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Why “How Matters” To Fundraising

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By Gil Israeli, Director of Prospect Research and Senior Writer, American Technion Society

The other day, the New York Times reported on a fairly amusing legal battle between Dov Seidman, a reknown leadership and innovation guru in the corporate world, and Chobani (with their unique yogurt straining and thickening process) over trademark rights to the expression “How Matters”.

Aside from the fact that this expression is general enough to offer even some speculation as to whether either one may have a legitimate legal claim, “How Matters” is particularly relevant to the fine points of successful fundraising.

On the immediate level, fundraising comes across as an incredibly simple business. Participants in a major gifts management meeting, both management and fundraisers, may review a prospect and initially voice the first direction forward – a limited field of definitive next steps: let’s invite him (the prospect) to a special event, or to meet one of our “ambassadors”, or let’s get him on a mission. More developed prospects also have their set field of next steps: let’s provide a report on the work of the project/center/etc to further cultivate him or her, let’s ask for a smaller gift to pave the way and develop his habit of giving, let’s have him meet the director of planned giving, let’s procure a testamentary letter, or let’s discuss a multi-year payment plan.

All this reminds me of those “trick shots” that billiard masters learn how to shoot after practicing… and practicing and practicing the same. (The shot presents in the perfect moment – a viable option like the next definitive step that the fundraiser foresees.) When one sees the shot, it looks remarkable, almost magically easy, though it’s not, requiring trained muscle memory and razor-sharp focus. Kiss shots, bank shots, running the ball along the length of a cushion into the pocket – all are in the vocabulary of the novice who putzs around in a pool hall a few times a year. But for a master, these shots are part of a repertoire that is seemingly “choreography on tap”.

The reality is that implementation of any of the aforementioned fundraising strategies is not incredibly simple. Billiard shots are acts of physics (measures of difference and impacts), while interactions between people is not a type of social physics at all. Physics is clean, finite and simple. Human interaction is unpredictable, typically complicated and nuanced. In implementation, in the work of fundraising, how matters – very much.

To draw another scientific term that is apt, the chemistry between people, which can be elusive to discern and choreograph to a positive end, is part of the art of fundraising. In fact, basic chemistry is the study of elements, how they can be isolated through careful scientific process and experimentation and what occurs to them when they make contact with each other.

When management and fundraisers think of how to combine new people in novel situations, “How matters” becomes foremost in their mind. It draws on their experience, basic instincts and what Oscar Wilde called “that uncommon thing called common sense.”

How – requires an act of prolepsis, an act of anticipation, which is not rational, while it is imaginative and visionary. Often, it’s also a gift that experience can refine.

At its best, this requires the projection of  a multi-step process by which a new prospect (someone who initially doesn’t know you), gradually evolves into a satisfied donor (someone who comes to know you, identifies with you, advocates for you, and may even come to love you). This is the epitome of chemistry and the very spirit of combining elements.

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