Fundraising Lessons from Shelling in Florida

by Marcy Heim on January 23, 2019

You are in an honorable and noble profession and your work is SO important. It’s challenging and rewarding. Fine-tuning your own restoration is as important as continually learning new skills.

For me, there’s nothing like the ocean to restore a full tank of optimism and energy!  And, there is nothing more powerful than storytelling.  So here’s my story from my temporary Florida home on the shore of Venice Beach. May it lift you up!

Marcy Holly Mike Shelling

Florida beaches are laden with shells – thousands of them.  Honestly…where do you even start if you want to find that “perfect” shell?

Certainly you can just get out there and look!  Time flies by walking endless miles of beach. Depending on the tide, there can be corners deep with shells.  It’s overwhelming actually.

Or, you partner with others, listen to what the “locals” know, and do some research on the internet.  Soon you learn that Casperson Beach is a great place to find Shark’s teeth, Venice Beach has vast quantities of Kitten Paws, beaches you can only get to by boat are more exclusive and boast rarer shells, and so on.

You discover there are tools to help you.  Shark teeth metal sifters, long-handled net baskets, shell bags and more. Some seem helpful, some just sort of get in the way. You learn the tools that serve your particular mission.

In the vast diversity of what is out there do you even know what you are looking for?  Is it just the most valuable shell?  Is it a shell that has a certain color or will work for a specific project?

Dawn Marie is caring for my cats while I’m gone and I wanted a meaningful way to say “thank you.”  My friend, Holly, pointed out these beautiful dainty shells called Kitten Paws or Cat’s Paws. She suggested I glue these to a small vase suitable for a votive candle. Her partnership detailed the specifics of the project beyond what I could have done on my own even as well as I know my cat sitter! This brought clarity to my vision for shelling!

But what was Holly looking for?  She was seeking Fighting Conch shells for a home landscape project. So we worked together to find both her shells and my shells making both of us more successful more quickly.

SO many shells – my goodness! Are the right ones even out there?  Those that truly fit my mission?  Every time I shelled I visualized that THIS WAS THE TIME I would find a perfect shell. I could see them in my mind. I proclaimed out loud, “Today I will have success!”  And I believed it!

I would share my dream, my vision, with others. On one excursion I told Mike, “I believe today I will find a sand dollar!”  So far, I just didn’t seem to have the knack for seeing them…usually mostly hidden in the sand.  A bit farther down the beach, Mike called me to him, and with a sparkle in his eyes said, “Look around here.”  There was a perfect sand dollar!  We don’t always get our results they way we expect.  They can appear as opportunities.  Sharing my goal, believing we could do it better together, had led to success! He got excited about my vision and invested in making it happen with his time and resources.

Flower Shells

But it was also frustrating. SO many shells looked so good at first, only to be broken. Really…that was the vast majority of them. They were not perfect. I threw them down again. My friend, Holly, gently said, “To me, these shells look like flowers.”  WOW! What a different perspective!  I could suddenly see how they could fit into my shelling projects. There were shells with holes. Rats. Holly saw these as natural necklaces.

After days of this, I had quite a collection. Glue gun in hand, I quickly discovered that no two shells are alike making it hard to uniformly complete my Kitten Paw candle holder. Pressing on, taking imperfect action, the result was gorgeous BECAUSE of the diversity of the shells.

Shell centerpieceWhen creating a centerpiece, the “perfect” shells combined beautifully with the “flowers” (broken shells). Your eye might be drawn to the largest shells, the biggest contributors, but scores of smaller shells filled in the empty spaces establishing the foundation for the rest. For some projects, using just one type of shell produced dramatic results.

Shells require some care and not each one the same way. For the Sand Dollars, appreciating their unique, fragile nature and coating them with glue strengthens them so you can enjoy them for a life time. Other shells need only a periodic dusting to continually contribute to the collection.

Finally, my fundraising colleague, Don Gray, in Florida Shell with Lifetoo, pointed out that EVERY shell, regardless of size or type, had already contributed as a home to a living creature. Even the tiniest of shells piled up in the sand, had a unique and significant story.

Take aways:

  1. You don’t find shells sitting in your office.
  2. Embrace the tools that best serve you, not every new gadget is a fit.
  3. Clarity on your end goal focuses you, even if it morphs along the way.
  4. What you focus on, you find.
  5. Let others be part of getting the result. You don’t need all the glory.
  6. Reach beyond words, appearances and actions you don’t value and find ways to connect.
  7. You get more accomplished with partners.
  8. Be open, even invite, surprises.
  9. Keep your dream in front or you at all times – see it, say it.
  10. Replace disgust with understanding. (That mega donor who has more conservative beliefs than you.)
  11. Appreciate the unique nature of each giver for a strong lifetime relationship.
  12. Stop judging. Everyone has missing pieces, broken parts and holes but is still of value.

As you plan ahead, be sure to include something that restores you!

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

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