Thursday, December 02, 2021

One of my favorite times of the year always was the annual Labor Day Muscular Dystrophy telethon hosted by Jerry Lewis. Seeing the amazing lineup of stars who entertained us was quite a spectacle. But truthfully, the most emotional part of the telethon, aside from “Jerry’s Kids,” was the grand finale 24 hours later when Jerry sat on his stool, lit only by a spotlight, gripping his mic and walking off with an emotional rendering of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” That moment always brought a lump to my throat and my eyes welled up with tears. Jerry faded into the night until the following year, having raised critical funds for the charity.

The lyrics of the song inspired me and are particularly apropos to fundraisers or volunteers who easily get frustrated when struggling to raise money for their charity.

When you walk through a storm

Hold your head up high

And don’t be afraid of the dark.

At the end of the storm

Is a golden sky

And the sweet, silver song of a lark.

Walk on through the wind

Walk on through the rain

Though your dreams be tossed and blown.

Walk on, walk on

With hope in your heart

And you’ll never walk alone

You’ll never walk alone.

When I began my career in fundraising, I learned that you might strike paydirt only once in every 20 phone calls to prospective contributors. So I set my sights on getting to call number 20. Guess what? There were times when I got to call numbers 30, 40 and beyond, but still no luck. My motto became “Don’t give up!” So, Jerry’s yearly swansong was an inspiration as I marched on.

In today’s age of advanced technology, cold calling has become more problematic unless combined with a proven list of donors to the charity. But you can’t give up!

A far more effective approach in obtaining charitable gifts was setting up appointments to meet donors in their home, place of business or on neutral terrain such as a restaurant. Today, this has become more challenging for various reasons. Unless you are well connected with the philanthropist, getting a “cold” appointment is an arduous task. Here are some reasons why.

For one, you must get past the gatekeeper to secure the appointment. Receptionists, secretaries and administrative assistants are no longer as cooperative as they once were, because their bosses trained them accordingly. Technology tells them who is calling. And after the first meeting, even leaving behind a box of chocolates for the assistant is no longer in vogue. As the wise Forrest Gump said, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” No appointments are guaranteed.

Donors themselves have become more sophisticated in eluding professional fundraisers. If you are in a large metropolitan area, getting into a high-rise apartment or office building is quite an undertaking. Unless you arranged in advance to meet the prospect, getting past security is no mean feat. Your personal identification is no longer enough. The donor must place you on their list of approved guests. And now some buildings have a “Deny entry” request in place for some guests. Oy vey!

In-person galas are making a comeback now that mass vaccinations are decelerating the pandemic. But some older benefactors, baby boomers who account for the bulk of charitable contributions in the United States, are still wary of the efficacy of the vaccines. They are not anxious to find themselves in crowds. Nonetheless, in time, with the effectiveness of the injections and with the bringing about of herd immunity, this concern may dissipate.

Thomas Edison once said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” Life is full of challenges, and giving up might be just one step away from success. We should, therefore, take to heart what is learned in Ethics of our Fathers, 2:21: “It is not incumbent on you to finish the task, but neither are you free to absolve yourself from it.” We are expected to put in the maximum effort and do our best.

So as the song goes, “Hold your head up high … At the end of a storm is a golden sky, and the sweet silver song of a lark.” With hope in your heart, know that you will never walk alone if you keep going, even when the path is strewn with obstacles and is arduous to navigate.

These are just some thoughts that are grist for the mill. As they say, don’t be verklempt, and go talk amongst yourselves.

Norman B. Gildin has fundraised for nonprofits for more than three decades and has raised upwards of $93 million in the process. Formerly a Teaneck resident for 34 years, he is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds. He can be reached at [email protected]

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