Resilience: 3 Ways to Thrive in 2021

conviction courage curiosity fundraising tips resilience Feb 08, 2021

Remember WALL-E, the last robot left on a dead planet?

That sweet little guy charged up every morning, worked hard all alone, and then one day he discovered a plant, did every single thing in his power to care for it, and ended up re-greening the world.

Could this be your WALL-E moment?

You’re not on a dead planet, but it sure has felt isolated and weird this last year. Between the pandemic and the economy, hundreds of fundraisers have told us they’ve lost momentum and a little mojo.

Could today be your day to power up, find your treasures (philanthropists!), take amazing care of them, and help them change the world? 

Here are three shifts to help you feel energized, enthusiastic, and resilient in 2021.


The most magical shift any fundraiser can make is from self to donor, from fear about meeting metrics to boundless curiosity about this cool person. Curiosity energizes you – it fuels the tenacity you need to get in the door and makes every conversation richer.

Your WALL-E move: Approach every day certain you will meet someone fascinating.

Your power-tool: Listen 75% - and make the other 25% great questions.

 Get yourself excited to meet them! Dig just a little deeper on LinkedIn – what have they published, what do they share, what do people say about them in the “recommendations” section? Knowing what makes someone tick helps you connect to them and makes trying (and trying, and trying again) a little bit easier.

Ask great questions! You can honor this person, learn cool things about them, and discover what they may want to support by starting with great questions. “What’s made you proudest in your career?” or “What did you take away from campus that’s mattered most in your life?” or “What do you hope for students today?” lead to richer answers than “Tell me about your time on campus,” right?

Ask another. Follow up with “Say more about that” or “It sounds like there’s a story there?” People tend to stop at the short answer, not wanting to bore you with the deeper one. Prompt them to say more and you’ll learn much more about their interests and values (and achieve your goal to listen 75% of the time!).=

Starting with curiosity takes the pressure off you (no spiel, no elevator speech!). It makes the person you’re talking with feel valued, heard, important – a rare gift in this world. And, you actually achieve what you’re there for: you learn what makes this person tick, what matters most to them.

Once you know what they care about, you get to explore whether the way they want to change the world is a match for the world-changing your institution is doing. And for that, nothing beats…


Conviction is contagious. You need to be as genuinely excited about the projects you’re funding as you want your donor to be.

Your WALL-E move: Remember your own, genuine, personal “why.”

Your power tool: Before-and-after stories that show impact in human terms.

If you are a little stalled, if your enthusiasm has dimmed a little, or the project you’re seeking to fund is falling a little flat for you, it’s time to shift from “meh” to conviction.

Ask yourself a few questions. Of all the things your institution does, what makes you proudest? How do you know your institution is changing the world? Why would (or do!) you give? Not everybody gets to change the world with their daily work – remember how and why you do and let your conviction shine through!

Ask your campus colleagues cool questions. Building to name? Don’t stop at square footage and “cutting edge labs,” “21st century classrooms,” “innovative makers’ spaces.” Everybody says that! Instead, discover (so that you can describe in inspiring detail) how the experience and outcomes of people in this building will be entirely changed by that new space.

  • What/how will they learn there that isn’t possible now?
  • What will they see in a new way?
  • What experience will they gain that is unavailable today?

Paint a wildly compelling before-and-after picture – with your donor in the magical middle making it happen - and you’ll get yourself revved up.

And then – when you’re filled with curiosity and fueled by conviction – it’s time to pick up the danged phone and call. Yep – not just email, also call, and text, and call again. Which takes…


Your actual job is to talk to strangers. Ultimately, about money. Which is not easy.

It was, to be honest, a little easier in person, right? But we’ve been mostly virtual for almost a year – and likely will be until summer or even fall.

So, if you still feel a little sheepish about calling folks (pandemic! economy!), today may be the day to make a shift to courage.

Your WALL-E move: Assume the best – you’re not bugging them!

Your power tool: Call.

Assume the best. Yours is one of hundreds of emails in their inbox. If they saw it, perhaps they meant to reply and got distracted. Give them the benefit of the doubt and try again!

Pick up the phone. Human voices are magical and your extra effort means a lot. After you’ve sent your beautifully tailored email, call them. Take a deep breath, channel your curiosity and conviction, and call.

Keep it up. A few days later, call again, or text. Then send another friendly email (“I know your inbox must be impossibly crowded – so eager to talk with you!”) and call again. For real.

WALL-E never stopped trying, and neither should you!

In many ways, that’s the very definition of resilient, right?