Usually when people think of humility, it is not the first quality that they want others to notice about themselves. Humility can sometimes be associated with a lack of confidence, knowledge, or skill in a particular profession. In the world of non-profit fundraising, this is no different. Humility can be perceived as a character flaw, but in this case, perception is not reality.
“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” – C.S. Lewis
As the quote above suggests, the problem begins with our own understanding of what humility is. In actuality, humility takes us out of the equation as it strives to think of others (prospects, donors, colleagues) as more important than our own agenda. It is walking into a qualification meeting and seeing the prospect as a person first and a potential donor second. It is following up with a colleague to help them secure a gift, when it has nothing to do with your own performance.
You may be thinking, “That’s all well and good, and it is an inspiring philosophy, but we have metrics to achieve.” And you’re 100% right. We do have metrics and those metrics are often how leadership and our peers view us professionally. So where does humility fit into the equation?
My own tenure as a major gift fundraiser is not the 10+ years that many of my peers can boast of, but one thing I’ve noticed early on in my career is that there are ebbs and flows in fundraising. There are years where you are on top of the mountain, there are years where you are in the middle of the pack, and there are years where you are down in the valley. That is the world of a development officer. There are ebbs and flows, and we cannot compare ourselves based on the performance of others or our previous year’s performance. Some gifts will close when you expect them to, others will take another 12-18 months, and others will be closed by your successor 10 years from now. Stay humble and control what you can control: your attitude and your work ethic. Let humility be your best friend.
All of this is a lesson in humility, a lesson in thinking of yourself less and thinking of others as more important. In your outreach, remember that every phone call or email is to another human being. They have a story that is unique, an experience that is personal, and a passion that is important. In your cultivation, remember that your timetable is not theirs. Life has unexpected curves that detour all of our plans, be flexible and be caring. In your solicitation, remember that this is a person’s hard earned money and they have every right to ask any question they have. It’s OK to schedule another meeting. Go find the answer to their question, sit down with them again, and proceed forward. Be genuine and intentional, follow-up continuously. In stewardship, remember that their experience giving could be a story that they share to someone else one day. It could lead to another gift through them or through a referral.
Let humility be the foundation of your life as a fundraiser. Treat your donors how you would want someone to treat you. Build up your colleagues when they need encouragement. Praise them when they are crushing it, and never let comparison be the thief of your joy.