The lean forward moment


I wait for that moment. It happens every time, without fail. I meet someone, and they start telling me what they “do”. Sometimes they’re excited about it, and sometimes they’re barely showing any signs of passion.

Then, as I start asking questions, and we get deeper into conversation, it happens.

The person’s eyes light up, a genuine smile breaks through, and they lean forward and really get into the conversation.

That is when I know we’ve made a real connection and I’ve been let into the person’s world. What makes someone lean forward is what is at the core of that person and gives you a great idea of who they are.

I have experienced so many lean forward moments – people from all walks of life, backgrounds, ages and career paths.

  • The leader of a social profit agency leaned forward talking about the letters she reads from families that have had their lives changed as a result of her organization’s work.
  • A rising star fundraiser leaned forward when he told me about how excited he gets working with donors one on one, walking them through an inquiry or even a complaint, and taking them to a place of understanding.
  • An introverted engineer turned consultant specializing in innovation tax credits leaned forward when he started talking about his vision of the future of Canada as an innovation hub.

  • Sometimes, people ask the question “If you didn’t have to worry about money, what would you do?” as an attempt to determine someone’s true calling or passion. Maybe that works if the person answering the question is very self-aware and has already figured it all out.

    I think having a meaningful conversation is more likely to reveal the real answer, because it’s coming about naturally and organically, and we may not always be highly attuned with our own deep-seeded passion.

    The next time you go to a networking event, or anywhere you are meeting new people, you are bound to have someone asking you early in your conversation “What do you do?” Answer them, then try something different as a response. Don’t ask “What do you do?”. Ask “What makes you lean forward?”, pause while the person gives you a weird look, explain yourself, and see how it goes. I have a feeling it will be much more interesting that way.

    Sometimes we do what we have to do, but we hope that for the most part, we get to do what we want to do, what we like to do and what we believe is our calling. Find what makes you lean forward, and make sure, even if you’re not doing that all the time, that it is part of your life often enough to keep you fulfilled.

    Constant Questions: What makes you lean forward? Do you get to do enough of that in your life? Have you seen other people lean forward and realized you just discovered what makes them tick? Would you lean on me, when you’re not strong? Because I’ll be your friend.

    If you do have a million dollars and are struggling for ideas of what to do with it, here are some great ones.

    Creative Gratitude

    Thank you to all who took part in the “Thank you, but no thank you” contest, AKA #BestTY. Wait, after all of my preaching about not opening with ‘thank you’, let me restate that first sentence. You deserve respect, gratitude and a pat on the back for taking part and supporting this contest. Whether you placed an entry, promoted it, or even thought about how you thank people, kudos to you.

    This contest was about being different, getting creative and finding new and interesting ways to thank donors. Charities, non-profits, do-gooders and pretty much anyone was invited to share their best opening line for a donor thank you, on Twitter in 140 characters or less to boot. I was very happy and blown away by the response and support from everyone. If you were following along, hopefully, you picked up some good ideas.

    Huge appreciation to our esteemed judges panel for all of their support. They were there along the way, giving advice, sharing the contest and ultimately making the very difficult decision about who should win!

    Mary Cahalane
    John Lepp
    Ann Rosenfield
    Brock Warner

    So, the moment of truth. The winner of the contest is… Dignitas International for the inspiring entry below.

    Why was this entry the most popular amongst our judges? It is personal, mentioning the date of the gift. It is focused on the donor. It is attention-grabbing. It draws you in right away. It talks about impact. It connects the decision to donate with that very same impact. All great traits of a great opening line for a donor thank you.

    Congratulations Dignitas! Many members of their team jumped in on this thanking action.Your team wins a $25 Amex card and of course a review of an appeal or letter courtesy of the creative minds at Agents of Good. Agents, you really rock for providing this amazing prize!

    A Special Judge’s Prize was provided by Ann Rosenfield for an entry she felt had to win something. Congratulations AC (@Connectwithcoop). For this entry below, you win a $10 Starbucks card – and thanks, Ann for providing this prize!

    Other honourable mentions that resonated with the judges panel include:

    Great work, all you thanking machines!

    The 3 random winners of $10 Amazon gift cards just for having the courage to enter are:

    Carmen Clayton (@Carmen_Clayton)
    Beth Ann Locke (@fundraiserbeth)
    Rekha (@rekhsy)

    Next time you have to thank someone, do as these people did, and get creative. Your donors deserve it for supporting you.

    I would love your feedback about this contest, whether you took part or not. Should we do this again? How can we make this contest even better and more appealing? How can we get 1,000 entries and get even more idea sharing happening?

    Thank you, but no thank you


    Stop saying thank you to donors. Of course, I don’t mean that as it sounds. Showing appreciation for donations is one of the (if not the) most important things that happens after someone gives. All I’m saying is find another way to say it.

    You are a bunch of creative people out there and I’m sure you can find some awesome alternatives. A simple thank you always has its place, but to get people’s attention, show them that you’ve taken some more time to think about showing gratitude.

    So how about a contest?

    I am looking for the best opening line for a thank you that doesn’t say “thank you” in it. Get creative, get fun, get quirky, but show your appreciation.

    Starting as soon as this post is released, tweet your best opening line for a thank you email, letter, phonecall, fax, or stone tablet message to #BestTY and the best one wins, it’s that simple.

    Just don’t say thank you.

    The contest will close Saturday, August 17th at midnight, EST, and the winner will be announced shortly after. The best ones will be Storified, along with the announcement of the winner, and captured here in a future post.

    The judges for this contest will be me and these four amazing fundraising type people:

  • Mary Cahalane, Director of Development at Charter Oak Cultural Center and fundraising wizard, as her blog Hands-on Fundraising will show you.
  • John Lepp, Partner at Agents of Good, standing up against bad fundraising everywhere, and mega-zealot about treating donors right.
  • Ann Rosenfield, Executive Director of the WoodGreen Foundation, and her hands are insured for $1 million because she is a handwritten note legend.
  • Brock Warner, Donor Programs Officer at War Child Canada and recent entrant into the blog world with iamafundraiser, much to the delight of…well…everyone!
  • Supreme appreciation to these excellent friends for supporting this – I know they are all big advocates of showing ‘donor love’.

    So what’s up for grabs? Recently, I was lucky enough to win a Twitter contest run by Zipcar, and I won a $25 Amex gift card. I committed that if I won it, I would find a way to give it away, so that was the birth of this contest. I know it’s not a trip to Paris, but it’s the pride, not the prize, folks.

    However, after hearing about the contest, John and the good folks at Agents of Good have generously offered to do a free evaluation of an appeal or thank you letter for the winner. Now that’s something to write home about…hopefully to say thanks.

    UPDATE August 12, 2013 – I’m going to up the ante to spur on entries by adding three $10 gift cards to be given out randomly to those that enter. Use it towards a fundraising book or a waffle iron. Maybe get something nice for a friend. Whatever you like!

    Note, the Amex card is a US gift card, but it should be usable at any online vendor if you’re not from the US. If you win, I will mail it to you once the contest is done, wherever you are in the world.

    Here’s the catch. You must be on Twitter! This is as good an excuse as any to start.

    Good luck to all!

    Constant Questions: I would ask you here for the best opening line for a thank you, but you’re going to tweet it, right? Instead, what is the worst opening line for a thank you that you have seen? What are some creative ways you have said thank you or seen it done?

    10 uniquely Canadian experiences

    Made in Canada

    If you’re Canadian, chances are you’ve experienced at least a few of these things below. You may not have called it what I have – but feel free to start.

    1) “Scrape lag” – The extra time you must prepare for in the morning to hack away at the thin sheet of ice on your windshield in winter.

    2) “Tuque burn” – The uncomfortable sensation you get from wearing a hat for hours in the cold while skiing, skating or walking to the convenience store.

    3) “Streaming rage” – The sinking feeling and angry implosion when you are trying to watch something online and you get this message: “Not available in your region.”

    4) “The Canadian dream” – This is just like the American dream, but a bit more polite and with more discussion about the weather.

    5) “Poutine delay” – Those 15 minutes of uninterrupted sitting you need after a nice plate of the gastronomic harmony created by the mixing of potato, gravy and cheese.

    6) “Peer puck pressure” – The need to express your love for hockey to other Canadians, even if you don’t like it (although I am a fan, I swear!)

    7) “Victoria Day cross-border outlet hunt” – Seeing as Canadians have a holiday and the US is open for business, it’s a great time to cross over to see our American retail friends.

    8) “Celebrity grieving” – The unfortunate feeling that we are losing our talent – especially comedians – because they need to jump to the bigger markets outside of Canada.

    9) “Maple crash” – It is possible to overdo maple. While not as strong as a real sugar crash, the maple crash follows the melodically sweet high of pouring a mugful of liquid brown gold onto pancakes or french toast, or when Tim Horton’s has their “let’s put maple on everything” weeks. NOTE: This only applies to real maple syrup, not that fake stuff known only as “syrup / sirop.”

    10) “Royal confusion” – You’re not really sure what our relationship is to the British Royals, or how you feel about it.

    I really do love Canada and everything Canadian. Come over and see everything that this beautiful country has to offer – coast to coast, every kilometer (that’s right, metric system!) is a new adventure.

    Happy Canada Day!

    Constant Questions: What other Canadian terms or experiences can you think of? If you’re not from Canada, what are some unique experiences where you are from? Is your heart glowing? Do you stand on guard for thee? I hope so!

    Check out this wonderfully politically correct version of O Canada by that great Canadian William Shatner.

    FBO – Why charities need it


    There are an estimated 85,000 charities in Canada, 180,000 in the UK, and 1.1 million in the US.

    (Pause for gasp)

    That’s not even factoring in the various other not-for-profits and causes that although they may not issue tax receipts, are still a destination for donors.

    So…the big question. Why should anyone give to you?

    You can’t compete only on:

  • Product (your cause)
  • Service (how you treat people)
  • Loyalty (how much people like you)

  • Why not? Because these things can be replicated and built by others. In this free market, openly competitive charitable world, when something is seen as successful, originators may win in the early stages, but imitators gravitate to your success. Unless there are real barriers to entry, they can do the same thing that you’re doing.

    So your differentiation factor, the unique space you occupy where there’s no room for anyone else, is the one thing you can use to stand out and get people to pay attention.

    If you don’t differentiate, you end up competing on…price.

    In the charitable sector, this could be seen as competing on administrative costs. As we know, in isolation, this is usually a weak indicator of how well an organization is doing. It also doesn’t connect someone strongly to you when a “cheaper” charity comes along.

    Guess what – it’s our fault.

    If donors want to keep comparing charities based on something like administrative costs, it’s because we haven’t given them something else to talk about. If you’re not different from anyone else, then what’s interesting about you?

    So what do you need to do? Find your FBO.

    Figure out what you do where you are the first, best and only. That’s your differentiation factor.

    First = longevity and trust.

    Best = credibility and confidence.

    Only = exclusivity and pride.

    Then find a way to build this into your branding, communications and organizational soul. More importantly, talk about what it means for people considering getting involved. (Plus gentle reminders to those that already are!)

    One caveat – this must be tempered with ensuring your donor and volunteer communications are focused on their role as the hero in the story. FBO is only for those rare moments when you are talking about yourself. By the way, also stop asking for money. Instead, start conversations.

    FBO – think about it. Then find it and use it! It’s the best shot you have in standing out in a sea of same.

    Thanks to Krishan Mehta for first introducing me to this concept and to Tim Rooney for his wisdom about the importance and mechanics of differentiation.

    Constant Questions: As an individual, what is your first, best and only? How about your organization or charity? Did you think that FBO was a typo and I meant FBI? If you’re worried about the FBI, what for? Something you need to share with us? Maybe this blog isn’t the best place – it’s a public space and I don’t want it to get virtual cyber yellow tape wrapped around it!

    Why the heck are you here?


    “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” – Mark Twain

    Have you figured it out yet? Why you are here?

    Sometimes it could take a lifetime, but never stop searching for that reason.

    We are all here to accomplish some purpose. Start a movement. Teach others. Make a product which will make life better for people. Keep our streets safe. Create art for others to enjoy. It likely involves contributing something to the greater good.

    Stephen Covey talks about defining your own personal mission statement as a habit for success. Maybe it changes over time, maybe it doesn’t stick forever, but if you don’t have a sense of purpose, then it’s very hard to determine where to invest your precious time. FranklinCovey has a personal mission statement builder that can help you figure yourself out – complex, enigmatic puzzle that you are!

    My core belief is that “we are all responsible for each others’ success” – so my mission is to help others to achieve success, in whatever way I can. It’s not that I have any amazing abilities to help others, but if there is a way I can help someone out in their journey, why wouldn’t I? It’s a privilege and an honour, because it’s a small way I can pay forward all of the amazing mentors, leaders, coaches and inspirational people who helped me on my path.

    Anything and everything we have achieved in our lives, we didn’t do alone – someone helped us, whether we knew it or not. There are some people who believe they did everything on their own. I’m not trying to undermine the role of the “pull up your bootstraps” story, where hard work and tireless perseverance were essential ingredients of success. Although somewhere along that path, a person reached out their hand to support you, you accepted it, and it made a difference. Their purpose and path intertwined with yours and created a stepping stone for you.

    What is the point of humanity if we aren’t supporting each other? I don’t think on your path to success that you have to step over other people or achieve success independently. The most generous people out there seem to be the ones who have the most good fortune, and that’s probably not a coincidence.

    By defining your purpose on the planet, you can find your route to generosity for others and your connection to the big picture.

    Don’t stop trying to figure out your purpose, and if you have figured it out (lucky you), don’t ever stop trying to achieve it!

    Thanks to Promod Sharma for bringing the opening quote by Mark Twain into my life, amongst many other amazing ideas he has instilled into my mind. Check out his excellent blog network – you won’t be disappointed.

    Constant Questions: Please share! What is your personal mission statement? What do you believe you are here to achieve? Do you remember the day you were born? Seriously? You are indeed special, my friend.

    Fundraisers, stop asking for money

    Yes, I said it. Stop doing it. Now.

    Think they sell these at Home Depot?

    Think they sell these at Home Depot?

    Stop asking people for money.

    How dare he! Tie him up and lock him away! Release the hounds!

    When someone hears you are a fundraiser, they often say “I couldn’t do that, I hate asking people for money”. Here’s the big secret – so do fundraisers, at least the really good ones.

    So if you stop asking for money, how will you raise funds? How will you support the very important mission your organization is trying to achieve? How will the programs, activities, research and services you support continue to go on, if no one is driving donations into the cause?

    If it’s just about the money, it is a shallow appeal. It will only reinforce the stereotype of the beggar charity treating people as wallets. This type of approach may even work in the short-term, but eventually people will get tired. Don’t try to secure a donation in 30 seconds, have a dialogue instead. I believe that “donor fatigue” comes from receiving too many asks for money, not from too much good fundraising.

    You are one with the donation.

    You are one with the donation.

    After recently reading The Zen of Fundraising by fundraising guru Ken Burnett, where he makes a similar appeal as I am in this post, it became even more clear to me how much fundraising is not just about the charity, not-for-profit or do-gooder organization. Although you do have a very important job.

    So what are you doing then?

    You are inviting people to make a difference. You are facilitating the marriage of interest and opportunity. You are navigating the space between a person’s desire to achieve something big and the places in the community, country or world that would allow that to happen.

    Anything but asking for money. The day I realized this was the day I truly embraced fundraising.

    Ok, yes – technically you are going to be asking someone to provide a donation, and if you are not confident and skilled in asking, and are not willing to learn how to do better, you may have a really hard time achieving success in the field. But fundraising is a learned skill, and a solid foundation of confidence comes as much from the passion and desire you have to help donors achieve their goals, and for your organization or cause to achieve the mission as it does from your mettle as a fundraiser. Experience does count, sure, but so does the right mindset. Think impact first.

    The point is to make fundraising about more than just money – because it is!

    Constant Questions: How have you made fundraising about more than money? If you’re not asking for money, how do you define what you are doing? If you’re not a fundraiser but you’re a donor, what conversation do you like to have about your giving? Is money the root of all evil? Isn’t that a bit harsh? Come on, be nice.

    Maybe closing with this O’Jays video is obvious. Or maybe not. It’s ironic that this song is often used in a sensationalist context of people that are rich or looking to get rich, when it’s actually quite outspoken about how focusing on money in and of itself can be really problematic. As they say – with money, “do things, good things with it.”

    It’s the “things” that we really should be talking about as fundraisers.