Being your best for year-end success is in a politics-free zone

by Marcy Heim on November 11, 2020

Veteran day quote

I want 2020 to be a good year for you! It’s never about the circumstances – it’s always about how we REACT to those circumstances – and that is ALWAYS our choice. Nelson Mandela thrived 27 years of unbroken incarceration by managing his thoughts. Period. You will get through 2020, and you will THRIVE! Period.

Now is the most important time for your major gift fundraising. No matter how you voted, or how you are feeling now, it’s November 11th and we are in the most important two months of your fundraising year. More than 30% of gifts are given during the month of December and 12% of those are given on the final 3 days of the year!  Last year, individual donors contributed$309.66 BILLION to US nonprofits – $92 BILLION in December and $37 BILLION during the last 3 days of the year.

My clients have experienced success with both special crisis campaigns and their on-going major gift needs. 2020 has been a good year for my clients.  They are taking action – having awkward but authentic and caring conversations – asking – and managing distractions.

I care about you and I want this year to be a success for you. May my observations on how successful major gift fundraisers are managing political conversation serve you for YOUR year-end success.

1. Spend some time to reflect on how much space you are going to give politics now, and in your life in general.  What priority does following the continuous drama of politics play in your personal and professional priorities?  What does “being informed” look like to you and what are your best sources of solid facts (if this exists) to meet this? Does being in this space take you away from genuine, loving deep relationship with others? Is it worth it?

2. Political and race conversations can quickly get emotionally charged and filled with fear and anger. There’s an inherent winner-loser feel to them that quickly puts you into the land of taking sides. The drama of these conversations is a distraction to your year-end fundraising work. Even if the conversation is “civil” the separation or hurt can linger unspoken, beneath the surface, long afterwards in a disappointing, “we just don’t agree,” feeling.

3. Remember, “People like people like themselves.”  We are hard-wired to be afraid of what is not like us. We are drawn to those we feel share our values and interests. Politicians generally build relationships on their re-election value. We choose our friends and mates based on having common interests and beliefs. Relationships fail when we “have nothing in common.” Focusing on safety, education, health, faith and love as core values quickly demonstrates how, at our core, we all want the same things. Build authentic, not manipulative/transactional relationships – your donors feel the difference


4. The number one reason people give (according to the great research of Penelope Burk and others) is they believe in your mission and want to make a difference, NOT because you share political views.  I’ve asked for and received 8 figure gifts from both parties – politics was never part of the conversation.

It remains vitally important to voice what the money does – REALLY does– beyond fund the scholarship, build the building, or fund the program. How does their giving impact other people? You may wish to revisit my post on how our values have changed since March 2020 here. One quick example….your conversations regarding a building or remodeling project is about having a space worthy of the life-changing work that happens within it much more than the size or “prestige” of the named space.  This is already well documented with the increasing number of anonymous major gifts and my clients are experiencing this in the successful capital campaigns I’m coaching right now.

5. Take care using labels to describe others.  Labels blame, judge, separate us, and conjure pre-existing perceptions. For example, forming A, B, and C groups to categories “faster” and “slower” learners has been proven to be harmful for children developing to their full capacity. Do the labels we apply for politics, race and wealth serve us in providing solutions or do they simply deepen the divide?

6. DO listen to signals of how your donors view their ability to make a major gift now. Again…I’m not talking about small annual gifts of $10-$500. Major gifts – those transforming gifts – are often made with appreciated assets. Here the important conversation is not politics, but if they feel markets will be impacted. Are they concerned for their investments? What is their perception of governmental regulations on the vitality of their business and/or other local businesses? These beliefs (and financial realities as we move forward) need to be addressed as you continue to find that project that brings your donor the JOY of giving. “How are you managing now?” should get this conversation started.

7.  Manage your drama and stress to stay well. This requires constant attention to our sub-conscious thinking. “We become what we think about” includes our propensity to get sick. The things we fear and focus on we make happen. Why people react so differently to the virus is still not clearly known. It is well know that stress, anxiety and fear make us sick. Simply put, notice what conversations give you knots in your stomach. If political conversations tie you in knots, drop them! Our communications in our brain interferes with our body’s ability to manage cortisol and other stress hormones. Here is a good article on natural ways to lower cortisol. 

8.  Have empathy for others. Love, don’t judge. It is beyond YOUR situation. Quit allowing political leaders to impact your judgement of how others behave during this time – you don’t know their situation. One of my clients shared that their senior residents have been alone in their rooms since March. Yes, they have a low rate of disease, but the loneliness is beyond comprehension. Families are choosing to keep their older family members home even if care would be better in a facility because they may never see them again if they take them to a facility. There are elderly people choosing to be with their families this holiday even if it may bring on illness. That’s hardly “reckless.”

young & lonely

We criticize young people for ignoring the dangers. Imagine being 20-30. You are single and living alone away from your family and friends with your new work. You loved being in the office and interacting with your work colleagues. You have been told you will be working remotely from now on. You can’t go to church or synagogue, you can’t play sports, you can’t go to a bar, etc. These are long days alone. I’m not debating mask or no-mask – I am simply saying that getting upset and judging others is bad for your health and your fundraising success.

Paulo Coelho quote

YOU are part of an amazing collection of non-profit professionals, donors and volunteers. YOU have a special opportunity, and powerful role to play in making this time one of deepening our understanding or others, embracing all, demonstrating patience and love for beliefs, traditions, and experiences different from ours. It’s exhausting and exhilarating work to daily and constantly see yourself as someone who can lift up your neighbor.  YOU WILL THRIVE NOW!


May you be well and stay well.  May our leaders make wise decisions. May you connect with your donors to unite to inspire the power and joy of generosity.  May you find the best way to unite over the upcoming holidays. Remember, a smile, kindness, hope and generosity are contagious too!  Catch them!

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