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Letter 006 - Fundraising


Read letters from an antihero

Letter 006 - Fundraising

Christopher Bartley


My philosophy has recently taught me a few lessons about an F-word I thought I'd never do again: Fundraising. Ugh. "Development" sounds much more sophisticated, but let's call it what it is. A handout. And I'm not a fan of sticking out my hand with nothin' in it.

I recently came across the story of Esther this Easter (what are the odds) with new insight. Esther was a Jew who became Queen to a non-Jewish king. With the help of her uncle, she defeats an adversary who planned to kill all Jews. How did she do it? Esther asked for a handout.

Reading the story of Esther with fresh eyes illuminated why I have a hard time with fundraising. Here are some of my vulnerable thoughts of reflection.

When her uncle hears about the news of genocide, he tells Esther to do something as queen. But Esther was worried that her king with many concubines wouldn’t recognize her or didn’t want anything to do with her, since it was a month since he's seen her. And unannounced visitations lead to death.

I’m scared of reconnecting with people I trust, but haven't spoken to in years—especially now that I need something from them. I'm being that guy. What if they don't recognize me? Or worse, what if they know my past and don’t want anything to do with me? And like the king, people don't like "unannounced" cold calls or emails. My request will surely face death like Esther..

When Esther arrived, the king unexpectedly showered her with love. She didn't even open her mouth before the king asked her what she wanted, offering to give her half the kingdom.

Hm, I didn't expect that. So I have to get over my fear of rejection and approach those who can help me. Perhaps they already anticipate my needs and would be more than happy to help.

In the midst of her mourning over the fate of her Jewish nation, Esther exhibits her best self by putting on her royal clothes to meet the king. From afar, she was recognized as royalty, which prevented her death.

I'm not facing death by sword but an inbox with spam filters. I’ve put in a lot of time crafting official donor letters to present my "best self", but my request won't even make it to the gate without being recognizable. So I must use an email address old colleagues would recognize and create a subject line, with personable content that'll escape my death by auto-deletion from afar.

The king was ready to hear Esther's request, but she hosted two galas before asking. Was this a strategy or fearful delay? Either way, she took her time with someone who was already primed to give. She unnecessarily wooed him.

Esther's wooing worked because the king already expected to fulfill her wishes. Will my wooing be accepted or patronizing? Should I woo at all? Should I cold-call/email first and then send a warmer follow-up with a donation letter or can I smash both galas into one and create a personable message with donor letter attached?

The king had a dream that led him to find out that Esther’s uncle—a Jew—once saved his life. This created requital for her uncle and then empathy for the entire Jewish community, which expedited her request to prevent impending genocide.

So my copywriting and direct mailing skills can only go so far to persuade a donor. Sounds like there are things out of my control that God handles which will expedite or at least make my efforts fruitful.

Here's why I really like the book of Esther. There's no mention of God in the original text. Not once. But just like in yoga and meditation sessions or even music theory, you can get a sense of the philosophy.

This is just a personal letter of reflection to express how my faith and fundraising are connected, so no bullet list or summary's necessary. I might create an illustration for the library. But I hope this letter finds you well. Remember, you're not alone in this.

-- bxrtley