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By Selah Hirsch Founder and Strategist at Pipelime

By Selah Hirsch Founder and Strategist at Pipelime


y honest declaration. Ring the bell and gather the fundraisers. Circle around you founders, leaders, and staff members who are tasked with representing, carrying forth, and funding causes that circle the globe and impact all aspects of humanity.

This is My Manifesto

The time has come to boldly pull back the curtain and remove the intimidation of “donor development” and working with “major givers.” It’s a funny thing how mindsets are shaped and stigmas are born, yet few people consciously choose to challenge their thinking and actively pursue other angles to widen their understanding. Or perhaps you find yourself like me, in a continual place of learning, and want to further your ability to relationally connect in a golden manner. I may not know your funding needs or specific donor approach, but I do know two things: IT IS TOTALLY DISTINCTIVE TO YOU AND WE ALL CAN UPHOLD A COMMON STANDARD THAT SETS THE STAGE FOR OUR UNIQUE SUCCESSES. Even if your job title does not include the word “FUNDRAISER,” or your staff meetings aren’t centered on financial goals, if you have the opportunity to influence the people around you for your message or product, this message applies to YOU!


ver the last decade I have served nonprofits across the country, and I am continually intrigued by the arena of donor development. My learning is very much experiential; tested by the progression of relationships, mutual triumphs, and honest moments that have given me a glimpse into the revelations I have to share with you. I have encountered hundreds of situations and observed just as many that prove there is a distinct difference in the variance of paradigms that approach donors and specifically, the special group of people: major givers. Time and time again I have been truly inspired, yet other moments caught me perplexed (and occasionally exasperated) seeing other “professional” methods. There are marked styles to both the tangible and subconscious approaches to donor development.

A Colorful Attitude


There are a myriad of resources sitting on the shelves of bookstores and educational libraries and in Google searches that teach non-profit strategies and instruct with tips and tools. As grateful as I am for the resources at our fingertips, my desire is to SPEAK to you as a friend and fellow compãdre. Regardless of your cause or position within your organization, here we find ourselves on this intriguing, powerful, and wonderful journey that we call fundraising. Well, now that our paths have crossed, let’s pull out our kaleidoscopes to see this beautifully complex dimension of fundraising in a new and fresh way. SO OPEN YOUR HEART, CLEAN OUT YOUR EARS, AND PEER INTO THE LOOKING GLASS . . . TO THE MANY PEOPLE AND THE MILLIONS OF DOLLARS YOU HOLD WITHIN YOUR HANDS.


aily we are tasked with the mental, emotional, and physical pressure to further our message and fuel (a.k.a. “FUND”) movements. As passionate as we sound, there is real work to be done with our hands to the plow as we influence local causes, issues that cross state lines, or global justices that span the continents.

Quiet the Noise

We are armed with mass communication, social media, campaigns, special events, planned giving, direct mail… and the time it takes to focus on donor development and major givers is just a slice of the pie that demands a portion of our weekly focus. With so many mental open windows I can understand the need for laser focus to move forward productively. So lift your head above water for a moment (as a former development director, I know you may only have a few precious minutes before your calendar starts dinging with duties, follow-ups, and meetings, so I’ll be brief.) Breathe in, pause, breathe out. Adjust your focus. What do you see?




n recent years, there has been much buzz surrounding the word “stewardship” in various circles. This term implies numerous interpretations, from a Biblical perspective to financial transparency models. Today I want to challenge our thinking to flip it upside down and tilt our heads with renewed curiosity. Steward—That is the olden term for a person put in charge of a piece of land or a household. It may not have been their personal property, but he/she were entrusted to care for it as if it were their own. If you use this word picture to look at our roles within nonprofit organizations, we can easily identify with this definition, since we are those who treasure generosity. I’ll explain…

Guard the Treasure Chest

1) WE ACTUALLY KNOW THE COST OF THE MISSION AND THE NEED TO FUND THE ORGANIZATION. Our board and balance sheet are our constant reminders. We are exceedingly aware of the line item cost of the electricity bill, postage, staff salaries, program expenses… and everything else under the sun it takes to keep our organizations going and creating beautiful change. The price tag of the mission is lofty. 2) WE SEE WHO SURROUNDS US AS WE WORK DILIGENTLY TOWARDS OUR MISSION AND GOALS. Even though I know the feeling of loneliness rings heavy within leadership positions and, many times, a fundraiser’s world, you are not alone! Regardless of the size of your staff, you are flanked on each side by an army of young, old, energetic, introverted, near, and far people. These are your donors and you treasure them by acknowledging them on your team. SO HERE WE COLLECTIVELY STAND AS STEWARDS, CLOTHED WITH OUR MISSION AND VISION IN OUR BACK POCKET, TENDING TO THE RICHES BEFORE US.


o let’s get to it and talk about the persons, families, and legacies that embody our “donors.” They are beautiful, complicated, generous, complex, in our reach, yet out of reach. If you have been in fundraising longer than a month, you have seen each one of these scenarios. These people are vibrant, captivating, and endearing like a bouquet of daisies. (A nod to my favorite scene in the classic movie, You’ve Got Mail.)

Here’s to Looking at You

But I’ve met and observed others who see these special people much differently; therefore I cannot remain silent any longer. Whether you are charged guilty due to near-sightedness, or out of naivety, my goal is to infuse your paradigm with a heartfelt approach that I carry within my core. THIS VIEWPOINT HAS THE POTENTIAL TO BROADEN THE REACH OF YOUR ORGANIZATION BEYOND THE PERSONS SERVED BY YOUR MISSION, AND DOUBLE THE IMPACT BY TOUCHING THOSE ON THE INSIDE AS WELL.

These are your supporters, donors, alumni, and partners. Many look like coaches, parents, CEOs, doctors, teachers, business owners, and grandparents… gathered in unison, raising their voices to show their support through financial contributions. Though their zip codes, checkbooks, and passports may indicate otherwise, these loving people are very much like you. With hopes, dreams, disappointments, regrets, and goals… they carry eternity within their hearts. When your world collides with theirs, the possibilities multiply! The stage is set and the spotlight is on your ability to carefully steward the calling of generosity upon their lives.


efore I dive any further into these waters, let me first put a pin in the inner tubes of some myths I have heard through the years, or more so have “read” through facial expressions and body language…. You know what I mean. MYTH #1: WEALTHY PEOPLE SHOULD NOT GET EXTRA SPECIAL ATTENTION.

Oh boy… let’s go there. I could not disagree more with those who have this thinking.

Bust the Myths

I have tried to see from this obscure perspective and can probably guess why some people feel this way. But let me be your momma for a minute and tell you that it’s not your place to judge or humble anyone. Self-serving pride fuels the sinister mentality. The right donor-relations approach, in my opinion, is the belief that all donors are created equal and deserve the best service and attention we have to offer them. THEY ALL NEED TO KNOW THEIR GIFT IS VALUED, MAKES A DIFFERENCE, AND IS CRUCIAL TO THE FUTURE SUCCESS OF THE ORGANIZATION.

Because let’s face the facts: some gifts REALLY do make the difference and carry an equivalent impact to the organization. To a smaller non-profit, $5,000 can make or break keeping the lights on and furthering the mission. Same goes with larger, established namesake organizations. A 1+-million-dollar contribution can solidify a long-standing cornerstone project furthering the work and development for years to come.


It is obvious something (or should I say someone), in this room does not belong here. The person with the sharp look and shiny words that comes to the forefront trying to impress is similar to an aching cavity waiting to be yanked out by the dentist. The attention you may get for a moment will not sustain into a healthy, vibrant donor relationship. People of means and influence have more than likely seen the circus of fundraisers and fake relationships. We live in a selfish world. It takes a mature person to realize their own self-awareness to these common pitfalls and react with purpose towards developing genuine relationships. It is true what they say: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” So start yours the right way. (We will discuss practical ways to go about doing this.) AIM TO WIN HEARTS, NOT WALLETS. The real payoff will be more than you could have imagined.


Hmmm… let me reverse this on you…. YOU need to give more! “What? You don’t know what I give!” or “I already give in as many ways as I can,” you might retort. Exactly! Like in the parable, some have one coin and others may have five coins in their hands. It is what you do with what you have that really matters. Keep your eyes on the prize and let the other person deal with their own giving in their heart. Did you know that most organizations are funded by 10-20% of donors? Sure, there may be hundreds or thousands within the database, but major givers bring so much to the table that many organizations would not be sustainable without their support. GET ON WITH YOUR WORK, YOUR GOALS, AND STIR UP A MISSION AROUND A CAUSE THAT CAPTIVATES PEOPLE. It is our jobs to compel people into places that exceed our daily schedules, zip codes, and sectors into foreign lands, broken hearts, the planet, generations,… Now we better get on with getting on!


Geez! If you really had this mentality, I would fire you in a hot minute! As fundraisers, we are meant to be great influencers of the people around us. For example, everyone, from child to mature adult, loves the rides at Disneyland. The magical experience begins from the moment you pull into the parking lot, all the way to the ride operators (or as they call them “cast members”) who greet you with wide smiles as you climb aboard your awaiting adventure. Their voices, eyes, and body language excite every part of your being. In that moment, the anticipation of your heart is rocketed into space by their enthusiasm and engagement. All aboard! What a lasting impression. YOU WANT THEIR SUPPORT AND DONORS NEED YOU TO SET THE ATMOSPHERE AND CAST THE INVITATION FOR THEM TO CLIMB ON BOARD WITH THE MISSION. So it is up to you to differentiate yourself, your organization, and your mission in their minds. That difference will set a deep impression in their hearts as their generosity comes alongside your passion. It is more fun to change the world together!


ow that we have done a little housekeeping and gotten those misconceptions out of the way, let’s set our eyes back on the main point. We must learn to become communicators of value.


The Road Ahead

This doesn’t mean that we focus on some imaginary dollar sign over their heads as a daydream waiting to become reality. We look deeper. We gaze into their eyes and come to them with open hands full of initiatives that work to make this world a better place. Don’t rush the process of building genuine relationships by running through your scripted pitch, casting a lofty ASK, and settling back into a pregnant pause. Take the right steps to become bridge builders in your daily lives, both personal and professionally. These are the approaches that get the second meeting, move to a first name basis, and sit around the kitchen tables. This concept might not be the academic, formulaic skills taught in the formal education of fundraising, yet sometimes it is the street-wise, common sense differences that are deeply embedded within successful people. As Dale Carnegie used to say, “Win friends and influence people.” This is a prime example of that statement! So “enough,” you might say. “I get the point... but HOW is what you are saying different than what I am already doing?” I’m so glad you asked!


or starters, there is a stance, a posture, a position that places immediate worth on a relationship. Many times I see fundraisers on the opposite side of this paradigm, and that is a lowly position. One of a lesser, beggar style; with a pleading look, unsure of what the response might be; like a small cowering child, fearful of the following reaction. Oh no, my fellow fundraisers! Take your rightful place, with a head held high and shoulders squared, as WE OFFER OUT A HOPE AND PROMISE OF CHANGE TO IMPACT HUMANITY AND ETERNITY!

What is in Your Hands?

Your new job description is to purposely cross paths with strangers, all for the goal of uniting together over a common cause. Remember the iconic scene in the classic movie E. T., when an adorable foreign creature reaches out and touches the finger of a young girl. A connection is made. A strength is forged. A bond melding time and space becomes awe-inspiring. These are the powerful, unforgettable moments within the beauty of donor relationships. Do you see yourself as the one to forge this type of experience? You are not at the mercy of the royal court. You are powerful and confident in your cause. Because when two or more agree‌ there is a spark, a catalytic combustion of purpose that unites people for a greater good. THIS IS THE POWER YOU HOLD IN YOUR HANDS AND ONE THEY DESIRE TO TOUCH. Now, let’s reverse the lens.

The Table is Set


have sat at the kitchen tables of donors around the country. I’ve listened to them tell stories of their children, their dreams, their legacies, their regrets, and their successes. Many I call “friends�. This is not a reference I use casually but with great respect and honor because it identifies a connection of the heart. Throughout my conversations, I have been enlightened to see the world from their perspective, specifically how it relates to the purposes non-profit organizations carry and represent. Here are a few of my findings about donors:


1. THEY HAVE A PERSONAL CONNECTION WITH THE MISSION. Rarely is there an individual simply and ONLY looking for the tax-deduction. No, there is a reason to each person’s giving. Like the proverb: “Where your money is, your heart will be also.” This moves giving from an action item to a motive of the heart. For example, I am not qualified to give bedside care in the gentle way a hospice nurse provides a soothing touch in the precious moments of the elderly. But I can GIVE to provide care for those without family or in need of comfort, similar to the attention and love my grandfather appreciated as he took his last breaths. LOOK DEEP, LISTEN, AND LEARN…. There is a reason, a past story, an experience, a family member or friend who reminds your donors of your mission. As professional fundraisers, we must cultivate this heart connection, as one would tend a garden. With cautious tenderness, not abrasive manipulation, we can plow the ground that within lies a personal relationship—a relationship that will enable our mission to be heard over the noise of so many others asking and demanding their attention.

I mentioned earlier that I feel privileged to call many donors “friends.” Hold on for a moment as I step onto my soapbox. Okay, I’m ready now. Friendship with donors is possible. We are building genuine connections and relationships. Friendship is a natural byproduct, BUT OUR RELATIONSHIPS MUST ALWAYS BE CRAFTED AROUND THE PRIORITY OF THE MISSION AND ORGANIZATION. And deeper yet, this priority must be branded within us. So boundary lines must be drawn, respected, and remembered as we plant the seeds for beautiful relationships. This is a mentality that stretches as a tightrope across the Niagara Falls. See the challenge, the rewards, and the perils that lie before us? These lines dictate that no matter how buddy-buddy we want to be, we are ALWAYS a representation of the cause. The best interest of our organization is ALWAYS in the forefront of our minds. You must ALWAYS respect that the relationship is for the organization, not your own selfish purposes. In a world of few absolutes, these are very clear lines. So ask yourself this challenging question: “If the donor offered me the money they have available for the non-profit, would I take it?” I’m sure many of you scoffed at the question and shook your head in disgust. But isn’t that the same if you take the focus, sympathy, gifts, and attention of the donor and turn them toward yourself? Money is just another value of the same worth they have to offer. Who are YOU to take what is designated for the mission?

3.THEY LIVE VICARIOUSLY THROUGH YOU TO TOUCH THE CAUSE. I have found a common thread in many relationships and personal conversations throughout the years. Most within this special group of donors deeply long to be part of the work of your mission and organization in a tangible way. A few times I have been privileged with the vulnerability to hear that they secretly wish they could leave their daily responsibilities and come serve wholeheartedly the mission that so greatly tugs at their hearts… but they know their place is to give in order to deeply affect the cause through their contributions. I greatly respect this self-awareness and therefore challenge you to ensure they “touch” the cause through you. There are many ways to tailor your words and stories to link your donors to the change and impact made possible because of their involvement. You make a vital connection in the ways you thank them and share about the faces now filled with health and hope. Your hands are full of possibilities and powerful moments to pass along to their hearts. Remember, they touch the world through you. Don’t rush these precious opportunities, but make the correlation personal between them and the cause. Like a wide-eyed child captivated by the riveting stories of adventure and heroism, you become a storyteller to their hearts.



Sure, we all think people of wealth, influence, and “major giver” caliber know they are important, but tell them anyway! I love the saying “Encourage the encouragers!” So many times the people we think hear it the most, might very well hear it the least. Zig Ziglar puts it simply, “It is lonely at the top.” It’s definitely not your place to keep anyone humble, so shower your donors with heartfelt praise, gratitude, and recognition of their contribution. Tell them you couldn’t do the work of your organization without their involvement… because you honestly could not!

There are many times I disagree with the age old saying “fake it till you make it.” Now don’t call me a hypocrite. Sure, I have lived by the very meaning of that motto countless times in my life, just not in the area of intentionally growing relationships. This is different than being the wallflower at the dance or the newbie at the networking event. I’m talking about approaching donors, or should I say people, to cultivate funding.

Gratefulness and thankfulness is FREE, so spread it liberally. The human soul longs for waters of affirmation to flourish connection and confidence. So throw the “we’re #1” sign high in the air and point the foam finger at them. They are your MVP and you have the winning team!

I would bet they’ve seen it all, heard it all. The flashy presentation. The sticky sweet flattery. Surprise them with your professionalism that is marked by human touches and at times imperfections. This reminds me of the memorable scene in the movie Jerry Maguire, where Renee Zellweger’s character endearingly says “I’m just a girl standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” Disarmed and real…. What better way would you want to fall in love? It’s the human connection that sets your meetings apart from all the other hinny-kissers out there. (Yes, I really did just say that!)

W A Two-Way Street

elcome to the two-way street that put the “relationship” in donor relations. Look both ways before you cross into this territory unaware of the precious gift you hold in your hands. There is a tender humanity staring at you whose riches rival buried treasure.

Too many times I see non-profits with a singular, near-sighted, “give me, give me” mentality, expecting all those who cross their path to fund their mission. I want to blindfold them, spin them around like a small child holding a stick ready to strike the piñata. Squint into the sunlight, gather your balance, and SEE WITH NEW PERSPECTIVE THE MIGHTY POWERS IN YOUR HANDS: MISSION AND RELATIONSHIPS. Steward both. Treasure equally.


t is just a short matter of time for people to see what is really within your fundraising approach. This is why I am a firm believer that no one can adequately fundraise simply as a J-O-B. It must stem from a true sense of worth for the cause. If you are not a financial contributor to your own organization, then I would challenge how invested you really are. Give back, because you will be able to relate to your donor base on a whole new level. You are in that database as well, not solely as a name but as a person fighting for the mission. William Wallace did not sit in the back control room, but painted himself hues of blue as he charged the field. Remember, there is no “I� in TEAM.

Huddle Up

YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN YOUR PURSUIT OF THE CAUSE; YOUR DONORS ARE ON THE FIELD WITH YOU. They want to help move the ball down the field. Spread the word in their community. Volunteer. Champion the mission. Touch it. Feel it. Move with it. They are not a Las Vegas slot machine just plunking in change and mechanically pulling the lever on their monthly donation. You have the ability to draw them in, call the play, and hold hands high in celebration together for the win! Championships are won by teams, not solely players. Paint on your stripes my fellow development cohort. Your army is positioned and readied!


Tools of the Trade

o let’s get practical and talk about the skills that make the difference.

HONOR THE PERSON If you could only take away one point of action, one thing to start implementing right away, this is an understanding of honor. This action, heart motive, and stance paves a dry path through oceans deep. It cannot be faked, conjured, or imitated. It is held deep in heart, seen in the eyes, and heard through the tone of the voice. In my self-definition: Honor is esteeming the meaning of someone’s life and placing a tangible recognition that identifies this in a public way. Honor is both what you say and how you verbalize it. The neat thing is that when you acknowledge someone for WHO they are versus just WHAT they do, there is a reaction—the level of intrigue is raised and a differentiation is born connecting the development representative and the prospective or current donor. For example, when coaching someone on a meeting with a major giver, I begin with envisioning the introduction or start of the meeting with a posture of respect. This looks like an acknowledgement of the person’s value, both physically and verbally. Mind you, I didn’t say “worth” because I didn’t want to confuse you with the external success and financial status.



CONVERSATE WITH PURPOSE Cut the chatter! We are not schoolgirls on the playground. There is nothing more annoying to me than when a conversation sadly resembles a monologue. Dialogues. Discussions. Conversations. In my opinion, the best way to engage others is to ask questions. It is amazing what you can learn when you (appropriately) probe to learn more about someone. Then, what a beautiful moment when commonality arises and the conversation suddenly feels more personal. All the online dating sites should have this area as a checkbox on a profile. Yes, I am looking for someone that does not talk all about themselves. I am looking for someone interested in my life and able to hold a mature conversation. This could really help cut through some of the options! Hmmm… sound familiar? In a sense, you are dating your donors! Through our conversations we gather information, not to manipulate them, but to genuinely get to know them better. A PERSON’S LIFE AND THEIR GIVING IS INTERCONNECTED.

You cannot look solely at the gift and not see the face of the giver. Learn to ask incredible, intriguing questions. And then LISTEN!! Listen closely, not just to the words but also to the tone of the person. You can learn so much — how deeply they feel, the tender areas of their heart, and the dream they hold dear. These are the conversations I live for! There is never an empty quiver of questions, but an empty-hearted person who lacks vision in the moment. BODY LANGUAGE Okay, you got me. This really is my #1 pet peeve. Oh for heaven’s sake, LOOK at me when you talk and look at me when I talk. Eye contact. Enough said. But let me take it a step further. Years ago when I worked with an incredible leadership authority and author, he wisely said that when he speaks to audiences both large and small, he looks for those with “happy eyes.” Yes, he actually said those words, and ten years later I have them branded in my mind. Smile with your eyes, empathize with your eyes, and excite with your eyes. You are not a dead fish with a blank stare, making your to-do list in your head. In meetings and conversations, both brief and extended, you can show in your words and actions that of all the places in the world, you were destined to be with that person. GIVE YOUR FULL PRESENCE TO THE MOMENT, THE RESULTS ARE AMAZING AND MARK YOU UNFORGETTABLE.


It’s time to get back to the business of influencing, building genuine relationships… and ultimately fundraising. I’ve enjoyed this time with you, but it’s time to get a move on! I know you wouldn’t serve in non-profit sectors if you didn’t have a heart for humanity. Let’s get real! You could probably make more money, work fewer hours and retire with a full pension… but your heart chose the passionate road. My prayer is that you have found inspiration through these words to realize you are not alone and that you have what it takes to connect with your donors as you work to fund your mission. I want you to raise more money and have greater fulfillment on your team, all because you humanized and engaged your donors and major givers.

Now Go Get Busy Doing What You do Best

The few times I have attempted to practice yoga, I found a sense of power in the Warrior Pose—probably because both feet are firmly planted on the ground! This stance creates an internal strength, as you stand high, feet spread shoulder width with arms extended straight out, palms facing the sky, and lunge to one side. Try it, you’ll feel great. (I need to get back to class!) This is a picture of your role within development. YOU ARE IN A POSITION OF STRENGTH, WITH MISSION IN ONE HAND AND REACHING TO DONORS IN THE OTHER. Balance them; hold them equally. Feel the ebb and flow. Every day you get to be a vessel of peoples, mission, and greatness. I know many of you feel burdened by the ongoing, overwhelming need, buried under paperwork and juggling five roles at once. This is common within the non-profit world. I know; I’ve been there. But like the sunrise awakening the world at daybreak, set your focus or adjust your viewpoint now as to how you can effectively give life and purpose to the donors surrounding your cause. YOU ARE THE CONDUIT TO CHANGING WORLDS, MAKING LIVES BETTER, AND INFECTING CHANGE. Why otherwise would you be in fundraising? Such joy.


@ pipelime_inc

Fresh Squeezed Thoughts On Donor Development  

By Selah Hirsch

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