Recall the one teacher in your life that made the most positive and lasting impression on you. Perhaps you remember a teacher from your earliest years. Or perhaps it was a university professor that made the impact. Although I’m no gambler, I would wager that this teacher engaged you far beyond the content of the class and displayed an interest in you as a unique individual with gifts and graces. It wasn’t only his expertise or her intellect that made the difference. It was your teacher’s authentic care for you.
Contrast this memory with what occurs in so many advancement programs today. In so many instances, gift officers focus almost exclusively on their message. They focus on their talking points, their content, and the institution’s case for support.
So many spend the bulk of their time prior to a donor visit preparing to “tell and sell.” Or to use a crasser phrase, to “show up and throw up.” The conventional wisdom is that our job is to influence, to sway, to convince, and “to close the ask.” At best, it’s as if our job is to do something to someone. At worst, it’s as if our work is to hawk the philanthropic equivalent of a damaged used car on an unsuspecting prospect.
But what if we view ourselves as teachers of philanthropy and our work as facilitating the learning of the joy of giving? What if we remind ourselves – from our own experiences – what our very best teachers did with and for us? And what if we pattern our advancement efforts after those exemplars?
We would seek to understand our donors first and educate them on our needs second. We would ask more questions and spout fewer facts. We would show more concern for them and less concern for our institution’s goals. We would engage them more and solicit them less.
About education and teaching, the noted Irish poet, William Butler Yeats is quoted as having said,
Education is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of a fire.
Whether it is teaching or advancement, we shouldn’t worry ourselves about “the filling of the pail” (neither theirs nor ours). Instead, we should seek to light the fire.