April 8, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Don’t Lose Your Identity

What do Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne and Bruce Banner have in common? They closely guarded their secret identities as Superman, Batman and The Hulk. Depending on the circumstances, each understood what role they had to play.

Some writers use pseudonyms to conceal their identities as authors. To remain anonymous, JK Rowling wrote crime novels under the guise of Robert Galbraith.

Many celebrities and people with dual citizenship change their names to make themselves more marketable. Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch), Tony Curtis (Bernard Schwartz), and Woody Allen (Allen Stewart Konigsberg) are just a few examples.

Identity politics has also become a part of our everyday lives. Sometimes a man isn’t supposed to be a man and a woman isn’t supposed to be a woman. The concept defies biological logic. For many, these are confusing times. However, if you have an inner gender compass, you find things are not nearly as confusing as they seem.

Several fundraisers I knew were confused about their roles, which prompted me to write this column. They appeared to have a distinctive identity. In some cases, these identities did not bode well for them or for the nonprofit they purported to represent. I will explain.

One fundraiser I knew portrayed himself as a lay leader. In his mind, he didn’t want to be known as a professional development officer. Instead, he feigned the persona of a lay leader in the community, like those elected to nonprofit boards of directors. He didn’t associate with his fundraising team. He thought he was above them and would only associate with lay leaders of local nonprofit boards. His behavior resembled that of a lay leader. The only thing missing was his name on the letterhead. It didn’t go over well with my subordinates.

There were challenging repercussions caused by this individual. The positive side of this is that he developed significant relationships with potential donors. On the other hand, since other professionals from similar organizations had nurtured these individuals, he made them resentful of our nonprofit and some of our lay leaders.

There were also times when things didn’t turn out the way he had imagined. The leaders of these communities had other commitments. As a result, their contributions to our organization were nowhere near as significant as those they made elsewhere.

We found his attitude to be irritating as well. That he rarely worked with staff gave the impression that he was superior to us. In his mind, he was irreplaceable and wanted everyone to know who he was.

There was always a sense of condescension coming from him, and some of it was because of his work history. His background included working for a larger nonprofit than ours. As a result of working for our smaller nonprofit, he made staff feel like he was demeaned by being in their presence. It was clear in his words and actions. People saw it as a step down from a much larger, wealthier and more successful institution.

During board meetings, he always sat next to board members and never with staff. In board discussions unrelated to fundraising, he repeatedly added his uninvited opinion. It was evident that he was not a member of the team. Ironically, his major gifts and success did not eclipse anyone else’s.

The other fundraiser I knew was very involved in everything except fundraising. On some days, she acted as the nursing home administrator and directed staff to do things that were not her responsibility. As an example, we would find her in the dietary department dispensing recipes to the Food Service staff, demanding that they replace menu items. Other times, we found her in the Housekeeping department requesting workers to order cleaning supplies she deemed more efficient than their cleaning agents. In one instance, I overheard her complaining to the Finance Committee chair about the budget that was presented to the board by the CEO. Her involvement was viewed as beyond the scope of her job by everyone on staff.

Identity gives you a sense of belonging, which is crucial to your confidence and well-being. A wise man once said: “Unlike a drop of water which loses its identity when it joins the ocean, man does not lose his being in the society in which he lives. Man’s life is independent. He is born not for the development of the society alone, but for the development of his self.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson also said: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” As a fundraiser, you need to keep your focus on who you are as well as where you fit. If you do, it will augur well for you and your nonprofit.

OK, Clark Kent, you know what to do.


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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