Generosity should be joyful

I get to work with Sarah Marino of Campbell & Company from time to time. Sarah was a true partner in the changing landscape of fundraising at Second Harvest – where I worked prior to joining Aperio Philanthropy – during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We were in the middle of a modest fundraising growth plan when the pandemic started and that changed every plan we had. Here is an edited conversation we had in April 2022 about why, as she puts it, generosity should be joyful. 

Cat Slack: Let’s start with some money talk. For some this is a taboo topic.

Sarah Marino: I do not shy away from money talk. I can’t seem to get away from it, actually! 

CS: That is why we get along so well. When someone hears I am a fundraiser they say, “I could NEVER do that.” People elaborate without much prodding: 

  • “I could never ask people for money.” 
  • “It’s too personal.” 
  • “I feel icky.” I am not kidding, someone said that once to me.

SM: That all sounds very familiar. I think when volunteers or fundraisers (yes, even professional fundraisers are a little afraid to ask for money sometimes!) say those things, they mean they don’t like to directly solicit. But fundraising is like 5% soliciting and 95% relationship building. It’s mostly getting to know people, which is not icky at all.

CS: Exactly.

My fiance is in sales. When he tells people what he does, they express that they are impressed or that they don’t know about the subject matter. It is funny because sales and fundraising have so many things in common.

In fundraising I am selling something that will help someone, often a solution for someone in crisis. 

SM: It’s money and it’s personal values. These are “touchy” subjects for some people for sure and even intimate. And while there is maybe a bit more transparency growing in those spaces in our culture – like more transparency when it comes to compensation (yay!) and the way we more openly state our views on issues or politics – they are still sensitive subjects. So there’s certainly a level of care and respect that’s needed when soliciting a gift because you are asking people to consider and then reveal their resources and values. So it’s deserving of respect. 

The comparison to sales is fair, but I admit it’s one I’m not super comfortable with (maybe that’s aspirational). Sales is a transaction, but the best of fundraising should not be. While there is meaning and satisfaction and impact that happens as a result of one’s gift, it’s less of an exchange in my mind.  

CS: Agreed. It is a worthy challenge because you have to develop that relationship and understand the change people want to see in the world. They have to trust you and your organization to fulfill that intention.

It comes back to defining philanthropy. Sometimes that includes filling in the gaps that government programs leave (not very inspirational, but sometimes true), taking risks to get widespread adoption (look at medical research) and simply living your values.

SM: It’s the intersection of one’s values and one’s resources, which is a very potent place. It’s an expression of what matters to you and what change you want to see in the world. I think it’s also helpful to answer what philanthropy is NOT: It is not just big gifts. It is not for elite circles only. It is not an exchange of privilege for access.

CS: Philanthropy is for everyone and for it to work it needs to involve everyone: the people who can give and the people who find themselves needing help. All of those voices coming together allow us all to address real challenges. Even in the midst of hardship, philanthropy can bring joy. Asking for money, and being the catalyst to help someone live their values, is a joy and privilege. I liken it to being a bridge: fundraisers get to be the bridge between those with capacity and those who are in need right now. 

SM: Generosity should be joyful. The framing I was told once early in my fundraising career is “If you don’t ask, you are taking away an opportunity for someone to do the right thing.” That has been enormously helpful in my approach. You aren’t asking someone for something, you are OFFERING them something. Giving can be a joyful and wonderful experience. It’s helpful to think about how you feel when you give someone a hand or help out – it feels good! Giving feels good too. So as fundraisers, we aren’t asking people to sacrifice or do something painful, we’re giving them a chance to align their resources with their hopes.