10 Fundraising Lessons from Harry Potter

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10 Fundraising Lessons from Harry Potter

Harry Potter is arguably one of the most influential works of literature of the last 20-30 years. Millions of kids (and lots of adults!) read the books, and the universe J.K. Rowling created lives on in websites, movies, games, and endless merchandise.

One of the reasons this series is so influential is that the books are full of wisdom that can apply to any person or situation. Here are some of our favorite Harry Potter quotes, plus lessons they can offer specifically to nonprofit fundraisers.

 “Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

In any work situation, you’ll encounter someone who’s hard to work with. They may have a different work style than you do. You might have a hard time communicating with them. They may run fundraising campaigns that don’t make sense to you. They may enjoy eating microwaved fish at their desk. Whatever the difference is, you can rest assured that you’ll always need to work with someone you don’t necessarily love.

When your coworker is driving you nuts (and, let’s be honest, you’re probably driving them nuts, too), remember this quote. You both have different habits and language. You think differently. You have different attitudes towards smelly lunches. But you’re both on the same page, and you’re both working on the same mission. That’s something to be valued!

“Soon we must all face the choice between what is right, and what is easy.”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Man oh man, isn’t it aggravating when you have to make this choice? Whether you’re trying to make little decisions (like whether you’ll spend some time creating a top-notch receipt instead of using a copy-and-paste template) or big ones (like whether you’ll take a major donation from a problematic donor), you’ll eventually have to choose between doing something the easy way or doing something right.

Spoiler, if you haven’t read Harry Potter: doing it the easy way never works out.

“I mean, it’s sort of exciting, isn’t it, breaking the rules?”
– Hermione Granger, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Even serial rule-follower Hermione Granger gets excited about breaking the rules sometimes. Breaking rules can be a good thing!

Now, we don’t suggest breaking BIG rules like tax laws or laws against discriminatory hiring practices. But some rules are made to be broken. Does your appeal sound stiff and boring? Maybe it’s time to break some of the grammar rules you learned in college. Traditional fundraising events not working for you? It’s time to break out of the “we’ve-always-done-it-this-way” box and try something new.

No two organizations have the same donor base, so what is best practice for other nonprofits might not work for yours. Using others’ examples as a template for your own fundraising ideas is a great move, but don’t follow another’s playbook entirely. You’re not working with the same team!

“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”
– Sirius Black, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

This is kind of similar to the Dumbledore quote up there, but still. This quote from Sirius stands out, especially because of his story. Sirius was framed for murder, lived on the run, and still managed to do right by his friends and the wizarding world at large. If anyone could have acted on the dark inside him, it’s Sirius!

Anyone who’s worked in the nonprofit world knows that there are many opportunities to act on that darker side of ourselves. It’s easy to pass the blame when a campaign falls flat, lapse into gossiping about what that one donor did at the last gala (and did you see what she was wearing?!), or tear down struggling coworkers. Being tempted by those things doesn’t mean you’re a bad person! The choices you make are what counts.

“Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
– Kingsley Shacklebolt, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The world is nuts right now. Nonprofits are working to offer desperately-needed services in their communities, and they’re doing so all over the world. When we see alarming trends like giving going down in 2018, it’s easy to feel like we have to compete with other nonprofits for every last dollar.

And, yes, having donors switch to supporting a different nonprofit can be heartbreaking. If (and when) you ever find yourself in that situation, remind yourself: that nonprofit’s mission is worthy, too. The lives they impact are important. It doesn’t remove the sting of losing support, but it can help ease the pain a little.

“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

We all know that storytelling is one of the most important skills to have when you’re a fundraiser. Dumbledore beautifully sums up why that’s the case: words can heal injuries, right wrongs, and amend injustices.

Those words can also inflict damage, even if we didn’t necessarily mean for it to happen. So, take a lesson from Dumbledore; be intentional with the words you use. Whether you’re writing an appeal, sending an update, pushing for change, or navigating a difficult board meeting, be careful with what you say and how you say it.

“You sort of start thinking anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve.”
– Ginny Weasley, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

When you think about it, nonprofit fundraisers are in the business of setting audacious goals and pursuing lofty missions. They want to eliminate rampant hunger in their communities! Prevent environmental crises! Save lives by providing medical care! Rescue mistreated animals! Educate new generations of humanity!

But it’s easy to lose sight of the daring goals you’ve set for yourself when you’re caught up in the day-to-day routines of answering emails and reconciling bank statements. Every once in a while, take a leaf from Ginny’s book and evaluate what you’re doing. Psych yourself up. Think of all the good you’re doing in the world, set some new goals, and find the nerve to make it possible.

“Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human… the fact that you can feel pain like this is your greatest strength.”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Burnout is one of the biggest challenges nonprofit fundraisers face. Some of the driving reasons for burnout are related to problems in the industry itself; pay is often low, budgets are small, and fundraisers are expected to do more with less. It’s a topic that’s been pretty thoroughly discussed.

But burnout can also be attributed to the nature of the job. When you’re a fundraiser, you’re faced with some of humanity’s biggest problems every day. That can easily become a burden! When you’re overwhelmed by the problem you’re trying to solve, remind yourself of two things.

One: the fact that you’re burdened by the work you do means that you’ve resisted becoming cynical and jaded. It means you’re still empathetic and compassionate. That’s amazing! And, two, remember that your mental health is important. Your humanity is an important strength, but even the strongest people in the world need a break every once in a while. Set healthy boundaries, seek counseling or therapy when you need it, and build a network of people that can support each other when burnout starts to happen. You’re doing important work, and people need you to take care of yourself.

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

The world these days is wild. People are divided by ideologies, politics, religion, and every other factor you can image. The disagreements we face every day are important and valid: it should always be acceptable to disagree with each other, condemn bigotry, and stand up for truth.

Whenever possible, we should strive to address those differences and disagreements with integrity. The way our nonprofits navigate sensitive issues can unite or divide the people in our communities even further. When we respond to divisions, react to disagreements, or find ourselves in the difficult position of having to speak out against bigotry or hate, our responses should be carefully considered. We should always promote unity and love over division and hate. We—and our communities—will be made stronger for it.

“It is my belief… that the truth is generally preferable to lies.”
– Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

“Duh,” we might think when we read this quote. “Of course the truth is preferable to lies.”

But it is so, so easy to fall into the habit of telling little white lies. It’s easy to minimize transparency. We can easily fall into the trap of fudging numbers, exaggerating stories, or smoothing over bumpy progress.

Since transparency is an increasingly important factor donors use to determine where they give, it’s critical that we prioritize honesty. And that doesn’t only mean telling the technical truth! It also means sharing financial information, being open about fundraising progress, staying accountable to board members, and being transparent with our donors and the community at large!

Who knew the Harry Potter books held so much wisdom for fundraisers?

Hey, Fundraisers!

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