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Fundraiser Nightmares and How to Wake Up from Them

By Tom Watson on May 22, 2008No Comment

Fundraising Nightmares by Lilya Wagner

Imagine my delight in catching up with my missing childhood experiences when I was asked to teach “Literature for Children and Youth” at the higher education level.  I reveled with the forest creatures of The Wind in the Willows, shared anxieties with the characters of The Black Stallion, and laughed at the shenanigans of Little Women.  One of my favorite books, however, was Where the Wild Things Are.  Despite its fanged monsters, drawn with such vivid detail by Maurice Sendak, the story is ultimately a reassuring one.  Max returns from his imaginary adventures in the forest to find supper waiting for him, after all.

I have since reflected, as I made fundraising my career, that professional fundraisers often come across their own fanged monsters.  And unlike dear Max, we cannot just wish them away.  The challenge, then, is to confront and defeat them as gracefully as possible.

Because practical experience is the best teacher, onPhilanthropy is beginning a monthly column, Fundraiser Nightmares and How to Wake Up From Them, that will share with readers a real-world fundraising problem.  The situations presented in the columns will be drawn from personal experience, with only slight modifications to keep the content objective and not situation-specific.  Challenges can range from the trivial (a boss who insists on picking the color of the napkins at the spring gala) to the detrimental (a boss who won’t allow you to speak with your Board) and everything in between (grant deadlines, founder’s syndrome, an inactive Board Chair).

Readers are invited to submit solutions to the problem presented; the best will be selected by a panel of professionals and published in a subsequent issue of onPhilanthropy.  We encourage readers to share their own fundraising nightmares, as well as their solutions to those presented by others.  Please send these submissions to       

The goal of this column is to alleviate the stress that so many of us feel by providing a forum to share, to learn from each other, and to defeat the fundraising monsters that keep us up at night. 

Fundraising is a noble profession.  It offers great opportunities for career excitement and chances to intervene positively in the lives of people.  It also presents significant challenges, not always disguised as opportunities!  We invite you to actively participate in this on-going dialogue and look forward to seeing what there is to learn by sharing our experiences.

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