Jedi teachings for fundraisers

Or why every face to face fundraiser should watch The Star Wars: Episode V, The Empire Strikes back and pay very close attention to all that Master Yoda says.

I’ve been working in fundraising for many years, finding joy in leading successful teams to sign-up supporters for Greenpeace (for further details see my resume). The micro-environment of my work has taught me some of my most important lessons about life, people and myself. But it works the other way around as well. I have often made comparisons between my work and other parts of life, especially other passions, like football, love, live concerts and chocolate.

But the wisdom you find in Star Wars; I had missed that completely! One reason for this would probably be that when I got hooked into the phantom, I was a small kid, understanding the greatness of it through my emotions but not truly understanding it. I was around 10 when the old films would play on the TV, usually on weekend afternoons, right after the whole family had finish lunch and would then relax (and eventually fall asleep, especially my dad) in the living room. I got acquainted with Greek classic films the same way, same as with other classics like Back to the Future and Indiana Jones. I watched those films sooo many times, yet not once from beginning to end nor paying my fullest attention. So this time, after I watched the newest and awesomest one (spoil it I will not) and got myself excited again, I decided to do a Star Wars marathon. This was teh first time I ever watched these classics as an adult. And I loved them even more! And I remembered my lessons.

Here we go, dear fundraiser:

Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

I remember once telling a member of my team that trying is for loosers. Surprisingly enough that person was shocked, almost offended (I’m not the subtlest of people at times). But what I meant – and what Master Yoda explains more eloquently than I – is that if you say you will try, you are already doubting the outcome. You are basically saying “maybe – let’s see – if my luck helps me – if the stars are aligned – if only someone appreciates my efforts – well I don’t know – I will just try”. And then if you fail (which is very likely if you don’t have confidence in what you do) you will comfort yourself saying that, at least, you tried. So there’s the connection between trying and losing. I know it sounds harsh. Of course, the effort should be acknowledged and rewarded. But the effort is NOT the end goal. It is the process and the important work you have to do in order to reach your goal.

[Luke:] I can’t believe it. [Yoda:] that is why you fail.

Although this is a continuation to the above, it is not Paulo Coelho. I am not betting my success on ‘believing strongly enough so that the stars align and give me what I want’. It is a different thing to wish for something and to will for it to happen. If you believe it, you may succeed. I cannot tell you that you will surely succeed. But I can assure you that, if you don’t believe it, you will definitely fail.

Much to learn you still have.

Yes, you are a good fundraiser. Yes, you have experience and yes, you have convinced the most skeptical supporters. But that does not mean that you know everything. What is great in our work, is that you talk to real people, in the real world that is always changing. This means that you always have something new to learn, or at least to improve. Look forward to it – if you stop having anything to learn, then probably you should move on to something else. *However, I have worked with fundraisers that go to the other extreme with this one – they cannot perform well, unless they know everything. Well, this is impossible, and the best way to learn is by doing.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.

A bit too dramatic, but my point here is that we often enter into a vicious circle in our job. It is hard not to worry about results. What if you can’t perform well and you end up loosing your job? I  regret that I was not always successful in making my teams understand that this fear only makes it worse. You start seeing people like wallets and you talk to them about our campaigns already with the fear that they probably won’t sign-up. Then – largely due to your lack of concentration to the real person in front of you and to lack of confidence – you loose this potential supporter. Then you get angry with them and with yourself. Then you are still angry when you talk to the next person or when you are trying to make people stop and listen to you, although you don’t really show them that you want to talk to them, you just show them that ‘they should stop, those a**holes’! And the results don’t come. And so on.

Yes, a Jedi’s strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the Force are they. Easily they flow, quick to join you in a fight. If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

You control your work. You cannot control other people or the weather or if they have their credit cards with them or not. But you can control yourself. And you must trust yourself – your force; believe and expect from you to do your best. Don’t focus so much in complaining about things that are out of your control or just making you lose focus. It may make you feel better in the beginning, but in the end, you only get consumed by your own complaints.

Named must your fear be before banish it you can.

Where fear = lack of technique or training or even fear itself at times and disbelief. I remember forgetting all about the ‘sandwich method’ and proclaiming with excitement to a fundraiser “I know what your problem is, I found what you do wrong!!!” Not the best thing to hear from your boss I guess, so I just had to explain that I’m so happy because I knew how to help them. Only if you know what the problem is, may you be able to fix it. And fix it we will!

Patience you must have my young padawan

Easier said than done, I know. But I laugh so hard every time a newbie tells me on their first day (most probably after their first 15′ on the streets) that “the people are not stopping, they don’t wanna listen to me!” Strangely enough, these people have kept one of the biggest and most dynamic organisations alive for more than 40 years. Thanks to the patience of thousands of fundraisers such as yourself. *good advice for new leaders too, breathe in, breathe out…

Always pass on what you have learned.

The most basic recipe for a happy team! And one that brings a great satisfaction to all.

May the force be with you.

Of course. I would love to be more original, but it would be a disgrace not to finish my post like this. My wish after all this is.



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