33: How to Rewire the Neural Pathways in Your Brain to Raise More Money for Your Organization with Cindy Wagman

How to Rewire the Neural Pathways in Your Brain to Raise More Money for Your Organization with Cindy Wagman

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The more we get to know our donors, the more we understand the value giving has to them. When we understand that and internalize that we start to realize that I’m not selling anyone, anything.” Cindy Wagman

Episode #33


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

I talk to Cindy Wagman, President and Founder of The Good Partnership, a consultancy that is working to unlock the potential of small nonprofits through fundraising. 

We need to understand that our brains are going to make it difficult for us to change our behavior. That’s why the fundraiser’s brain is such an important piece of the puzzle and what  we’re focusing on in this episode.

If our brain can create pain because of a misinterpreted stimulus, just think about what that means in terms of the emotional pain that might be caused because of how fundraising is misunderstood.

That’s why we talk about the system of beliefs and stigmas that are often associated with fundraising and how we can rewire the neural pathways in our brains that might be keeping us stuck.

How to Rewire the Neural Pathways in Your Brain to Raise More Money for Your Organization with Cindy Wagman

We also explore the power of stories as vehicles for empathy and the importance of meeting your donors and really getting to know them (as well as their values).

Join us while we go deep into the fundraiser’s brain and behavior and share some big tips for the small nonprofit!


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episode transcript

Mallory: Hello everyone. I am so excited to be here today with my friend, Cindy Wagman. Hi, Cindy, how are you? Good. I’m so excited for this conversation. I feel like ever since we first talked, I just found someone who is so immersed in some of the same thinking and questions I am around fundraising. And I’m really just so inspired by your work. So why don’t we just start with you giving a little intro into who you are and what brings you to this moment? 

Cindy: Oh my goodness.  I don’t know where to start. I’m going to start with how I fell in love with fundraising many years ago. Actually, before I was even a working professional, I was in school. I volunteered a lot in the nonprofit sector and I discovered I could be a fundraiser.

And so I decided -when I was probably about 20 years old- that that’s what I wanted to do with my life. And basically been doing that my whole life. And when I started The Good Partnership almost seven years ago, I knew I wanted to work with smaller organizations.

And so understanding that, and having worked in small organizations before it really took me down a path of learning what’s blocking small organizations from fundraising. It’s not being small. It’s not a lack of brand recognition or fancy marketing or celebrity endorsements, or big gala or all the things that small organizations like to point to, fundamentally it’s mindset.

It is a feeling and belief that our work is less than, or we shouldn’t get paid to do the work. It’s myths that are perpetuated in society about the value of our contributions and all of that prevent us from taking meaningful action for us in fundraising. And so that’s what I’m focused on now. 

Mallory: I love it. And gosh, I wish I had your work 15 years ago because it’s true. We come up with so many stories or we have so many stories readily available about what’s holding us back. It’s interesting because I feel like even with you and I, who talk a lot about this, it can be really hard for folks to take that moment to say “What are the stories I’m telling myself or to get out of that?”.

Like “It really just is that I have too many responsibilities” or “Really just is that I can’t get my board to fundraise with me”. What do you find to be really successful in helping organizations to ask that first reflection question that starts to open them up to the possibility that perhaps it’s deeper?

Cindy: One of the biggest things I recommend organizations do is meet with their donors, just to get to know them and have that conversation. “Who are you?”  You’re not asking for money. Your job is to listen. I don’t want you to bring any materials or presentation or leave behind anything like that.

And I say this, and I repeat this advice over and over again. You can do this for 15, 20 minutes every morning. Just reach out to a few people, follow up with a few people and your goal. You can’t say that you don’t have time for 15, 20 minutes a day. You can’t. And I teach people how to use their time better and all that kind of stuff. 

But fundamentally, if you’re not prioritizing fundraising for your organization with this very simple and highly impactful task, we need to talk, right? We need to say “What’s going on? What are the stories? What are you afraid of?”

A story is how our thoughts and feelings or emotions are connected to form beliefs. And we even interpret the world -which is what a story is- through those beliefs. And so what’s preventing you from reaching out?

There’s different stories. Everyone has a different thing. Sometimes it’s “I don’t know what to do in these meetings”. That comes up a lot. Even if I say “All you’re doing is having a conversation. Ask a few good questions. Here are a few good questions to start with”. It’s not about the tactics, right? It really is. Fundamentally often that comes down to a feeling of imposter syndrome or questioning their leadership.

So there’s all these deeper mindset issues that come up. That is one of the most effective tools I’ve found to figure out if this is a block or are you legitimately busy. But even if you’re legitimately busy, we can all offload work. We can all choose where we spend our time. And very often in small nonprofits, it’s not on fundraising. 

Mallory: I love that. And interesting. It makes me think about this episode. We did with Dr. BJ Fogg around behavior and habits. Anytime you’re not taking the action, the first question to ask yourself is how can we make that action easier to do? And how can you get that? So easy.

So there’s literally no possible real logistical friction. And then if you’re still not doing. Then it’s related to the other access, which is motivation, which is the relationship between hope and fear. 

You’re right, we make time for tons of different 15 to 20 minute tasks. I think back to when I was a small shop executive director and how many things we’re juggling and how difficult sometimes it can feel to not be making progress on the big things we’re trying to do or accomplish.

And so I feel like there were times where I took those other little actions that had tangible check boxes or sell more accomplishments because they helped me feel good and maybe have a dopamine hit or have those moments of “Oh, I had a successful day”. Whereas if they’re having these more open-ended relationship conversations, relationship building conversations, I was having a hard time translating that into results or even my belief around results. How do you work with folks around those pieces? Cause I can imagine it comes up in your work a lot too. 

Cindy: Yeah. Want to take that in a slightly different direction when we can come back to it. But what you said really resonated with me in terms of the idea of the dopamine hit and these small wins or focusing on the things that we’re comfortable with that we know we will get results. What I’m working on learning right now is looking at how the neural pathways in our brains are keeping us stuck, because what happens is we developed these shortcuts, right? 

We make tens of thousands of decisions. 90% of them are unconscious. And they’re developed because of these shortcuts we make in our brains. And so what happens is, when we try to do something new and we don’t get quick results, then our brain actually gets pretty angry and it makes it harder for us to do those things.

We have to train our brains and we actually have to rewire those shortcuts and it is difficult, but it also doesn’t have to rely on those sort of dopamine hits of those quick successes, or we redefine what success looks like.

So just celebrate when you do the work when you reach out and have a great donor meeting, that’s worthy of celebration. If you’re struggling and you need that dopamine hit, do 10 jumping jacks. Like how we can give ourselves that can be changed. We can teach ourselves. But fundamentally, we still need to understand that our brains are going to make it difficult for us to change our behavior. That is why habits are so hard, and there’s so much great research on how to form habits and there’s a very clear path to do it. And it feels hard. 

It’s “Yes, I’m trying to cut down on my drinking. I know last night at dinner, I shouldn’t have had that glass of wine. I didn’t need it”, but I was in a social setting and my brain takes into autopilot so I’m going to do it. And part of that is of course, the high of feeling like “Okay, I’m rewarding myself. I’m doing some fun”, especially after almost two years of a pandemic, but I know intellectually that I’ve made this decision not to drink before I went out.

I sat at that table and said “No, I’m not going to do it”. So we have to redefine what those shortcuts are, what that autopilot is for us to be able to really see lasting change. Because we can all do it. We can all do one thing for a little bit of time, but we need to make lasting changes. We need to keep doing those things. And that requires fundamentally shifting our foundations. And again, how we approach fundraising fundamentals.

Mallory: Okay. Wow. There’s so many directions. I want to go into what you just said. So I’m curious. Can we go back to that piece about our brain being unhappy when we don’t see quick results? Particularly when we have forced ourselves to do something that wasn’t the natural pathway. Perhaps talk to me a little bit about that and how you prepare your brain for it.

Cindy: So I always give the example because to me it really hits home. I remember so clearly starting a new job and driving there for the first time and being so aware. I don’t have the radio on. I had my map quest printed out. Yeah.

And you go, you drive that path and you’re on the highway. I’m looking at every single sign. “Is that my exit?”, I’m hyper aware of my surroundings. And that’s what it’s like the first time we experienced something, but then after a month or two on the job, I got my favorite podcast playing like yours or mine, or for me, I love singing along to like nineties music and you zone out until you end up at the office.

And that is exactly what it feels like for a brain to operate on autopilot. We only look for outliers. Something strange happens that I wasn’t anticipating, so my brain will focus on that. Otherwise it’s relaxed. It’s easy.

And then I remember so distinctly, I had a meeting near my office with a donor and I got in my car from home and I went and started driving. And of course 90% is the same driving route. And I ended up in my old office. That’s what’s happening. And so then let’s say I start a new job for the first 21-ish days. When I leave the house and get into the car, my brain is pulling me to the old office. Okay. I have to have that habit of going to the new office for 21 days, for both of those pathways in my brain, that the circuits that connect and allow the neurophysiologist to flow through at 21 days, they’re about equal.

So my brain can be pulled in either direction and at around 67 days the new ones become dominant and the old one actually disconnects, it no longer becomes a shortcut. And so what happens in those first 21 days, it feels uncomfortable because our brain is like “This isn’t easy, right?”, our brain is there to protect us and keep us safe and to make life easy. And everything feels harder during that time, everything is just “Oh, that’s not what I want. You’re making me work hard”. And so it really requires consistency. 

How do we rewire the brain? There’s different ways to do that, but we have to make that new reality or our goal safe and easy for our brain. And so part of that is habits. Part of that is practicing. And I know you have some really great tools in your programs, around people, practicing things and getting comfortable with the unknown. And there’s also some really cool science around visualization, right? Because as Descartes said “I think therefore I am”, but actually you can visualize a lot of that success and train your brain to feel safe and easy in your desired changes. So there’s lots of stuff there. I hope that answers your question. 

Mallory: Yeah. Then we had Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett on the show as well, who wrote how emotions are made. And she talks a lot about how our brain is predicting things into the future in order to conserve metabolic energy, which is what you’re talking about, right? Like our brain just wants to be on autopilot because our goal is to spend the least amount of metabolic energy at any given point. And uncertainty typically creates a state of arousal that then we perceive as stress or anxiety.

And that is us burning a ton of metabolic energy. And this is interesting on the podcast with her, we accidentally got onto the topic of chronic pain because she had back surgery and chronic pain was something that I dealt with for a long time and actually, after seeing every doctor and every peeler, I ended up curing it with this app called Curable, which is around the brain-body connection, it really leans on that neuroscience and required a tremendous amount of self-talk to really rewire those pathways. 

And one thing -that I think you’ll just be interested to hear- that they talk about it’s based on this book How To Heal Your Back, which was one of the first scientists who really showed this brain-body connection and that chronic pain is our body’s starting to be predictive and sensing pain, even when the injury is actually gone, but our body has gotten so used to taking any discomfort and believing that it means there’s a threat there that it starts to send off all of our pain things, which I just think is such an interesting thing for folks to think about.

If your brain can create pain because of a misinterpreted stimulus just think about what that means in terms of the emotional pain it predicts us into because of stimuli that come up in fundraising that trigger these underlying beliefs.

Cindy: My husband and I joke about this. We interpret each other’s behaviors differently than the other person intended that behavior, because we anticipate that. But aside from that, we all in this sector go through our time possibly being told fundraising is selling out. It’s begging, it’s icky. We have to sell our soul. We have to add on, and people don’t want to give to us, it’s twisting their arm. And when we hear these stories over and over again, our brain is anticipating “No way am I going to be doing those things”, I can already tell “Hey, I’m going to feel bad”. And then that becomes a story of us being ‘bad’ at fundraising.

Our brain is “No, you’re not good at this”. And what happens is our brains interpret the world through our beliefs and our self identity. So if we keep hearing that fundraising is gross and I’m bad at it, even if I look at your fundraising like “Damn, you’re doing good”, you’re going to be like “Oh my goodness, I suck”, because there are very few facts in this world. Most of it is our brain interpreting information that aligns with our existing identity and emotions. And so this is why I think it’s so fundamental and I’m so happy to meet you because so few people are talking about this in our sector, but it is so fundamental to our success.

And if we don’t address it, it’s detrimental, but it takes work to correct. It’s not impossible. And just the power that -if we do this work- that can have for our mission is just so exciting. And that’s what I want for smaller organizations, right? If we can unleash that we can have this movement of smaller organizations who are just out there kicking butt and raising money and doing great things. Yeah, I’m excited.

Mallory: And just so much happier in their day to day. I feel like for me, these fundraisers deserve to be joyful and proud of this incredible work that they’re doing.

And instead, they’re beating themselves up and something I want to say is, I’m sure there are people listening to this and they’re like “Okay. But I did actually have a negative experience with a donor once” and what I want to say is “Sure, me too”. I’ve had really uncomfortable moments with donors who have said out loud some of those narratives and those beliefs, but they are actually the outliers.

But because the narrative is predominant in our sector, we use those outlier experiences to reinforce the narrative instead of recognizing that actually the whole narrative can change and they can be the outliers. Sure. We’re all going to sometimes have negative experiences just as a business owner. And I’m sure you experienced this too.

Somebody wrote a really mean email one time about the sale that I did around Power Partners. And I was like “You have a lot of beliefs about money that are coming out in this email, but I don’t actually believe that selling something is bad. I believe my program provides a service and a solution”.

And I’m so proud of that. And so I think we have the ability, but I could have gotten real small there and be like “Oh my God, it felt so too salesy”. And it’s all about what we believe to be true about what we’re doing. And we have so much more control than we think, but I love what you’re saying, which is that it takes work and it takes practice and it’s going to be uncomfortable at first to shift your beliefs because I think sometimes when we can get too into this toxic positivity folk, think they can buy a mug with a positive affirmation on trust and they’re going to start to feel different.

Cindy: Yeah. I want to even go a little deeper into what you said because so much of it is true. And we mentioned one bad donor experience and our brains do overemphasize the negative, like nine times more than the positive. But the other thing is, because we’ve internalized all these beliefs about fundraising and fundraising is salesy, we all think it’s a bad thing.

And again, good sales and good fundraising makes everyone feel good. It’s a win-win, but we don’t see it that way. And what happens is before we even have that interaction, who we pick to meet with how we approach that meeting all of those things, we are setting ourselves up for that bad meeting, right? We are saying, “Okay, I have to look at my donor base and find out who has the most money, and that’s what I’m gonna need”. Or “I have one opportunity to meet with this person, but I need to sneakily convince them to actually take time to meet with me. So I’m going to tell them one thing, but I’m going to spend their time doing something else”. 

Mallory: I’m calling you guys right now. 

Cindy: And so all of these steps that are built on all these harmful in our sector around fundraising, they set us up for the exact scenario that is going to reinforce our terrible fear. Because they’re all built on this structure, the system of us not liking fundraising. 

Mallory: Okay. I’m going to get whiplash from how much I’m nodding my head right now. But I think what you just said, there’s few things about what you just said that I think are so important that I just want to drive this point.

I talk a lot about lenses. So we are all seeing the world through our lenses, that means through our set of beliefs and who we are and all of these things. So we don’t realize that because we’re just seeing the world, but I have pink glasses on, you have green glasses on, and until we start to recognize that we are actually wearing lenses.

We take what we see as fact. We’re like “This is objective information”, “that meeting was bad because I felt this way”, or all these things, which we know from all the science and the study is not true. That two people report back about the same experience wildly differently.

Their memory is imprinted with different components of that interaction, all those things. But we have to take that moment and be like “Oh, I’m wearing glasses”. You are always wearing glasses and those glasses are made up of your perceptions, beliefs and lived experience, all of those things. And so until you start to look out, what’s inside your lens, it’s so hard to do this work.

And it also really reinforces what you’re saying, which is that you’re going to make every decision based on the shade of green that you see, or the shade of pink that you see, and that’s going to lead you to a pink room and it’s going to lead you to a green room. And so there’s no way without that look inside to stop having these self fulfilling prophecies around setting ourselves up for these uncomfortable experiences.

You’re totally right. The most awkward fundraising experiences I have had were when I was afraid of an interaction. And so I wasn’t totally transparent even about what was happening in that meeting. And of course it felt bad. I felt bad before the meetings. I say this in my masterclass, but I always felt like this car-salesperson-energy from fundraising.

And when I started to really unravel that and I was like “Okay, why is it even that we don’t like car salespeople? And I was like “Oh, I think it’s because we believe that the car salesperson wants to sell us the car, whether or not it’s the right car for us. And that feels really uncomfortable. And that’s the same thing with fundraising.

If we are just trying to get the money first, and we’re fully focused on who has the most money and everything’s about the money and we’re going into these meetings where we’re saying, we’re not going to talk about money, but the whole time we’re thinking about money. That is exactly why we then show up with that car salesperson energy, because we have a one track mind, but we’re not being totally honest about where we’re even meeting the person.

Cindy: Exactly. The fact that we feel like we are that person. And the irony is like the solution is also the prevention. And these meetings that I talk about all the time, I really feel like I talked about them all the time. One is that it gives us information. We get to know our donors. We understand what fundraising will resonate with them, how we can build a strong fundraising program and all these amazing things come out of the meetings.

And so in some ways that’s the solution. But the other part is that, the more we do these meetings, the more we get to know our donors, the more we understand the value giving has to them. And when we understand that and internalize that we start to realize that “Oh, I’m not selling anyone, anything”. I’m not selling you something you don’t need, let alone selling you anything.

We’re on a journey together to change the world. And it just so happens we’re on the same path. And so in that way, we start to actually build the knowledge and understanding of what good fundraising looks like for our organization. And the more we do it, the less barriers we set up for ourselves, because we start to really understand that “Oh, our donors, like us”. They really like the work of your organization. 

Authenticity as a buzzword, but I’ve worked in organizations where there’s this feeling that we have to present a certain way in front of donors. And I’ve never subscribed to that. If someone is not willing to meet with your frontline staff because they’re not polished or present a certain way, they’re not the donor for you.

And we can talk about a negative reinforcing loop, which is what we’ve been talking about before in terms of having the mindset and then making decisions that reinforce that mindset. And then it spirals into “We just stopped fundraising” or “We just feel awful fundraising”. The same thing happens on the positive side, where if we start to do these meetings and get to know our supporters and get to know why they support us, we can build fundraising that aligns with our mission and with what our donors are passionate about and really become more and more successful. So that’s the spiral up. Yeah, that’s why I love donor meetings because they’re actually really powerful tools. 

Mallory: I love that. And I’m curious, I’m going back to what we were talking about before, around the amount of time it takes to shift a belief system. One of the things I feel like is hard is when we’re inundated in a sector where we’re seeing so much of the historical belief system all the time, it can be really hard then to recognize that there actually is a different belief system.

We can hold. And I think when you and I first met, we were so excited and we had this moment of being like “Oh, my gosh, our businesses are not in competition”. Like everyone needs to be talking about this. We want everyone to be having this conversation. And so I think it’s so important. I wish folks were seeing these shifting narratives in all the different places and they’re not. And so there’s still a lot of work to do there, but one of the things that’s making me think about it is sometimes we have these transformational life experiences or these moments where our belief system gets rocked fast. And we can never unsee, perhaps, what we say.

And I’m wondering about that. And I’m thinking about how we can create an and maybe it is the donor meeting. Maybe that’s part of the catalyst that you’re finding with folks, but I’m curious, what do you know to be true about that? From the neural pathways perspective? Are there types of moments or types of scenarios in which our belief system can be rewritten really quickly?

Cindy: I actually don’t know. The example that comes up for me -but it’s not really helpful- is trauma. And I think that’s what happens a lot and why we get stuck in a negative mindset, because that is what you described to me is my understanding of trauma, right? We have this heightened experience that doesn’t resolve itself in the moment.

And so every time we go through it again, Stuck at that height and the trauma many years ago, I learned a little bit about trauma counseling. And the idea is you work with people to find a resolution to that experience so that they have the tools to go up and come back down. Instead of getting stuck up. I don’t actually have any positive examples. I don’t know. That’s a great question.

Mallory: And perhaps it’s never a one time thing, but when we think about progress around civil rights or the Black Lives Matter movement or the LGBTQ movement for many people who may weren’t exposed to certain issues earlier, sometimes from false media, people are exposed to one source of information and it turns into a belief really quickly or can shift a belief really quickly. And so maybe that’s just something I’m pinning for myself to explore.

Cindy: Okay. So I actually, now that you frame it that way, there is one thought I have, which is around stories. And this wouldn’t be surprising to you. What happens when we are engaged in listening to stories is that our empathy is heightened, right? We become the subject of the story. And so this is a really effective tool in fundraising.

This is why everyone talks about using stories in fundraising. I do think that’s why something like the murder of George Floyd really catapulted the Black Lives Matter movement because it was around before, but there was a singular story that all of a sudden, I think a lot of people could really connect with.

So when we hear stories and think about sitting in a movie theater, watching Disney Pixar, or whatever, we feel the whole experience in our body and our mind. We empathize, we become the main character or the hero who’s on this journey. And we feel the ups and we feel the downs and that can be a very transformative experience.

And so I definitely feel like stories have a role to play in that, where we connect in this deeper way, which really pulls our empathy and emotions into it. That does have the power to mobilize people. And we’ve seen that with movements. We’ve seen that with fundraising. We see that with any charismatic speaker. Now it has the power to do good and bad, but I do think that is a tool that we can leverage for ourselves, but also for fundraising. 

Mallory: Yeah, I think it’s such a good point. And maybe even like a takeaway for an organization, listening to this as you share stories of positive fundraising experiences with your team, and even probably the process of storytelling and the process of hearing those stories. It’s going to continue to reinforce that pathway because we do more often share the negative thing that happened than the positive and that’s related to a lot of other pieces. But the more we can share stories of connection and alignment and things like that, the more our beliefs will continue to shift towards those narratives.

Cindy: Exactly. And my first fundraising job was at a women’s shelter that was run as a feminist collective. And fundraising was like “Money was the root of all evil”. One of the things I did is actually bring our donors and staff together.

And so often fundraising and organizations is the siloed function. And so it reinforces that idea of “I don’t have access to those good stories”. I can tell them to you, but even better. Let me give you an opportunity to experience that. Let me give you an opportunity to meet our donors and break bread, or what have you, and actually get to know them as humans, as people. 

And there are donors out there who can be harmful to organizations. I don’t want to ignore that or undermine that, but for the most part, there are plenty of donors who are amazing for your organizations, but we put up this barrier that we can’t connect with them. And so to get all your stuff and everyone around you invested in fundraising, start to break down those silos and connect on a human to human level. 

Mallory: Yeah. I love that. You shared that and I totally agree. I feel like one of the places where we forget, or we fail to activate our empathy inside the sector is with our donors. And we don’t access that same type of deep relationship, particularly for outside of the fundraising department or singular person or whatever it is. I think that’s so important. And I’ll also say when I’ve worked as a consultant with organizations and I’ll have the marketing team come in for something and they’ll say things sometimes like “But I’m not doing any of the fundraising”, or like “I could never do what the fundraisers do”. And I will address that really early on in my engagement with them and say “We don’t talk negatively about fundraising here. We don’t believe that fundraising is a bad thing here”.

And we need to be talking about it really differently because it plays such a huge role. When I see fundraising talked about in movies, I record it on my phone and it’s just I’m putting together this like compilation of “Where does the stigmas come from?”.

We -actually more than we realize- see fundraising referenced in all of this pop culture in really negative ways. And it plays a role in the more awareness we can even have about that and be like “That’s not true”. I always pause the movie, turn to my husband and be like “That’s not true at all. It’s not like that”.

We have to have awareness around the fact that these things play a role in how we feel. So if we’re feeling uncomfortable, that’s okay. That’s normal because we’ve been inundated with all of these stories and we have the power to change it.

Cindy: I just want to add to that because the other story we have in our sector or in pop culture that is deeply affecting our sector is our value as individuals to the work.

We look at the overhead conversations that are very much reinforced by some very big and popular charities, right? The other one I see are entrepreneurs who cover all the overhead costs of their pet project-organization-nonprofit, and then they fund money for the projects and all of these reinforce the idea that our work doesn’t have value. That is not something that people want to support. That is so harmful, that is hurting us and our beliefs around the value of our work, it’s hurting our organizations and our ability to do good things.

That’s a trend I actually see increasing that is very out there in pop culture. Like very much celebrated that these organizations have no overhead. It’s not that they have no overhead. It’s just that they have some really wealthy connections that are covering the cost. So yeah, I have a big problem with that. 

Mallory: So it’s interesting what you’re saying, because this has been something that I have been grappling with for a little bit here. I also think the a hundred percent model and a lot of the language that surrounds it is really damaging for the sector and I have recently been thinking about our focus, like with charity:water in particular, our focus on their hundred percent model when they’ve also demonstrated this wildly successful 0% model.

So they have the well, which has grown to a huge number of families that was not an original network. And 0% of that money goes to projects. And I’ve been just thinking recently about what if we focused on that, but what if we were just starting to be like “Wow, what did they do there? Can we shift our own narrative around what we admire?”, which is how they build a huge program without any of the money going to projects. To me that is inspiring. 

Cindy: That was so interesting. Absolutely. And there’s interesting organizations here having conversations with donors. We had on our podcast a member from the Toronto foundation and they have a whole program where they’re basically training the next generation of philanthropists and part of that is saying “Listen, folks, if you want real social change, you can’t just find the big sexy organizations. You gotta fund the organizations that are led by community members that are doing the grassroots work. And some of them don’t have charitable status and that’s where the change is happening”.

So there are some really interesting conversations happening in our sector. Absolutely. And I’m like “That’s a whole other conversation”, because there’s so much opportunity. And fundamentally to me, both of those things speak to our ability to connect with and go on that journey with our donor. To have sometimes difficult conversations or to get so excited about the potential of our work together.

I think those are two great examples of what can be possible when you shift the narrative and you understand that our people are the lifeblood of our work. We could have a whole conversation about the need to invest in systems and technology and infrastructure to make the work actually scalable and more impactful and all those kinds of things.

But to me, those start with connecting with your donor and really getting on the same page with them and building a relationship and building trust and going from there. So I guess that’s a bit of a full circle moment. 

Mallory: No, I love it. And I think asking real and deep questions and being willing to go a step further. I just interviewed this woman, Vanessa Bohns for the podcast who studies influence and she talks about this really interesting research around how -when we are in a position of power or perceived power- we underestimate our influence. And so we say things flippantly or throw a suggestion out there with no intention that we’re directing the person to listen to us. We’re just having a casual conversation. And we really underestimated that the person across the table or across the zoom, is okay.

Now I have to do that because this person in power said they liked the idea of a new truck. And so now I’m going to restrict their funding and I’m going to get a new truck. Cause they said they liked the idea of a new truck instead of going back and saying “Tell me about what the truck inspires in you”.

“What gets you excited when you think about the truck? Oh, so what you really want to make sure is that we’re able to distribute more lunch. Actually the most impactful way for us to distribute more lunches is through blank”. And so I think that’s on us too, yes, these narratives are out there.

It doesn’t mean that there’s nothing we have to overcome, but I think we have so much power inside our small organizations to take conversations a step further with our donors and we don’t have to just keep running into that. So many of our donors understand the need for technology and systems and all these things. Many of them are running and working in companies that depend on them. And so you’re totally right. I’m so with you, it’s all about that real conversation, genuine connection. Starting with donor conversations. I’m all in. 

Cindy: And of course all that means showing up with the mindset that you are on the same page as the donor.

So you were working towards the same mission and that fundraising is not achy. And once we get there, like the rest will follow, it will totally follow. I have an organization where right now, they have a donor who’s funding them to hire a fundraiser. That is like the gold star, what we want in our sector.

It’s doable and it’s out there, but it requires us to stop thinking of our function of fundraising as achy, because if we show up that way, we will never get our donors on board. 

Mallory: Yes. Okay. I’m going to end this there. Tell everyone where they can find you, tell them about the book, and we’ll make sure all the links are below.

Cindy: Amazing. You can connect with me@thegoodpartnership.com or most of our social media. My Instagram is @thegoodpartnership and the book is on our website or raiseitbook.com. And yeah, I’m so excited for this because I feel like Mallory, you and I are on a similar path with this. And I feel like hopefully more people will start to be having these conversations.

Yeah, such a pleasure. Thank you so much for the work that you do. I loved this conversation.

How to Rewire the Neural Pathways in Your Brain to Raise More Money for Your Organization with Cindy Wagman
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