Mastery by George leonard

I was recently reading a book called  “Mastery” and it struck me that it could be applied to fundraising.

How do you know you’ve mastered fundraising?

Well, you never really know. There’s always something more to learn.

Whether it’s the fact that you’ve done grants your whole life and you don’t know about appeal letters, or whether you’ve been in a big shop and only done planned giving, or even if you’ve been in a small shop and had to do a little appeal letter, a little grantwriting, but then never got to learn how to do a capital campaign? There are so many holes in our knowledge. We’ve got to do better. I know, it’s worked so far, but it hasn’t worked as well as we’d like it to.

This book, by George Leonard, talks about the different kinds of learners:

Dabbler: Someone who get frustrated quickly and gives up, then tries something else. This is the person who reads a book on karate, goes to a couple of classes, and drops out. Then who decides it’s indonesian stick-fighting for them, goes to a couple of classes, drops out. Then decides they want to learn Japanese. Picks up a book, practices for a week, and then they drop it. Ever known anyone like that?

Obsessive: Someone who obsessively tries to go into the biggest splash they can make in a class, who tries very very hard for awhile, then gets burnt out and never comes back. They don’t want to be on a plateau. They FEAR the plateau. Oh man. I am such an obsessive!

Hacker: Learns just enough to get by, and then stays on a plateau for awhile, then bumps up a bit as they have to learn something new, and stays on that plateau indefinitely. Maybe this person just had to learn how to enter donations. Then they learn how to run events. And that’s all they ever learn. Nonprofit marketing, grantwriting, planned giving, none of that interests them. They think, “Why bother?” They won’t get promoted. They’ll stay on their plateau.

Mastery: Is learning when you are on a plateau, and working hard to love that plateau while getting in community with others to learn, to improve yourself, and then to slowly work towards the next level of mastery. it’s a tricky balancing, because you can’t go after mastery too hard, then you’ll be an obsessive. You just have to make slow and steady progress every day. But you also need to keep learning. And you need to see what success looks like. What are you shooting for? Is it the development director role? The chief development officer role? Your own consulting firm? What do you need to know to get there?

How do you attain fundraising mastery?  LOVE THE PLATEAUS and CONTINUALLY Strive to be better, through

1. Instruction: This means reading blogs, books, attending webinars and workshops to succeed. What was the last workshop or webinar you attended? What did your last conference teach you? What was the last fundraising book you read? What was the best fundraising book you read recently? And if you can’t remember the last fundraising book you read, the last workshop, or the last webinar, it’s probably time to learn again.

2. Practice: Going back and applying what you learned, as quickly as you can. Even volunteering with another nonprofit if your current one doesn’t let you do everything that you’d like to try.

3. Surrender: Know that you’re not going to get it right the first time, or even the first 10 times. but that you need to just love the process. everybody fails, even big shots. You never really stop failing. Your failures are part of you learning. If your boss or your team can’t accept that, they need to read this book.

4. Intentionality: Visualize yourself succeeding. Visualize your appeal letter making $30,000, or a sum that would be significant for your organization. Visualize yourself writing that winning grant. Visualize people opening your enewsletter and donating $1,000 on the spot.

5. The Edge: getting better and better. But what does that look like? Is it trying a new area of fundraising? Working on social media communications instead of direct mail campaigns? Working on planned giving instead of capital campaigns? Working on grants instead of database management? whatever it is, there are so many fields of fundraising out there that it will be impossible to ever be a master of them all. But that’s the fun part, right? You never have to worry about running out of things to learn! And the more you learn and practice, the more valuable you are going to be to any employer.


What are some tools for mastery?

1. Recognize that you are going to resist the changes. You are going to want to slide back into the old ways of doing things. People around you are also going to resist it when you try to do things differently. This is normal and expected. Learning something new about fundraising and then applying it is a lot like starting a new workout routine. It takes TIME to get into that groove until it’s ingrained in your body and in your mind. it takes TIME to convince everyone to create a culture of philanthropy at your nonprofit.

2. Be willing to negotiate with your resistance. What does that mean? Acknowledge that you’re in resistance. You get out of bed in the morning and you know you should go for a run, but you just want to fall back into bed. So, okay, you don’t feel like going hard today. So go most of the distance, then come back. You don’t have to power through it at full speed.

3. Develop a support system. This means a group of people around you who want to support you and your efforts. How do you find this group of people? I’ve started a meetup group in Portland to do this. I suggest you copy what I have done for your city, if you like the format. And I am going to start cultivating more community on this website as well, and I’d love to get your ideas for how that could work.

4. Follow a regular practice. This means every day, going in, sitting down, and saying, okay, what can I do that MUST be done today, and what is something less pressing but just as important that I need to get done? And what can I do today to advance myself in the field of fundraising? How can I help someone else just starting out? And how can I build my own personal board of directors to help myself succeed?

5. Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. Don’t just read blogs. Take a fundraising webinar. Take a fundraising workshop. Get a fundraising coach. Join a membership site where you can find  community, learning, and coaching. Find the right teacher for you. There are many out there. Gail Perry, Pamela Grow, Betsy Baker, Sherry Truhar, Sandy Rees, Marc Pitman, Joe Garecht, Joe Waters, and of course, me.

Do you have any suggestions for people seeking fundraising mastery?

What are they? Please leave a comment.