102: How to have Brave Donor Conversations and Why They Are Important with Bessi Graham

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“Business can be a powerful agent for change in the world but only if we actually work to create business models that bring doing good and making money back together.”

– Bessi Graham
Episode #102


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

Sometimes it’s our job as integral change leaders to be the reality check – even when it’s not easy or means leaving money on the table. Bessi Graham, my guest on this episode of What the Fundraising, is helping us think in new ways about bravery – the willingness to stand up as nonprofits and claim our value propositions, state our limitations and insist on donor partners whose values align with our own. With 20 years of experience working with business owners, governments, and large funding bodies, Bessi is uniquely positioned to counsel fundraisers on how to balance charitable purpose and pragmatic financial reality. She is sharing with us concrete strategies for reorienting difficult conversations in ways that not only break through miscommunication but set nonprofits up to succeed. It starts with defining sustainability and the tools we need to meet our mission. The first challenge for nonprofit leaders is to reject feeling beholden. No more approaching the donor table from a place of scarcity! “Shifting your own apologetic nature is on you. How do you show up in the room differently?” asks Bessi. “Because power dynamics shift immediately when someone is engaged as an equal.”

You’ll come away from this conversation with a new framework for the difficult conversations we all need to have, at least from time to time. So much of what burns out nonprofit fundraisers is the struggle to make good on unrealistic expectations and navigate through unbalanced power dynamics that set us up for stress and failure. Bessi shines a bright light on how we can do things differently and this conversation felt like a great place to start!


Bessi Graham


  • A link for Mallory’s two-part series featuring Vanessa Bohns about donor influence and dynamics, “You Have More Influence Than You Think.”
  • Our friends at Feathr help nonprofits like yours level up their digital campaigns every day through their nonprofit marketing platform. Don’t rely on magic this year. Check out Feathr to streamline your digital marketing campaigns and exceed your goals. Learn more and get started today at Feathr.co. And don’t forget to tell them that I sent you!
  • If you haven’t already, please visit our new What the Fundraising community forum. Check it out and join the conversation at this link.
  • If you’re looking to raise more from the right funders, then you’ll want to check out my Power Partners Formula, a step-by-step approach to identifying the optimal partners for your organization. This free masterclass offers a great starting point
  • Check out my Fundraising Superpower Quiz!

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Get to know Bessi:

Bessi Graham is an award-winning entrepreneur with over 20 years ‘experience working with business owners, governments, and large funding bodies to bring “doing good” and “making money” back together. From the grassroots of sitting in the dirt working with business owners in the Pacific Islands to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Bessi has seen it all and brings an unparalleled perspective on what makes change happen.


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I teach nonprofit fundraisers to bring in more gifts from the RIGHT donors… so they can stop hounding people for money. Fundraising doesn’t have to be uncomfortable.


episode transcript

01:59 Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am thrilled to be here today with Bessi Graham. Bessi, welcome to What the fundraising. 

02:06 Bessi Graham: Thank you so much. It’s lovely to be here. 

02:09 Mallory Erickson: I am really excited for our conversation today, and there seem to be so many areas of alignment and overlap in our work. But why don’t we start with you telling everyone a little bit about you and what brings you to our conversation today.

02:21 Bessi Graham:: Yeah, sure. So, for me, the last sort of 20 plus years have had this common theme around working with people to try to help them bring doing good and making money back together. So, I’m someone who doesn’t fit neatly in any one box. So, it can look a little bit random in terms of all these things I’ve done, but that has been the overarching umbrella. So, it’s this belief that business can be a powerful agent for change in the world, but only if we actually work to create business models that bring doing good and making money back together. And so, the way that has played out is, I have worked with hundreds of social enterprises and organizations and nonprofits that are seeking to actually build sustainable business models while doing good in the world. But also, then with corporates and others who are trying to come from the other direction of bringing good back inside their business model. So, it’s been this fascinating journey to really support organizations more broadly that are saying, it doesn’t work anymore to think about these tracks as, pick one, are you doing good in the world or are you making money. And so, the real struggle and design work to figure out what that looks like for an organization in a way that is aligned with they care about, what their mission or values are, has been a central theme of my work. So, it’s taken different forms. I’ve built multiple different organizations, worked with large funding bodies and philanthropists, and governments in countries to create these spaces that allow whether it is a social enterprise, a nonprofit, or a typical small and medium enterprise business to actually start to contribute more fully. So that’s been that common theme, if you like, cross all of that work that I’ve been doing in that time period.

04:16 Mallory Erickson: There’re so many things you said in there that I’m curious to explore, and one of them is, you said the word values and value alignment. And I’m curious about how you think about, or when we think about bringing, doing good and making money together, one of the things that I wondered is, do we have an ingrained belief system that those values are incompatible? And how does that discovery and work help to merge those things together in a way that maybe historically we haven’t thought could be in alignment? 

04:53 Bessi Graham: It’s a beautiful question because it is this aspect of, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, there are deep beliefs and patterns that are in us that in our society we have been programmed to feel as if these things are mutually exclusive, you cannot have both, which one is it? Make your decision and then stick to it. And so, I think that is a very common experience and even for organizations. So, in the Nonprofit work that I’ve done over the years and with boards and directors, often on the surface level, when you start to talk about the need for a nonprofit to build out a sustainable business model and that it’s not a bad thing in order to continue your programs and your interventions and services, you need to bring in more money, then you spend. But even if a board or an executive at the surface level say, yes, of course, like we agree with that, let’s work out what that business model is. What I find is when you then get to that point of a decision being made, often what suddenly comes up is that very discomfort of, hold on a minute, we can’t actually, for this service or the people that we work with couldn’t possibly be asked to contribute to, this isn’t why we founded this organization. So, there is this point where when it’s just intellectual, often people will say, yes, we need to build that sustainable model, we need to think about what this looks like. Of course, they can go together. But when the rubber hits the road, the discomfort comes out. And so, I think part of any of these conversations is really bringing to the surface those aspects that may not have been reflected on, that may not have been talked about openly and made explicit, to allow people to start to grapple with the tension or grapple with, is there a bias that I have here, have I made an assumption about a particular group that we work with that actually may not be accurate? So, I think that discomfort is real, it can be unconscious, so sometimes it can surprise people. It’s common and it needs to be the starting point. So, in so many aspects of life, this is the case.

07:00 Bessi Graham: We might name something as the main problem, and yet really it starts with what’s that worldview or mindset that is starting the process. So, by uncovering what that is, we can then go, okay, am I asking the right question? Am I looking at this from the right perspective? And that can be a nice way to then start to unpack and be more intentional about how we are coming at a problem or designing a solution.

07:27 Mallory Erickson: I really appreciate that, and I think as someone who grew up in the nonprofit sector, and I graduated college 15, 20 years ago, there was no nonprofit major at that point, at least at the school that I went to, but there was certainly this V in the road where people were making decisions to have positive social impact or to make money. And there wasn’t a lot of conversation around the way that business could support social good. There were so many things that didn’t exist then that exist now. Even the idea of B Corps and all of the different metrics that we now have for tracking social good and social impact from a business perspective. And so, I’m curious, do you believe that business has always been sort of positioned to make positive impact or that now that we have different ways and new ways of looking at business and business success and we see the pressure on markets from millennials who care about what their businesses are doing, is that what’s changing the ability for businesses to be more geared towards good or has it always been there and we just haven’t necessarily seen it?

08:39 Bessi Graham: Yeah, I think there’s two pieces, and I do want you to bring me back to that question of the aspect of is this actually new, where does this come from, or has business always had the ability to create this change. But I want to jump briefly to, before you went down that track, you made an interesting comment around when you were coming out of college and this choice of, is it the contributing, making a difference in the world, the doing good track, or is it the making money track. And that is a really interesting point because as you said, this is the aspect of us being really programmed from early on, that you make a decision and then the path is set. So, you’ve made that call and there will be certain things that are just inevitable now because you’ve made that decision. But the important kind of extra piece to that is, while we can go down the road of the conversation around the really important role that business can play and the consciousness that is emerging, reemerging around what that might look like for each business. It’s also important in this conversation to pick up on the fact that when we are trying to marry those ideas of doing good and making money, it is equally a journey that the nonprofit and charitable sector need to go on to get comfortable with the money side and the financial side, the sustainability side, as it is important for business to come at this conversation. So, I think part of what I would love to unpack with you as well is those components of what is that journey of becoming comfortable with the financial side, with the money in the mix? What’s the role and journey for nonprofits and for leaders in that space to actually realize that this isn’t just about business learning to bring good back inside their business model, it’s also about those of us in the charitable sector driven by a purpose or mission to say we have serious work to do to actually grapple with and get comfortable with these ideas. So that. We are not reliant on a funder who may change what they’re interested in and that we’re not raising expectations with our beneficiary groups only to not be able to deliver. So, I think both of those sides of the conversation, that would be really lovely to dive into.

10:57 Mallory Erickson: You swepting back, and I heard myself say it, and I felt it at the time, this very binary decision. I think what I felt to be binary was this prioritization. And then I think what you’re really getting at is that, this binary viewpoint from the very beginning actually sets up this power dynamic then between the people who have made the money who chose to go right and the people who chose to go left. And then they become the people sitting at that table talking about making change together. And it leads to all of these dynamics that really go back to that initial decision, that initial moment where we decided, I’m not going to be like that, I’m going to be like this. And now all of a sudden, our work is deeply intertwined. We’re reliant on each other. And so, how do we then see these beliefs we’ve held about the other direction. 

11:51 Bessi Graham: Exactly. And because it’s unquestioned, so because we haven’t really worked through, well, do I accept that this is therefore the journey I make. We ask different questions to people in each of those categories. We set different standards. So, there’s always this really interesting conversation around, is it okay for a CEO of a nonprofit to earn a good income? Are we happy with their being more than a certain percentage of administrative costs? You want all that money to go to the cause. And there’s these really completely mismatched questions. We’re then very happy to have a chair of the board who is earning millions of dollars a year in a corporate organization not being asked any of the questions that a nonprofit leader is being asked. And if you put your corporate or commercial hat on, you would say, oh, absolutely you need to have some budget in there to be able to train and retain your staff. You need to be conscious of the wellbeing of your team. You are always trained. You need to have a coach for the CEO to make sure they’re on the top of their game. And yet we will not allow nonprofits to actually run in the same healthy, sustainable ways that we would let a business run. By not questioning and by letting these pieces just be unconscious things that we have taken on board, it leads to really unhealthy power dynamics, which you were starting to pick up on. It leads to these completely unsustainable expectations of nonprofit leaders and people who work in nonprofits, which actually undermines our ability to do good in the world because you will have someone who either gets burnt out and exhausted, or who gets to a certain point where they say, my kids have needs that I cannot pay for by staying in this role. So now as much as I love it and have given my blood, sweat, and tears to it, I need to go and find a job somewhere else to earn more money. So, we have all of these pieces that don’t have to be part of the story if we have the conversations that need to be had. It’s an important conversation that nonprofit leaders need to be having and that they also need to be having with their boards and with their funders. As much as they may be uncomfortable, we have to have these conversations. 

14:11 Mallory Erickson: I say we dive right in to talk about how nonprofits can navigate the conversation around overhead and responsible pay with their board and their staff and their funders. Because I think this point that you’re making, and I’ve thought about this a lot in terms of the fact that companies or boards have folks on them who run companies that would never try to undercut the elements that they then turn towards the nonprofit sector and ultimately try to undercut. And so, I think this piece around like what hat we’re wearing determines what we see and what questions we’re asking and how we look at the situation as a whole, is really important. And so, I can imagine that there are some ways that you guide organizations to ask questions that help illuminate this hypocrisy perhaps, or shift perspective. So, talk us through that a little bit. 

15:04 Bessi Graham: You’re wording there is perfect because so much of where this comes from is that aspect of what hat someone’s wearing on a board. So, often you have a board member who incredibly commercial when they’re wearing their other hat elsewhere, and yet part of what is a result of this aspect of our discomfort with money and the doing good, making money piece, being together. Part of the consequence of that is, when someone steps onto a board position with a nonprofit or a charity, they become protective and defensive and very risk averse in a different way to how they do in other roles that they have. There are these words and ideas that get thrown around if we have to be a good steward, and how do we be conservative? There are all of these different words, which actually then influence and constrain how people even look at the actual risks or opportunities that are in front of the nonprofit. So, there’re a few things that you need to do as a nonprofit leader to start to shift this. Firstly, I would say you have to just acknowledge that it’s going to be a journey. You are not going to completely change the dynamics immediately or win someone over by thinking in one board meeting you can shift everyone. Hopefully you can see change and those aha moments for people. But it is important to be realistic that this might have to be a staged process.

16:29 Bessi Graham: But there is an aspect that for those of us as leaders who are interacting in this space, we do need to start to show up in a different way. So often we are used to being, I always use the example from the movie Oliver, of coming to someone with your empty bowl saying, please sir, I want some more. Like, it’s that aspect of we actually allow and continue to cultivate a culture that says, even though you are the person running this organization, you are asking and apologetic and always framing things as you are lacking and coming from a place of scarcity, and this other person needs to make a decision about whether or not they will give you something or help you. And so, the first piece as an individual leader in this space is to say, hang on a minute, I am your equal. I am bringing things of value to this interaction. And so, I am not going to interact in a way as if I’m begging you to help me. I’m going to take the time, use my strategic brain, use my skillset, and all of the experience and knowledge I have to actually show up in a way that says, here’s my case. Here’s what we need to do. Here’s why this is the right decision. This is what it’s going to cost. How are we going to make this happen folks? Like the shifting of your own apologetic nature, you are asking for help needs to be, that’s on you. So how do you show up in the room differently? And I think, this is why I picked you up on that point before of saying, oh, how has business changed, or how are they starting to engage with this? Let’s start with, if we’re nonprofit leaders, let’s start with our own issues. How are we showing up in a way that says, what do we have of value, someone would pay for? How do I actually have this value transfer where I say, we have extraordinary relationships with community, our social capital here is amazing?

18:28 Bessi Graham: And this is what you are tapping into. We have a team that have an incredible skillset and depth of knowledge in the areas of whatever it is you do. So, whether that’s domestic violence or whatever the topic is. You have assets, you have capital, you have skills. You have things of value that funder wants access to, or that board needs to see come out in the world. This job is to show up in a way that says, here’s what I offer. Here’s either the problem that you have as a funder that you are trying to solve and we can solve it for you. This is what it will cost. Or, if you’re a board, it’s that piece of, here’s the piece you signed up for in terms of this incredible change you want to be part of seeing happen in the world. We can achieve that through these ways. This is what we’re saying it’s going to take to make that happen. How are we going to do it? So, I think the first piece is your reframing of how you show up and how you start to think about what you bring of value. That is critical. Because power dynamics shift immediately when someone is engaged with as an equal and it changes how they, Oh, okay, right. This is a different conversation. 

19:41 Mallory Erickson: People are going to think I planted you here. So, I have a course called the Power Partners Formula, and inside it we do a process called asset mapping where folks write out all of the different things, the value inside their organization. And a lot of it initially for me was around helping them position the elements, helping them match their assets to what I call funder lenses, how different types of funders view their organization and all those lines. But what I found that I didn’t necessarily fully expect was the way that the process of asset mapping alone really transformed their experience as fundraisers and walking into those meetings and recognizing that in addition to everything that you said around the shift in the power dynamic, it also really changed the conversation from being about number one, just about money. And like, you have money and I don’t have money, so we need some of your money. As opposed to, are we trying to do the same thing and are we aligned in order to do that? And when folks started to look from a position of alignment even the rejections were less painful because it wasn’t just, whether or not you believe I’m worthy of your money. It was, we are not trying to do the same thing. We don’t have the same goals; we don’t believe in the same things. And yes, it would make sense that you’re not going to give me your money, and I hope you find somebody who is aligned with your goals. And so, I think what you just said there, I totally agree that we look a lot to be empowered by our funders. And I think that actually continues to perpetuate this idea that they’re going to save us. And a lot of it really needs to be self-cultivated and inside this sector needs to be valued. 

21:28 Bessi Graham: Yeah. It’s at the heart of, again, that aspect of looking at the world as if it’s this black and white dichotomy, I’ve picked one road. They chose the road of abundance. We chose the road of scarcity. So that kind of, you fall into those traps if you’re boxed to behave and ask questions from that place, which is why it’s such a critical starting point to shift that piece first. So, I love that you do the asset piece. We’ve always done the same when we are in communities, in a development sector, we would call them a community asset assessment. When it’s with an organization, we would map their capitals of what kind of capital do you have? All of those pieces are an important starting point because as you said, what it allows is, it’s this aspect of tuning into what do we have of value, equally, it’s then the piece around alignment, and realizing that not every funder, not every investor is actually the right person for you. All money is not created equal. And that is not a criticism of the funder. So, it comes back to actually starting to have better relationships all around. Because as you said, you might then realize, oh, okay, your whole program, you’ve just redone your strategy and for the next 10 years, you’re really focused on education. We aren’t doing education. So, of course we’re not a good match. So, it allows a different conversation. So, it’s clarity upfront around what value you bring. Then in terms of those interactions and starting to shift some of those really difficult aspects that are so entrenched in the nonprofit space, it’s then that aspect of reframing it and understanding, okay, if instead I come at this problem or opportunity by saying, I actually understand the audience I’m speaking to. So, if it is a funder or if it is your board, it’s about taking the time to understand what is the challenge, what is the piece that for them they’re trying to solve.

23:23 Bessi Graham: And that may be from a positive side that they want a certain outcome. Or it may be on a negative side that they are worried about a certain risk or pain point, and they need that to be addressed. So, you need to next understand them as the audience and say, okay, instead of coming in here and framing this as me giving them a lecture about the fact that we need more budget, that we need to actually train our staff better, that we need better conditions so that the staff can continue to deliver incredible services to the beneficiaries we work with. Instead of framing it like that as an attack or an aggressive piece or a lecture, you come at it now by understanding here’s what the board have said are the really critical milestones they want us to reach as an organization over the next five to 10 years. How do I paint a picture that says, here’s what the costs are looking like currently within the organization. One of the pieces that is preventing us getting those kinds of outcomes with the women that we work with in the shelters that we’re running. So, we’ll just run with an example. Is that we have staff who are becoming so exhausted and burnt out through their work, and we have not been able to provide them with the necessary support and counseling themselves to process before they go home to their families, that we’ve had a dramatic increase in turnover. And so, we are retraining staff at a cost of X. We are losing our quality team members who have the experience and the track record that we want to bring into the future to achieve these goals we’ve set out. And this is seeing these kinds of increases and actually having a really detrimental effect on the families of those that work for our organization, which is not a great thing for us to be doing in the world.

25:12 Bessi Graham: Part of my strategy moving forward is that we need to focus on a broader sense of the good that we as an organization are doing, and that includes the lives and valuing and honoring those people that work for our organization. Here’s the way that I’ve mapped out. We are going to be able to achieve that in a way that actually sees a reduction in our hiring costs and training costs, but a beautiful increase in the wellbeing of our staff and a much more solid and consistent quality of service being delivered to those that we are working within in our community. This is how we’re going to achieve those goals. So, it’s about you taking the time to say, what’s the piece that’s happening that I actually am either reacting against or want to change, but how do I start to create the narrative and the model that is creating a win-win, that’s saying, I’m not just asking for more money or critiquing you. It is to get to the outcome that you’ve said you want. Here’s how we will get there better together by taking a different approach. It’s more intellectual work. It’s more mapping it out. But it’s actually important for us to do in the nonprofit sector because again, if there’s anything, I’ve been in this space for over 20 years, and originally from the investor side, we were calling things ethical investment, and I was involved in that space.

Over the time we’ve moved into calling it Impact Investment. But here’s the distinction. Where 20 years ago in ethical investment, good intentions were enough. From an impact investment point of view, its intentions and measurability. And I think as nonprofit leaders, part of what we have to do is the next level step in our process that says, as a board or as an organization, we’ve set these amazing goals. We have these intentions to create change in the world. 

27:07 Bessi Graham: Part of the measurability is, how will we know if we’re trending in the direction of actually achieving that. And those measurement pieces are not simply external aspects of how many people came to our program, how many, it’s not just output data, it’s actually more broadly having that holistic approach that says, for us to achieve these things, we need to be solid as an organization. And so, you then can start to make some of those connections for them. The case studies, the examples of, when we are raising the expectations of the beneficiary groups that we work with or the issues that we’re addressing, and we raise an expectation that says, here’s the programs we run, these are the kinds of outcomes we achieve. If we don’t equally make sure that in the backend of our organization, we have staff who can deliver on that, if we’re not confident that we are leaving enough money in this organization, that it can continue to deliver those programs, even if at some points a particular funder may lose interest in what we’re doing. From those aspects of stewardship, from those aspects of taking responsibility for our work in the world, that’s not actually really wise for us to be raising expectations that we don’t know how we can deliver on. And so, as the leader, it is your job to actually say, I am thinking about the overarching whole system we operate in. I’m having a holistic view. This is how we are going to achieve these goals, de-risk it, and make sure that we actually can deliver those outcomes we are promising. 

28:40 Mallory Erickson: Wow, there’s so much there that is so wildly important and I really appreciate what you said at the end because I have just grappled a lot with recently how much we pride ourselves a bit in this sector around how much we can do with how little we have. And I just think that is a huge element of what’s leading to this burnout and overdrive and all of these different problems. And folks leaving the sector, and I’ve coached some startup founders. I’m here in Silicon Valley and I’m getting more and more familiar with venture funding. And it’s just so wildly different to watch the way these rounds go, where people are so clear about what they need to do a certain thing. And that amount of money is really only to get them to the next phase where they’re going to need a lot more money. And then that’s really just to get them to this next phase where they need a lot more money. And number one, they’re never a raising part of a round and then still trying to execute on the idea and the vision that they said was going to cost this other amount. They don’t get half of a round or a quarter of round fill and it’s like still going to make it work. And I think this mentality and this pattern inside the nonprofit sector is exactly as you’re talking about, creating so many problems, both in terms of our relationships with funders, that power dynamic, this sort of over placating on the pitch side in a way that then doesn’t allow us to deliver on what we say we’re going to do. And I just think this whole element that you’re really hitting on here around, what does it look like to have a healthy relationship with a funder that we’ve long perceived to be whether or not they give us money. And that is just this tiny element of what a healthy, sustainable relationship looks like. And I love that you said one of my favorite lines, which is that not all money is created equal, and that is not the point. And so, if we’re just getting money for money’s sake, what are we even doing here? And so, I think just the framework that you provided for folks to have that conversation is so helpful.

30:59 Bessi Graham: Yeah, it’s such an important thing, and as you said, we need to realize that again, part of what we can do here is, first realize which pieces are within our control or our influence. So, you may want to change the whole way that philanthropy operates and how they fund, but you may not have the levers to do that. But what you can do is, coming to some of those points that you just made. For example, when there’s really unhealthy cycles or patterns that are happening where a funder sets an expectation that you can pull off in 18 months or three years, something that is actually a generational change. It’s your job as the expert on change to say, I hear you, and we all are aiming for those kinds of changes and transformations to happen. We are deeply experienced in this area, and what you are talking about is a 15- or 20-year process. So, we would love to go on that journey with you, but actually we can’t achieve those outcomes in that timeframe. Here’s what we can do. This is what it could look like. And then actually stick to that. Because part of the problem is that we shift based on someone telling us, I will fund you if you do these things. And what it sets up is that, a funder actually is putting you in a position where you are lying because you’re having to say you can do something that you know you cannot do. It’s not actually possible. And so, I think two of the pieces that can happen there is that there’s this beginning of a shift that says, oh, that’s interesting, and a bit of pushback. Now you may not get that funding and they may not learn that lesson straight away, but you’re also now not putting your organization and your team in a position where you actually don’t feel that you have integrity. Because you know that you cannot deliver that outcome.

32:52 Bessi Graham: Secondly, one of the beautiful things that happens. If we think about the limited pools of philanthropic granting money and that it feels like this scarcity thing of, grab every grant you can because there’s not that much, and if someone else gets it, you’ve missed out. If we stop thinking about it as this zero-sum game, and again, come back to having done that first piece of work, of being really clear on what your organization brings of value, where are your skillsets? What is your value proposition? When you know that, and a funder asks you to do something, it positions you really well if you say, that’s like a fascinating project, we’re not actually the organization that specializes in that, but you know who you should talk to, these guys, they do that so incredibly well. If you are working on a project like, this is where we are at our best in terms of the outcomes we can achieve. We would love to talk to you if there’s in that kind of project, but you recommend someone else. What happens in doing that is, a philanthropist gets a shock because they’re not used to people not taking their money. But equally, they will talk to other philanthropists about you. So, when they’re in conversations, suddenly you are not having to advocate on your own behalf. When something comes up, if you’ve articulated clearly what you do well, and you just said no to money that was not aligned. When they hear another philanthropist talking about a program that is in your area. They will advocate for you and say, these guys are actually really clear on what they do. That’s their area. You should talk to them. So again, there’s all of these pieces of your intentional interacting and your consciousness and clarity around where you add most value and sticking to, that’s what you control. You don’t control how a philanthropist responds, but as you begin to interact differently, I guarantee you will see massive shifts occur in how you come across. 

34:43 Mallory Erickson: Yeah, there’s so many pieces to that advice that I think are so important and that piece around integrity and just so much of what I focus on is the way that fundraisers feel. And there is no way to feel good as a fundraiser if you are in a position where you are having to be in any way disingenuous or know deep down that what you’re saying you can do, you can’t do. And I will tell you like, people have such wild respect for saying things like what you’re talking about right there, is not possible. And actually, any organization that would tell you that they can solve that problem in one to three years is not giving you the full picture. Because here’s what it takes, and you are welcome to try with one of those organizations and see if they’re able to do that. But we are not going to put ourselves in a position to set you up for disappointment. And we want to be really clear about what we can do and what this work looks like. Because the reality is, if these problems took one or three years to solve, many of them would have been solved. So, the fact of the matter is, I don’t know why we’re still talking about it this way, or funding cycles still look like this, but they do. And so sometimes it is our job as nonprofit leaders, like you said, as the change experts to say, hey, I just want to reality check this situation a little bit here. And I think at the end of the day, the reality is that even if there are funders that say no because of that, or because you’ve said we don’t do this thing. When we stand in our full integrity, just like you said, we attract the right types of funders. We have so much more energy to do our work. We feel fulfilled in what we’re doing. We’re not burning out the way that we were before because I think so much of what causes the burnout is this inner conflict. 

36:38 Bessi Graham: Absolutely. 

36:39 Mallory Erickson: Yeah. So, I just, everything that you’ve said, I’m just triple clicking on. 

36:44 Bessi Graham: Yeah. And can I add one more thing? 

36:46 Mallory Erickson: Yes. 

36:48 Bessi Graham: Another piece that comes to mind, and it comes back again to this aspect of trying to break that cycle of having an either-or mindset and feeling like you’ve got to choose. Is that, one of the pieces we are not so good at in the nonprofit sector is being pragmatic. So, we can be too purist in our approaches to things. Piece I would add on the end of all of those aspects that we’ve just talked about in terms of shifting the power dynamics, what do you control already, what can you influence? The next piece in that conversation, so if you’re having this conversation with a funder, there is also a pragmatic aspect. Which is, part of what you can dig around that is, if someone’s timeframe is 18 months to two years, see what flexibility there is. Try to get clarity on what do they actually need to have achieved in that time. Because sometimes people are using a word like impact or outcome, and for those of us in the sector who know what that means, we think, oh, I could not get an outcome or contribute to impact in that timeframe. I could get you an output. And if you have a pragmatic conversation with a funder, they might say, you know what, if I can go back to the board on our end from the grant team and say that there was 3000 women that went through a program. And that like, they might have two or three indicators that are actually only at an output level, but they’re using language that made you freak out and think you had to achieve this intergenerational change because that’s what you care about. 

38:18 Bessi Graham: It may be that actually you can pragmatically say, now that I understand that, absolutely we can achieve that in 18 months or two years. I now know that you are using a word differently to me. Like, when I heard that, I thought you meant this kind of change. So, part of the pragmatic piece is, don’t make the assumption that just because someone’s using the same word as you, they mean the same thing. So, it’s digging in and then doing all of the pieces around integrity and aligning those aspects. But it’s also making sure you’re listening and you’re asking the right questions so that you can then say, we can deliver that, what we can’t deliver is this. 

38:59 Mallory Erickson: Yes, and there’s a great two-part series at the beginning of season two on the podcast with this woman, Vanessa Bohns about you have more influence than you think. And we split it up and we talk about fundraiser influence, and we talk about donor influence, and how the perception of power doesn’t allow us to ask some of those questions or push back and get clarity. And so, we make so many assumptions because of those things. And so, for folks who are listening to this, go listen to those episodes too, and that will help you think through some of that as well, because I could not agree with that more. Thank you so much for this conversation today. It’s been so great to get to know you and to hear about your work. Where can folks find you? Tell everyone where to go from here. 

39:42 Bessi Graham: So, the main focus for me is really about this aspect of planting these seeds and awakening the possibility for people of what can occur when we start to bring doing good and making money back together. I would love for people to jump over. I have a podcast called Both/And with Bessie Graham, so we’ll share the link. So, rather than thinking either or, Both/And. So, people can listen to the podcast just to start to sit with some of these ideas and reflect more on what it might look like for them. And then otherwise, if people want to reach out directly and have a conversation or ask some questions, they can find me on LinkedIn or Instagram, are probably the two best places.

40:17 Mallory Erickson: I’m so grateful for the work that you do and for you joining me on the show today. 

40:22 Bessi Graham: Thank you for having me.

40:29 Mallory Erickson: Okay. There is so much inside this episode that I want to highlight, but my very top takeaways include; 

Number one. Changing nonprofit business models will generally require us to unpack and reassess some of our assumptions about stakeholders, roles, and our relationship to money. 

Number two. Nonprofits need to look hard at their beliefs about the relationship between doing good and making money. There are a lot of limiting beliefs and value silos that actually have us missing a lot of opportunities here. 

Number three. Metrics aren’t simply external measures and output data, but a holistic look at the variables that contribute to the overall mission’s success or shortcomings. 

Number four. Not all money is created equal, and that’s fine. The best way to avoid burnout is to forego funder relationships and expectations that are a mismatch with our core values or capabilities. It’s all about alignment. 

And number five, don’t make assumptions. The only way you and your funder can get to yes with honesty and integrity is if you have open communication, a collaborative roadmap, and trust and transparency.

Okay. For additional takeaways and tips inside this episode, head on over to malloryerickson.com/podcast to grab the full show notes and resources now. You’ll also find more information there about Bessie and our amazing sponsors Feathr. Thank you for spending this time with us today. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you would give it a rating and review and share it with a friend.

I’m so grateful for all of my listeners and the good, hard work you’re doing to make our world a better place. And if you miss me between episodes, stop by and say hello on Instagram under whatthefundraising_ Have a great day, and I’ll see you next week.

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