Outrageous Fortune Interviews
Episode #1 - Miracle Success
For the opening episode of our video series, Outrageous Fortune, Founder and Principal Peter Heller of the Heller Fundraising Group interviews Gary Friedmann (Principal, Gary Friedmann & Associates) about one of the most outrageous moments in his fundraising career.
Gary: You’re outrageous, Peter. (laughter)
Peter: Thank you! (laughter)
Peter: Welcome to another edition of Outrageous Fortune. I’m Peter Heller and I’m here today with Gary Friedman - whos already laughing. Good morning, Gary!
Gary: Good morning.
Peter: We’re here in Falls Church, Virginia, and we’re actually working together with one of our clients. Gary, why don’t you tell us about yourself?
Gary: Well, I’ve been helping nonprofit organizations all over the state of Maine for the last 25 years. My focus is helping community-based organizations realize their goals and build on their strengths. I also enjoy working with you Peter, in New York City and in the Washington DC area. We’ve had the pleasure of working on the Reform Jewish congregations; this is the second one, Temple Rodef Shalom, and it’s been really great doing their feasibility studies, getting to know them and strategizing on a major campaign for them to expand their facilities.
Peter: Gary actually gave me my first job ever in fundraising at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, in the 1980s. So, it’s kind of all your fault.
Gary: I take great pride in having launched any careers, but especially yours, Peter.
Peter: Thank you! And you have an Outrageous Fortune story for us, I believe.
Gary: There’s one in particular that I think is particularly outrageous.
Peter: I want to hear all about it!
Gary: I get all kinds of calls from small community groups all over Maine and the one unifying theme is that they always need more money - and sometimes they need a great deal of money.
Peter: Unlike the rest of us (laughter).
Gary: (laughter) About 15 years ago I got a call from this small town in northern Maine. It’s a mill town that’s sort of waning in its fortunes, but pulling itself back together. They’ve got a historic library, like many towns in Maine, that’s very old and needed some work, but mostly an expansion. They called me and said that they needed to raise several hundred thousand dollars and they weren’t sure exactly how to go about doing this. But after talking with them, I said because they had virtually no budget for fundraising I would come and give them a training. With this group, I thought it would just be nice to give them a start. So I thought, okay, I’ll go out there and see what I can do. I said I would do it for $100. I would drive up to Guilford, which is about 45 minutes North of Bangor.
Peter: You assessed that these are not the people that can really afford my services, but let me see if I can help?
Gary: Yes, basically. I got to this beautiful old library, that’s kind of up on a rise, and I went in, and they had assembled their board and other volunteers. It was quite a large group, I’d say there were about a dozen people there. I knew enough about the project, I knew how much they needed to raise, what their annual fundraising was, I’d gotten all the basic information. I had prepared an outline with the step-by-step list of instructions on how to organize a community campaign and how to raise the money that they need. And I delivered this interactive workshop that took about an hour, and they asked a lot of questions. I was probably there for about another hour in questions and answers; they had a lot of detailed questions asking how do we do this, how do we do that, and they took copious notes. At the end of the night they were very grateful for what I had done and they gave me a check for $100. And I drove back home. And I didn’t really think much about them. I mean, every once in a while I would wonder how they were doing but I have to admit I’ve got a lot of projects going on and I didn’t give it much thought. About 18 months later I got a call from the library director and she said I just want you to know that we did everything you said, we followed all the instructions, and we just reached our goal.
Peter: Oh my God!
Gary: I have to say that’s one of the most satisfying projects I’ve ever worked on. We give a lot of sage advice, and our clients often pay us a lot more than $100, and they usually don’t do what we tell them to do. So, here’s a group that took the manual and went with it.
Peter: Does it make you wonder what’s going on all the other times?
Gary: That’s an outrageous fundraising story!
Peter: Yes, that is an outrageous fundraising story! We’ve now come to the part of our interview where we’ve got a little activity. Let’s show our audience (shows paper on screen): This is the “Fun-raisers’ Credo”. It’s a “Fundraisers’ Credo” but I’ve crossed out the “D”, so it’s a “fun-raisers’”…
Gary: Yeah, that’s what we do! Fundraising should be fun!
Peter: Exactly! I’ve got my pen here and this is a new document. I thought you and I could create article number one. What would you like to put on there?
Gary: Believe in yourself. Don’t take anything too seriously.
Peter: Okay, I like that.
Gary: I mean, what’s the point if you’re not having fun?
Peter: Alright, that’s great. Any other fundraiser/fun-raisers credos?
Gary: The more friends the more fun you’re going to have. Something like that. Fundraising is a team sport, basically.
Peter: Okay, that’s a good one! Now we’re getting there! Thank you, Gary. It’s great to talk with you. This is Peter Heller with the Outrageous Fortune.
Outrageous Fortune Episode #2 - Inappropriate!?
In episode 2 of our video series, Outrageous Fortune, Founder and Principal Peter Heller of the Heller Fundraising Group interviews David Mack (Business Development, Text To Pledge) about one of the most outrageous moments in his fundraising career.
Peter: I’m nervous already. (laughter)
David: (laughter) I’m at the event and I’m reading through the messages- this is on a big event screen -- I read that and I panicked!
Peter: Welcome to another edition of Outrageous Fortune, where we ask nonprofit professionals to tell us their most outrageous fundraising story. Today I’m here with David Mack. David, why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
David: Sure. Thank you. My name is David Mack; I work for Text to Pledge, it’s a mobile fundraising outfit. I handle sales and business development as well as on-site production.
Peter: I understand you have an outrageous story for us.
David: Yes, I do, I do. As I said before, [I was] working with Text to Pledge, we are working at an event, and naturally anyone in attendance is allowed to text in a pledge to the organization. So what happens is that I’m at the event, that I’m reading through the messages--I’m on site working the event, and I’m able to see all the messages that come in from the audience…
Peter: And most of the time these are people saying, ‘I’m going to pledge $250…”
David: Exactly. A traditional message is “My name is John Doe, I appreciate this organization, I pledge $2,500 dollars”, or whatever. Pretty standard message, right? So, I’m at the event and I’m reading the message line and I read one message--I’ll leave the person’s name out but they said, “my name is so-and-so, I pledge $5,000 for this nonprofit. Oh, and by the way, can I ask out the hot woman who is presenting?” Of course, I read that and I panic! Because it’s a pretty large donation and I don’t want $5,000 dollars to go to waste, but I can’t put that on the screen for everyone to see.
Peter: This is on a big screen?
David: Yes, this is on a big event screen. Imagine a fundraising gala with anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 people.
Peter: Wow, that’s a big gala.
David: Yeah, exactly. It was at one of the larger venues downtown. So imagine a sit-down dinner gala, with anywhere between 1,000 and 1,200 people, and we’re posting messages of everyone texting in; And someone writes, “Oh I pledge $5000. By the way can I ask out the hot presenter?” I might be paraphrasing, I’m leaving some things out, because I don’t want to be too inappropriate, but it was crazy! I asked our development director at the time if I could put it on the screen--here’s a guy who’s asking out the presenter. She was a young, attractive woman who was presenting the fundraising piece on stage, and was essentially running the show at that time. The development director said sure that’s fine, we posted the message up and the whole crowd laughed, the presenter blushed and turned several shades of red, and she texted him back. So I don’t know what happened, but if they happen to see this...
Peter: That’s the big question!
David: I don’t know what happened! I’m obviously leaving the names out, but you never know!
Peter: They could be married!
David: (laughter) That could be another business model for us.
Peter: (laughter) It’s like the Bachelor!
David: Exactly! So that was outrageous - but it worked!
Peter: Thank you for sharing that story.
David: Thank you for having me.
Peter: I promised that I would do one little thing before we finish. This is my “Bad Asking” envelope. You get to pick a question out of here and whatever question it is I want you to ask it to me in all seriousness, with your most earnest, request-asking voice.
David: (laughter) Okay, alright! (Picks question out of [envelope]) So, the question is, --kay, I have to make sure that I don’t laugh. I have to do this deadpan. “Can I move in?” (laughter) That’s the question? (laughter)
Peter: (laughter) Actually David, you know, my wife and I have an extra room and I don’t know what your living situation is, but come on down and check it out. (laughter)
David: (laughter) This is embarrassing!
Peter: But that was a good one!
David: (laughter) That was a really good one!
Peter: (laughter) So, thanks again, it was great to have you here.
David: Thank you! It was a pleasure and I had a lot of fun.
Peter: Again, this is another addition of Outrageous Fortune. We will see you next time.
Episode #3: Mic Hijack!
Rachel: ...when all of a sudden I hear tapping on the microphone. A senior-aged woman up there at the mic says, “I would just like to say that this was the…” [cut]
Peter: Hi, this is Peter Heller. We’re here today with another episode of Outrageous Fortune, where we ask fundraising and nonprofit professionals to tell us outrageous stories about fundraising. Today I’m with Karen Bloom and Rachel Lobovsky. Karen, tell us a little bit about your business.
Karen: Terrific! Rachel and I started Fund Up one year ago, and we help nonprofits find new ways to raise more money.
Peter: Fabulous! You’ve been doing that very successfully with me and a few of our shared clients.
Peter: Thank you for that. What were you doing before?
Rachel: We worked for many years with various nonprofit organizations, twice with each other doing everything from development to marketing to public relations, events, you name it. We really had a wide breadth of experience in all these different organizations and decided to go off on our own and do it ourselves.
Peter: Care to say the names of any of those?
Rachel: Sure, we can share.
Karen: We want to protect some, no, just kidding. Project Kesher which works with projects and programs overseas in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Israel. And we’ve worked with World ORT in America; they also work overseas with some presence in America doing schools and training programs.
Rachel: I also worked with the American Jewish Historical Society for a few years and we tried to capture the story of the American Jewish presence here in United States.
Peter: Rachel, I understand you have an outrageous fundraising story for us?
Rachel: Yes, yes. I’m excited to share. So, I was staffing an event for an organization that I worked for and it was a luncheon—
Peter: Probably a nameless organization. (laughter)
Rachel: (laughter) A nameless organization, yes, although we just shared some names of organizations.
Karen: It was’t one of those!
Rachel: Not one of those. So, it was a luncheon and it was really a cultivation luncheon. It was for donors to this organization that give at a particular level, and it was an opportunity to thank them for their support; and many of them were longstanding members of this organization. One of the highlights of the event was the national president was speaking that day, which was a big deal for the national president to travel around and to meet with various groups.
Peter: How many people would you say were at this luncheon?
Rachel: I would say there were about 75 people at this luncheon. The program was going really well, and it was time for the president to speak and she went up to the podium. She spoke and I think she did a very good job—she spoke powerfully about the organization and all that it accomplishes. So, it was all being accomplished. After she spoke, the chair of the event was beaming. It was the moment when she goes up to thank the president for her remarks and invite the group to enjoy their dessert.
Peter: We’ve all been there.
Rachel: Yes, we’ve all been there!
Karen: And enjoying the dessert!
Rachel: Everybody there seemed very happy. I was at the back of the room just mingling with people, networking with the different donors, when all of a sudden I hear a tap on the microphone.
Peter: Up on the podium?
Rachel: That’s right. Up on the podium, on the mic, I hear a tapping and I look up to see a woman, a senior-aged woman up at the mic. I had a little moment and took a breath, because we typically like everything very planned. There’s very little spontaneity that that we appreciate at events.
Karen: We like planned spontaneity.
Peter: Wait, are you a fundraiser?
Peter, Karen, Rachel: (laughter)
Peter: I’ve never heard that from a fundraiser before! (laughter)
Rachel: So, this particular program pretty much was all mapped out, and this is unexpected. But it was a moment where we go, okay, we do know who this is, maybe this is a moment where she’s going to take the mic and then say something to support the program, or maybe make an announcement about a special gift. It was unclear. We’re there sort of waiting, and she looks at the audience and says, “I would just like to say that this was the worst speech I’ve ever heard in my life! And I will never support this organization! All you do is ask for money and I am not going to give any more money!”
So at this point I’m thinking fast on my feet. What do I do? So I go up to the mic where the woman is, and I gently but firmly say to her, “Can we talk about this off-line? I understand you might have some questions that you would like to get off your chest, maybe now is not the perfect moment for this.” I slowly take the mic and she grabs it back! She’s not done and she says, “No! I just have to say these things because I’m tired of it!” I slowly take the mic again and she pulls it right back and then, what do I do at this moment? I flip off the power on the mic.
So she continues the next 20 seconds ranting into the mic but no one can hear her. I’m looking at the audience and everyone’s mouths are ajar and their eyes are wide, and she continues and then she finally makes her way off the stage and back to her seat. Luckily our president had a good sense of humor, so for many days and months after that we would look at each other and say, “That was the worst!”, no matter where we were. It was definitely a first and hopefully a last. But I think it teaches you [that] in our world you’ve got to be fast on your feet and be ready for those impromptu moments.
Karen: And also bring a safe with you. So when the microphones finished being used you can put it in the safe and lock it up so no one can get into it. It’s very important. We learned that one.
Rachel: Very important, always shut up the mic after.
Karen: No access to the mic!
Peter: That’s one of the main things. Do you recall how long the event went on after that happened, and was the rest of the event awkward? Or did people kind of get over that?
Karen: It was slightly awkward, for sure, the moment when the woman stepped off the stage and the president was sitting in the audience having lunch with guests, I think there were a lot of guests saying to her “You’re wonderful,” etc. And people slowly went back to the lunch. It certainly was an interesting awkward moment.
Peter: I have one other thing I’d like to do with you today. My audience knows we play a little goofy fundraising games from time to time. Today we have with us our hand puppets of Freud and his couch. You probably don’t know, my grandmother was a psychoanalyst, so this is a long family tradition.
Rachel: And it does explain a lot! (laughter)
Peter: (laughter) It does explain a lot, that years of therapy have not been able to take care of (laughter).
So, we like to do the Heller analysis of fundraising challenges. I’m going to put you on the spot for a minute, either of you. If there is some fundraising or consulting challenge that comes to mind, maybe Freud with his couch can solve your challenge.
Rachel: Okay. Let’s think about this.
Karen: I have a client who is challenged about recognizing larger gifts publicly. And they feel understandably that every gift is important. So how do you balance the concept which we all agree with, that every gift is important, with the concept of identifying lead gifts and acknowledging lead gifts in some public way?
Peter (as Freud puppet): This all goes back to your parents!
Peter, Karen, Rachel: (laughter)
Peter: I’m trying to think of what Freud would say … So I think this is actually something we deal with sometimes with some of the organizations we’ve been working with together, where there’s actually a fear of the large gift. This is actually a whole subject we can talk about. What I mean by that is the inability to accept that certain people in the community can make large gifts and that doesn’t make the people who can’t do that less valuable as human beings. I find that can be a really hard hurdle to overcome, and that what I’ve seen work well is actually convening small groups of people within the community to talk about what money means to them because often there are unresolved issues about money in the community.
Karen: I think that’s true.
Peter: Freud might advise that!
I want to thank you both for joining me here today, Karen Bloom and Rachel Lobovsky from Fund Up. This is Peter Heller with another edition of Outrageous Fortune.