest in your work? Can you answer that question in less than 30 seconds? If you can’t, the meeting is going to be pretty rough. And the answer can’t be “Because they’re super rich and they live in your zip code.”
When you talk to people and understand what they care about, it has to be in person. Fundraising is relational, it’s not transactional. And you have to ask them questions.
When I sit down with a donor, it goes something like this. “Hi, thanks so much for seeing me. How have you been? Did you guys go anywhere fun over holiday? Nice, I love Mexico. Do you always go to the same place? Oh, that’s awesome! Are those your kids? They’re so cute. How old are they? Where are they in school? Oh, that’s a great school, are you guys very involved there? Your spouse in on the board? How’s that? How did you guys meet? Oh, at Santa Clara, that’s awesome. Are you super involved in the alumni network? So interesting. Where do you guys live, again? That’s great. Is that your boat?”