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Cultivate Love Money, Don’t Chase Narcissist Money

One of the most important conversations I have with clients is about their fundraising style, and mindset is at the heart of it. It is closely connected to one’s larger mission, and one’s conviction that this mission is worthy. But even people who have strong convictions can struggle with fundraising.

If you are a culture or community builder, fundraising is about finding people who want you to do your work at the highest possible level, to do the greatest possible good in the world. Just acknowledging that and staying in that affirmative and loving mindset helps you and those around you do your best work.

The ultimate goal is not simply to satisfy short-term funding needs, but to cultivate relationships that support your work long-term. I call this sort of support “love money.” To find that love money, we need to find and maintain the right mindset.

How do we get in the right mindset for fundraising?

First, let’s look at what is behind the counterproductive mindset that I most commonly see.

Many people tell me that they don’t like raising money, or that they are not good at it. People feel extremely vulnerable in these moments. I have seen more than half a dozen clients break down into tears in the early stages of working on fundraising campaigns, even among those who go on to raise millions. People get angry. They can feel helpless or at the mercy of others. They can even feel humiliated by the very need to ask.

These reactions are rooted in commonly experienced and complicated personal issues with money, presumptions about wealthy people, and reluctance to ask for help. In this mindset, raising money becomes a chore, or even something to resent. As a result, fundraisers may start to bear resentment toward the very people who want to help them.

Such a mindset is not based in reality.

The mindset of abundance is reality

People want to help others. We as humans are wired to do this and find joy in it. The scientific and religious literature is full of evidence of this.

That’s why community and culture builders do what we do. That’s why donors do what they do.

Many wealthy people reach a stage in their lives when they seek to be more and to do more, but they can’t do it alone. For these people, giving is not just about vanity or legacy. They know that they are not artists or community organizers. They may not understand the intricacies of a Toni Morrison novel or the hard work required to combat social inequity or systemic oppression, but they want to support the work of those who do.

In their mindset, sharing the wealth is not a duty that they resent, but a service joyfully performed. When you receive money from people like this, you are helping them learn and grow, too. Why shouldn’t the fundraiser share in this mindset?

Now of course, many nonprofit fundraisers have had bad experiences with donors. Not every donor out there is interested in reciprocal altruism. They may give in response to other triggers, such as pride, vanity, or a desire to control others. For the sake of brevity, we’ll call this phenomenon “narcissist money.”

Giving and receiving is reciprocal joy

The first big thing to remember when you are learning to fundraise: It all works best when it is about authentic altruism and reciprocal care and love. You can’t fake this, and this is where love money comes in.

This doesn’t mean that you should sugarcoat things for your donors, or make them feel good all the time. It means the opposite.

A truly loving and authentic relationship is based in honesty for all parties, growing and learning together.

Our organizations, the communities we serve, our donors: They are all connected. The nature of the exchange may differ between each group, but we are all sharing resources, time, energy, ideas and more. Singling out donors to be treated differently – with apprehension, with fear, or even disdain – will affect our other relationships.

While we hold ourselves accountable to stay in a place of genuine care, we also need to be realistic about the expectations of others.

Cultivate love money, don't chase narcissist money

When you are fundraising effectively, you should be thinking about these relationships first, not the money or budgets. Of course money and budgets are important, but fixating solely on numbers rather than humans can lead people into anxiety, desperation, and that mindset of scarcity.

I have little to say about narcissist money right now except this: Narcissist money is never big enough to justify the work to raise it.

If you are accepting narcissist money, it better be ten times what you’d expect from someone who understands genuine giving. You can take it, but never rely on it, and never chase it. It’s never worth it. I generally recommend that you just drop it and focus the energy you’re spending on chasing it on cultivating love money instead. We’ll talk more about this later.

Love money grows and it connects. Love money always gets bigger on its own. If you tap into that energy and remember how it connects with your mission, inexhaustible support will follow.

Cultivate the mindset of abundance before asking

We are all improved by genuine giving. Cultivating this mindset puts you in a position to raise money with less effort and anxiety, and more fulfillment.

To those of you who have dedicated yourselves to building community and culture, know that abundance of support exists. So, ask yourself this question: What will you do with more money? How will you make the world better?

Your clear answer to this is the beginning of your fundraising journey. It’s the reason why love money donors will invest in your work.

Done well, the act of fundraising is an extension of your mission, not a distracting series of necessary evils that merely enable it.

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