June 21, 2024
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June 21, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Jordan Peterson is a renowned Canadian clinical psychologist, author and media personality. Although some of his conservative views may stir political controversy, Jordan Peterson is also famous for his highly popular book “12 Rules for Life.” In it, he lays down 12 simple rules on how we should conduct our lives. While not everyone agrees with his entire approach, there is, however, meaning and substance to much of what he writes. He may not have intended it this way, but we can glean common sense advice from the book for fundraisers at nonprofits.

The thrust of his book is about taking individual responsibility. His approach, simply stated, is: don’t be concerned with other problems until you fix your own. Peterson argues that there is a right way and a wrong way to lead your life. He posits that if everyone followed the practices he delineates in the twelve rules, we would solve many of society’s ills.

Let me address three of his rules as they may apply to fundraisers.

In Rule 1, he postulates that you should fix your posture. If you slouch, you won’t project an air of confidence and will telegraph to people the appearance of defeat. Your poor bearing will convey inferior status. My mother always told me to stand tall and straight and not walk about like the hunchback of Notre Dame. She didn’t write a best-selling book like the classic of said title, but she knew what she was talking about. My appearance and manner of walking have always projected a stable presence. When I met donors whose first impressions were critical and lasting, it augured well for me. You are also treated with more respect by others if you stand straight.

Two contradictory stories come to mind of development officers I knew who walked around stooped. Sam, the first fundraiser, always looked slumped over. As far as his portfolio was concerned, he wasn’t very productive. His fundraising potential was never fully realized. He did not convey a feeling of reassurance to those he met. As Plato, the ancient Greek philosopher said, “The measure of a man is what he does with power.” This means that the way a person responds to the power we give him can tell us something about his character and integrity. Sam failed this test with his poor posture.

The second executive, Manny, always dressed like a “schlepper” and walked around with a twisted haunch. Despite this, he was eminently successful. Go figure. It seems he was after the sympathy vote. Still, more times than not, how you carry yourself makes a difference.

Rule 3 is: Surround yourself with people who want you to succeed. Joe Torre, the former New York Yankees manager, used to say: “There is no ‘I’ in team.” And as the late Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once said: “There is no ‘I’ without the ‘we.’”

From my perspective, the development staff I recruited held the same sentiment. Working together, in step, towards the same goals was essential to our success. We had a staff that I compared to spokes on a wheel. The wheel becomes wobbly if a spoke breaks. A team that works as one, with everyone’s success in mind, harmonizes and accomplishes its goals.

The success of my mentors also rested on the teams they assembled to fulfill our missions. Each of them created well-oiled machines working in harmony with the other. From running half-billion-dollar companies to managing social service agencies and nursing homes, this principle held true. The team in each department of the organization chart knew exactly what was expected of it. They got the job done. That being said, there are always rotten apples in the bunch. There were a few of these, but we filtered them out as necessary. It was a pleasure to work with some talented people.

Rule 9 states: Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t. This rule has several applications, both for donors and colleagues.

If you do all the talking, there will be no room for growth or improvement. I once witnessed a fundraiser monopolize a conversation, which turned off the contributor. Personal solicitations for funds are two-way conversations. You might learn something as well. Solomon (named after the king, who was indeed wise) felt he needed to talk endlessly. It didn’t go over well with the philanthropist, a polite older woman with a generous track record. She declined to donate after a lengthy soliloquy by the fundraiser. Questions were never allowed. It should have been a slam dunk, but it wasn’t.

There have been too many instances when development coordinators felt like “know-it-alls.” Supervisors must be respected for their knowledge and background instead of being made to feel self-conscious about their views. We may not always agree with what managers tell us. However, if we want to make progress, we need to respect them. Human nature is what it is. We cannot adopt a supercilious attitude and expect excellent results. We are not asking you to act against your principles, just be thoughtful in your interactions.

It is by following these rules that the second half of the book’s title, “An Antidote to Chaos,” becomes clear. Few people enjoy disorder. Learning from these rules may be your remedy for an orderly and organized approach to successful fundraising, as well as in life.


Norman B. Gildin is the author of the popular book on nonprofit fundraising “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the President of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits to raise critical funds for their organization. His website is www.normangildin.com.

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