A Bizarre Tale from South Africa

by Marcy Heim on June 6, 2018

Ever had a volunteer’s passion go to unhelpful extremes? Let me share a tale from my trip to South Africa.

We were told to bring candy, stickers and soccer balls, if we wished, for the fifty or so 1st to 8thgraders at a small black school near our safari camp.  So with candy, stickers and 4 soccer balls my camp colleague, Stacy, and I arrived at the school with our host, Karon, who planned “excursions” of all kinds. She energetically explained her big goals for the school…if only she could raise the money. Clearly she was passionate about the place and spent considerable time as a volunteer there.

During Apartheid, Karon explained, black children were not educated. Period. Nothing.  Today schools had been set up for these black children in very rural parts of the country, most at least 60 miles from the nearest town. Some went home at night to families that worked at the nearby safari camps. Others, with families far, far away, boarded at the school. We stopped briefly in 2 classrooms, passed out candy and took pictures. The oldest kids did not participate.  Then Karon suggested we pick 4 children to receive the 4 soccer balls Stacy had brought.  When we shook our heads, confused, Karon jumped in and selected 4 kids. Outside, with balls in hand, Karon told them “These are YOUR balls. You take them home. They belong to you – not the school.”  This was not our intention so I said to Karon, “There has been a misunderstanding. These balls are for the school.” This triggered an emotional, detailed response about how Karon wanted these kids to have something to call their own.  She dismissed the 4 selected kids and took us to see the new dining area without another word about the balls.

When we returned to the common area ALL the children were outside and the lead teacher was trying desperately to resolve a situation. The kids with the 4 soccer balls looked terrified. The older boys were wielding scissors and knives and stabbing in the air pointing to the kids, the balls and us.  Now I stepped in loud enough for all to hear and slowly stated that these balls were the gift from my friend FOR EVERYONE. I looked at Karon directly and said she was free to give balls SHE purchased differently but she could not do this with the ones we brought.  Karon objected, said we didn’t understand, burst into tears, and went to the car.  I asked the teacher to explain to the kids, in Africanize language, that the balls were for the school – everyone. This generated applause during which Stacy marched right into the previously angry pack of older boys and ask them to promise her that they would not harm the balls or anyone else.  As I held my breath, they agreed.  The teacher said that Karon didn’t let her talk to the people who visited the school about what they really needed. We were dumped back at camp after a mostly silent ride.  It was bizarre. While Karon certainly meant well, she clearly was channeling any safari visitors she could engage with a “visit a local school” excursion to HER ideas of what the school needed and even what the kids should value – clearly out of step with the culture.

impactful generosity quote

Here are my top 10 reflections from my time in South Africa. Perspectives I humbly share and welcome your consideration and, of course, hit “reply” with your reactions.

1. People like people like themselves. We are most comfortable with people like us. Similar voice volume, jesters, language, interests. Same color, opinions, culture? We are, by nature, fearful of what is different from us. Stronger groups will separate out those who are “different” and label them as “lesser.” Generations believe what they are told is truth. We want people to be like us. But when we have an opportunity to really BE with others, and really examine our beliefs and actions, we discover we are really more alike and our old beliefs are simply not valid. Then begins the awkward actions to connect differently after a past of poor behavior. It’s so simple and so complicated. You can’t change action until you change thinking.

2. Wild animals are WILD animals. With visions of Disney personifying every critter I encountered in my head, seeing animals in their natural setting was a vivid reminder that nature is filled with wild, powerful animals fighting over females, food and territory. We eat them; they eat us and each other. While I saw them frolicking through the wide open preserves, our challenge to manage these animals on today’s planet earth complete with 7.6 billion people was clear. You can’t go back in time and magically have only 1 billion folks to share planet earth with.

3. What you reward you expand. If the government gives you money for children, you will have more children to get more money. This has no impact on how these children are cared for.  Governments everywhere are challenged to think through how they “help” so it actually helps.

4. The roar of the ocean is a universal magnet. Every race, language, age and personality joined me on my daily walks along the shores of the Atlantic in Cape Town. And everyone responded in kind to a smile and English, “good morning.”  I feel empowered with unlimited abilities to be, and do, anything by the ocean.

5. Water does not come out of every tap. In both Cape Town and Johannesburg airports bottles of hand sanitizer sat by dry sinks. Wash your face? Forget it. Dry water fountains sent me to purchase bottled water. Forget refilling. Limited toilet flushes and timed showers make me appreciate my abundance of water here.

6. Being silent is restorative.  The long walks on Safari and by the ocean without a word, perhaps 2-3 hours at a time was a completely new experience for me. (Yes, I can shut up for that long.) The mind quiets and space is created.  We need White Space.

7. Life goes better when you look together. Every day, even if I was just going to be in the bush, I dressed intentionally and totally. The days just go better when you start by making your bed.

Marcy at Cape of Good Hope

8. Manners magnify relationship-building across cultures and languages. Somehow, “I beg your pardon” “Excuse me, sir” immediately brings people closer, even if you don’t understand the language. Manners count.

9. Oceans and sunsets and stars expand your possibilities.  I could see the entire Milky Way Galaxy and feel the endless possibilities. The relentless crashing of the rough Atlantic Ocean waves into the shore was energizing. South African sunrises and sunsets speak volumes to the promise and beauty of life. I CREATE ME LIFE!

10. Rise ABOVE. There is constant reference to the life and legacy of Nelson Mandela. Many repeat one word – Rise. But NOT as in “rise against” but rather RISE ABOVE…Rise ABOVE hate, Rise ABOVE oppression, Rise ABOVE circumstances. It is a timeless and powerful message that says we don’t have to fight to make change.  It comes from within each of us in small actions every day.

Marcy in South AfricaDuring my time in South Africa I experienced incredible animals, oceans, mountains and locals. In Cape Town, Nelson Mandela’s island prison cell was a bold testimonial that we can, indeed, manage our mindset no matter the circumstances.  So thank you. Thank you for allowing me to be mostly without internet, and out of touch, for much of the trip.


I challenge you to go somewhere out of your comfort zone and open yourself up to new beliefs. And thus we compose a good world.

Invest in JOY®



Marcy Heim is a trusted authority in the development profession and helps organizations and educational institutions boost their major gift programs through artful, long-term relationship building that dramatically increases fundraising success while promoting increased staff job satisfaction. To receive a free chapter from Marcy’s book, Empower Your Board to Serve as Effective Development Ambassadors, click here.

Questions:  Contact KK Konicek at KK@MarcyHeim.com


What does your future hold?

by Marcy Heim on May 23, 2018


My son, RJ, just graduated from the UW Madison! Yep…we are bursting with pride and spent a wonderful 4 days celebrating. In a few short weeks he’ll be off to Boulder, Colorado and a new job with Major League Baseball Advanced Media creating some sort of mobile app. A sweet job, indeed. WoHOO!

At 23, his future is really bright!

What does YOUR future hold?

It seems we spend a good deal of time assessing the markets, wondering what direction the leadership will take us next, considering if it will rain on our vacation….

My first big keynote was for CASE V in Chicago in 2011. During this talk to newcomers in advancement, I challenged them to see great success in advancement work, to take full responsibility for what they accomplished and not to blame anyone or anything else if it didn’t happen. After the talk a young man came up and said to me, “You don’t understand. I have had so many things working against me from the start. I can’t possibly have the same chance to be successful as someone who didn’t have my challenges.”


Sometimes when I ask clients, ‘What do you see next for your career here?” or “What direction do you see this organization taking next?” I get sort of a shoulder shrug and hear, “Not sure, Marcy. Guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”


What does your future hold?

“What does YOUR future hold? Seems to me it depends a lot on what you SEE!” Marcy Heim       

I begin all my talks by asking the audience to stand and shout, “Something gooooooooods gonna happen to me!” I first heard this from Joyce Meyer and found it to be an instant mood changer.

But what’s really going on here?

Well there’s actually a right way to think and a wrong way to think.

The wrong way to think leads to stress, anxiety and overwhelm in our advancement work and prevents us from having the personal and professional success we want.

The right way to think leads to more donors, more impact, more joy… and having it ALL.

The beautiful thing is — the right way to think can be learned. But like any new habit or skill…to learn it we have to change and practice.

The world’s most successful folks have learned how to consistently align their thoughts, feelings, and actions with their goals. In other words, they manage their thinking to align with the results they want.

For my eye-rollers now who only want tools, strategies and tactics I promise you that the tools, strategies and tactics you need most is how to be aware of, and lead, your thinking.

It sounds too easy to work I guess. But the reality is this:

Most people have some kind of inner conflict. They want to create “Outcome A.” But really, what they’re really thinking about is why “Outcome A” might not happen.

For example, you want to double your major gifts this year, but you focus on how many donors you’d have to find and meet with and what a struggle it is now to keep up with the major gift work you are doing now. You think about how hard it is to get the board to help, and that one past major donor just made a gift to another organization so she probably won’t give to you.

The result is stress, anxiety, and overwhelm — which begin to infect your conversations and life and your major gift work bombs. But, you were already prepared to justify this by blaming your lack of donors, your board and too much competition from other non-profits. It’s what you saw all along.

You have to SEE something and then you have to SAY something.

It’s about learning to be aware of and actually change your method of thinking, so it’s congruent with what you want to accomplish in the world. Here’s how.

  1. You have to SEE something. SET an INTENTION.

“Something goooooods gonna happen to me” sets an intention for each and every one of my talks. It instantly makes you SEE something good!

“We are having our best year for major giving yet!”

  1. You have to SAY something. Rewire your thinking.

Saying your intention out loud, OFTEN, pounds out new pathways of thinking in your brain. This is scientific fact – not woowoo.

  1. You have to DO something. Make a decision.

Often times we’ll think of many actions we could take. For some this is paralyzing. “What if I make the wrong decision?” Just hit “repeat” See something different, Say something different and make another decision.

Decisions lead to actions. Indecision leads to immobility. Clarity brings action. Confusion leads to a standstill. Action leads to results.

So back to RJ…..he first decided on an engineering degree. Half way through he discovered computer science and chemistry. So he watched his buddies graduate while he continued on. He discovered he loved classes where he worked as a team and that he learned so much better and easier if he built a study group. As he began applying for jobs, he’d say after an interview, “I can see myself working there” or, ‘I’m not sure that would be a place I’d be happy. Then some of the places he thought were great didn’t make an offer. He’d say, “Hmmm. They must have seen something in another candidate that was a better fit.” Sure, he was disappointed, but he was not defeated.

It was just time to see something new.

looking down a road

Then we can look at what happens in our days as part of our journey – a journey WE are leading, we can react to anything that happens to us by SEEING something new – setting a new intention, SAYING something new, not blaming our boss, spouse or board for what’s not going right, and TAKING ACTION toward what we are seeing and saying.

Because you can have all the strategies and tactics in the world — but if you don’t learn how to think in the right way, none of it will get you where you want to go.

Now let me hear you….

“Something gooooooooods gonna happen to me!”

Yes it is. I can see it!

Dedicated to inspiring you to see, say and do great things…..

Invest in JOY®



Marcy Heim is a trusted authority in the development profession and helps organizations and educational institutions boost their major gift programs through artful, long-term relationship building that dramatically increases fundraising success while promoting increased staff job satisfaction. To receive a free chapter from Marcy’s book, Empower Your Board to Serve as Effective Development Ambassadors, click here.

Questions:  Contact KK Konicek at KK@MarcyHeim.com


Part IV – If only my Board would help show our appreciation

May 9, 2018

It was a whirlwind four-conference speaking tour at the AFP International Conference, NAYDO, AFP Genesee Valley and LeadingAge Iowa. Even the 5:45 am flights were AWESOME!  (well that may be a bit of a stretch). I must share the most amazing surprise at the AFP Genesee Valley Conference–  JOY cookies!  The entire conference was themed […]

Read the full article →

Part III – If Only My Board Would Help! Invite them to Invest!

April 25, 2018

“Ambassadors ALL!” At my talk at the AFP International Conference in New Orleans, I kicked off with a TEST! “Stand up if you think it’s true, “Board members should not be pressured into giving or helping raise money.” I’d say it was about 50/50. Answer? True. More on that in a bit. Reconnecting with my […]

Read the full article →

Part II – If Only my Board would Help – Board Bonanza

April 11, 2018

Thinking of buying a Mini SUV? Suddenly you see them everywhere. Getting married? SO many must-haves! Taking up ballroom dancing? Posters for dances suddenly abound. Believe me–the cars, wedding info and dance clubs have always been there – NOW you notice and perhaps even get a bit overwhelmed! Do you really need a $90 wedding […]

Read the full article →

Part 1- If only my Board would help

March 23, 2018

I get an earful about Boards. You may feel it’s going pretty well with your Board or you may not even be a part of the Board meetings (sigh). You may be pleased with the contributions they are making – of time and dollars – or be ready to “pass the hat” and go for […]

Read the full article →

Face-to-Face for the First Time-Do’s and Don’ts

March 7, 2018

You got the appointment! WoHoo! First time Face-to-Face visits are huge in creating the deeper engagement and giving that you want to inspire. They can be scary too. You want to make a good impression, discover more about your prospective major giver, but not be “too much.” Let’s make this the beginning of a LONG […]

Read the full article →

Five Tips to Handle Scandals

February 22, 2018

May you never need this… Remember…”I CREATE MY LIFE!” Right? We do. We must take responsibility for our choices. But, we don’t always make the best choices. Notice I’m putting everyone in this picture. In my 30 plus years in advancement leadership and coaching, I’ve experienced inappropriate photos of elderly residents on Facebook, fraud accusations […]

Read the full article →

Why I Love you this Valentines Day

February 12, 2018

WHY I love you this Valentine’s Day! You embrace each day with JOY! You know that your one kind act to another person (even if no one else knows you did it) is more powerful than all the attention-seeking rants on social media demanding others to live differently. Your smile and kindness are making a […]

Read the full article →

You are Enough!

January 31, 2018

Fretting over all there is to do is not helpful. But THERE IS SO MUCH TO DO! Turnover in our profession is at an all-time high. During campaign feasibility studies I like to ask, “How could we serve our very important donors, like you, better?” Too often I hear, “I don’t even bother to learn […]

Read the full article →