Seize that Man!

0d6db1869c3722cdef228785bb64b55aThere’s a scene in Season 1 of HBO’s Games of Thrones – or for the ultra-cool types that actually read all 42,000 pages associated with A Song of Fire and Ice, it’s in Book 1 – where Catelyn Stark (nee Tully), surreptitiously travelling with only one guard, confronts Tyrion Lannister, the primary suspect behind her son’s attempted assassination. The setting is a Pub, frequented by soldiers from different Houses along the Riverlands. Knowing she won’t get the chance to capture Tyrion again, but also knowing she’s at a tactical disadvantage, she stands up and calls very public attention to who she is and what the various allegiances are to her House (Tully) and her husband’s (Stark). One by one the soldiers, who really only wanted a moment to enjoy in peace their flagon of ale, acknowledge her calls for fealty, and of course, her accusation against the suspected assassin. It’s only then that she flips the switch to full-on Badass mode and drops the hammer on Tyrion, “Seize that Man!”

It’s one of my favorite scenes in the book, and if you’re a nonprofit warrior like me, it should be yours as well because it completely encapsulates our archetype. How often have we stood in front of a group of people (or even just one) and passionately argued our vision for changing the world — outgunned, alone, afraid, and without nary a resource to support us. And how badass is it when they heed our call for help and respond by giving their time, money and occasionally, their swords to a most worthy cause.

In a way, Catelyn Stark was the first fundraiser. I just hope her outcome at the Red Wedding is not what awaits all nonprofit warriors.

Friends stepping up selflessly, compassionately, are what the nonprofit world is built upon — people actually listening to the whys and hows of it all. Not Apps on your phone. Not Text to Give campaigns. Not 30-second elevator speeches because a 31 second speech is much too long to listen to another living, breathing human being fighting to change the world.

Donors used to care about old-fashioned, honest to goodness, laugh at your jokes, ask how your daughter is doing in college, give-and-take relationship building. I can’t tell you how many major (and minor) gifts I secured around a cup of coffee (or at, umm, at a Martini tasting) spending time with people getting to know them. There was an authenticity in both our approaches. I was truly energized by their vision and desire to change the world through charity X, Y or Z, and they genuinely wanted to connect – to an organization, to the staff, and to the clients being served.

That mutual connection between us and our donors is what made Development a great profession. After all, we weren’t selling widgets to line some fat-cat’s pocket. We were selling a better world, and in doing so, we all felt good about ourselves.

But during the past half dozen years, donors have become increasingly “too busy” to take a call, let alone meet, let alone connect. Sure, there’s an element of self-preservation to it all. “If I take your request for a meeting than surely every one of your sycophantic ilk will crawl out of the wood-work to ask for my money, maybe even steal my soul or whatever it is you people do.” There’s a skepticism… an incredulity to both our profession and the industry as a whole.  I get it.  After all, Cancer hasn’t gone away. One in four children is still living in poverty. One third of our teens still drop out of high school. One in four college-age women still report being sexually assaulted. The world is a dark scary place and it sure doesn’t seem to be getting any better despite our best efforts.

A fundraising rock-star once told me, “The only problems left in this world are the big ones.” Fuck-yeah, so saddle up and help me make this world a better place. Isn’t that the whole point to living? Making the world a better place?  Wanting to live in a better place? For ourselves, our children, our pet children, our Chia Pets, whatever?

Or has it truly become a NIMBY, get off my lawn you rotten kids, it’s all-about-me, YOLO world?

Personally, I subscribe to something Jodie Foster said in the movie Contact, based upon Carl Sagan’s book of the same name. Her character was royally screwed out of going to space by Tom Skerritt’s character (who I’m glad to see survived that brush with the Alien). He says something to the effect of, “I wish the world was the kind of place that rewarded your optimism and honesty.” To which she says in probably the second best imitation of a Badass behind the aforementioned Catelyn Stark, “Funny, but I always thought the world was what we make it.”

So is this it? Our brave new world that eschews relationships for a button click, closes its doors to new friends, views everything with skepticism and incredulity, and generally doesn’t return phone calls? Or, when push comes to shove, are there still people out there that believe as Jodie Foster did, as I do… that the world is what we make it and thus are willing to take a few minutes to help Catelyn Stark get justice?

Unfortunately, the last time I stood up in the middle of a Pub and implored my fellow patrons to join me in meting out justice, everyone remained fixed on their flagons pretending not to hear me.

And then someone threw me out.

– Jon

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