It is said that some fundraising professionals in the nonprofit world—and even some in profit-making industries (e.g., investments) and even those who gravitate to political spheres—share characteristics that resemble qualities we find in both the animal and plant kingdoms. It is unlikely this is a thought that crosses most minds. But it does mine every so often. There are some veritable lessons one can learn from both the animal and plant kingdoms.
For instance, the Venus flytrap is perhaps best known for its carnivorous eating habits. The end of each leaf has two hinged lobes that make up the trap. The inner surface of the lobes has hair-like and very sensitive projections that snap shut when prey come into contact with them. Usually, insects that are caught by the flytrap are digested and serve as nutrients for the environment.
What you may not know about the Venus flytrap is this: It is said to promote anti-inflammatory conditions in the human body when consumed regularly. The Venus flytrap is rich in antioxidants and has traditionally been used for strengthening the immune system. The entire fresh plant is used medicinally. Bet you didn’t know that.
So, while a comparison to fundraisers can carry a negative connotation, the benefits of the Venus flytrap cannot be underestimated. Antioxidants are good for the physical body, and so too are professionals who raise essential funds for the nonprofit who act in much the same way. They are the medicine required to boost the immune system of the nonprofit. And by doing so, they strengthen services that are needed for the most vulnerable in society. Let’s give credit where credit is due.
Every fundraiser brings his or her own talents and skills to the table, but not all are principled in their approach and are sometimes comparable to the negative qualities of the Venus flytrap. Here is one case of a fundraiser that I knew who fell into the latter category.
We were preparing for a major campaign. Every professional I worked with generally had his or her own portfolio of donors with whom they stayed in touch. This is necessary for various reasons, including maintaining continuity with contributors, keeping a manageable number of individuals to solicit, handling donor personality quirks and preserving enhanced interpersonal relationships.
One professional on the team was eminently successful. But (yes, there is a “but”) he also projected an aggressive personality. So, like the Venus flytrap that brings essential nutrients to the environment, his successful engagements with philanthropists really were indispensable. However, on occasion his approach was very forceful and some felt trapped into a gift. Gift giving is, of course, voluntary but now and then it takes time for a commitment to settle in. In one case a major gift could have been paid over time—two or three years. Yet the benefactors felt they were coerced into making an immediate payment. This left a sour taste in the mouths of our friends.
Next, on to the animal kingdom.
In 1998, Robert Redford directed and starred in “The Horse Whisperer,” an American Western film. It’s the story of a cowboy with an almost magical ability to calm unruly horses. What is clear in the movie is that with the right communication approach horses have an uncanny sense of listening. In fact, one can teach horses to respond to certain words in addition to gestures, mannerisms and physical touching. It works both ways—with humans and horses.
In a wonderful website, skillsyouneed.com, listening is listed as the communication skill you especially need to master. “Listening is the ability to accurately receive and interpret messages in the communication process. Listening is key to all effective communication. Without the ability to listen effectively, messages are easily misunderstood. … Effective listening is a skill that underpins all positive human relationships.”
So, you ask, what do horses have in common with raising funds? Everything.
One of the most effective fundraisers I knew was a man of few words. His greatest claim to fame was his ability to listen to the people he went to see. He would present his case in a brief, deliberative manner that his donors understood to be well thought through and purposeful. And sometimes implicit in the fewer words spoken was a sizable and rich language explaining the need for a project or program. After presenting he would sit back and just listen to the philanthropist, answer questions and be silent. It was impactful and efficacious. Like a trained horse, his listening for the right cues is what proved most effective.
Monty Roberts, the best-selling author of “The Man Who Listens to Horses,” said: “Horses are our silent partners. When we learn their language. This partnership grows strong.”
Or as songwriter Jay Livingston would croon in the famous “Mister Ed” theme song:
“A horse is a horse of course of course,
And no one can talk to a horse of course.
That is of course unless the horse
Is the famous Mister Ed!”
So, my question is: What qualities of the plant or animal kingdoms do you possess?
Norman B. Gildin is the author of the recently released book on nonprofit fundraising, “Learn From My Experiences.” He is the president of Strategic Fundraising Group, whose singular mission is to assist nonprofits raise critical funds for their organization. His website is www.normangildin.com.