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52: Become an Embodied Fundraiser: Fundraising and Storytelling from the Inside Out with Tania Bhattacharyya

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“Somatically, energetically, when we are not aligned with the vision it creates problems. It creates performance and posturing, whether we know it or not. Because we can’t show up with a fully embodied vision.”

– Tania Bhattacharyya
Episode #52

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

The act of asking for support, especially in the form of money, is multi-layered and psychologically challenging. But when we untangle some of the factors and imprints that shape these interactions the shift in power dynamics is palpable, as my guest on this episode of What the Fundraising can attest. Tania Bhattacharyya, Founder of Lumos Marketing, has built her practice around empowering female leaders and their brands. She is highlighting the many ways that we have it within us to confront and transform the historic and systemic structures that hold us back by owning and telling our story differently. 

As Tania learned through her years of work at a nonprofit supporting women and families impacted by substance abuse, our stories are transgenerational and deeply embedded. In this episode, she reminds us that we can recover our voices and understand the fears and insecurities that mute our agency. It just takes work – much of it interior. Together, Tania and I are underscoring exactly why it’s so important to revisit our own lived experience, however painful or unsettling, and learn to sit with it, own it, and even leverage it. By doing so, we are upending the scarcity model and its inherent inequity.

Much of our conversation centered around a set of concepts that are central to fully articulating our own stories. Tania believes that once we understand and challenge the narratives that shape us individually, as well as our organizations, we can, at last, embody and persuasively communicate our mission to the outside world. Getting there, however, often means breaking down some barriers. We discuss the derailing impacts of Imposter Syndrome, which can paralyze us with self-limiting beliefs and negativity. Our “inner critics” also work hard to bury past traumas, diminishing or dismissing our wounding. And what happens to those trapped toxins? Well, the body knows. 

Beyond intellectually processing the sum of our lived experience, which always accompanies us to whatever table, we must also do the somatic work necessary to unblock internalized experiences that do not serve. Do you long for clarity and the ability to validate, trust and ignite your instincts? There are many routes to get there. But the road to integration will invariably include a somatic element, which Tania teases out with some interesting examples from her own work as well as useful resources for further study. 

This episode ultimately is a celebration of community and our ability to support one another. Fundraising can be lonely, isolating, and demoralizing. That’s why it’s up to us to remove shame, open communication, reclaim our narratives and assert the value we bring to the table. Tania is all about shifting the balance by helping us learn to be the authors of our own stories, in all their vulnerability and authenticity. As she points out: “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

To learn more about how to be an embodied and authentic fundraiser, check out my Power Partners Formula and register for a masterclass here

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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.

MALLORY ERICKSON

episode transcript

Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am so excited to be here today with Tania Bhattacharya. Tania, Welcome to What The Fundraising. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Thank you so much, Mallory. It’s really great to be here. And I love the name of your podcast. It’s like one of my favorite things ever. 

Mallory Erickson: It was funny. It’s like niched me down really tight, even though the topics of the podcast goes so far beyond fundraising. Although I do believe the experience of fundraising to be so multi-dimensional, but it was just too funny to not go with it. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Oh, a hundred percent, a hundred percent. You had to go with it. 

Mallory Erickson: So let’s just dive in, tell everyone a little bit about you and what brings you to this conversation today? 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Yeah, so I like to say that I was raised as a fundraiser, and there were plenty of experiences in my life where I was just like WTF, what the fundraising. And so I started as a part-time fundraising coordinator, as I was finishing up my undergrad degree in psychology and that organization that I was at, I ended up staying at for 12 years, which tends to be a little bit rare, but it’s an amazing org.

And they served women, pregnant women with their children who are achieving recovery from, they’re getting well from addiction. And I love that org and carried that in my heart every day. But I did leave about a year and a half ago to really pursue my vision of empowering vision led female founders, often nonprofit founders and often social impact entrepreneurs, to really stand out as they stand up for their mission.

But, it’s funny that you say fundraising is, it’s so broad because it is. The first thing I ever did in my fundraising journey was really sit with our patients at the organization and really, so essentially let me backtrack. I was tasked with finding impact stories, to be able to share it in our newsletters, to be able to share with our donors. And so I would sit with our patients, one at a time with their permission, people who had signed up to say yes, I want to share my story. And there was always an underlying vibe of not enoughness like the shame and the guilt and the trauma of their addiction always came out when they were sharing that story, and we began like very, just organically we began to engage in conversation that would then lead them to the power in their story, the courage of their decision to get sober, the fact that they were breaking generational cycles and generational curses of addiction that usually that were in their family. And so they’re able to see their story from a different lens.

And for me, it stopped being about trying to get impact stories for our marketing materials, it became bigger than that. Because I saw, especially as they became alumni and left the program and got jobs and went to school and came back to volunteer. I saw how when they had this different story about themselves, it really helped them learn to advocate for themselves in a different way.

And it taught me that the story that we tell about ourselves, it directly influences the way that other people see. And interestingly, in kind of a parallel way, as I was doing that, I was helping our executive director with her thought leadership stories. I’d ghost write her LinkedIn content, I would sometimes ghost write op-eds, and they were her words. I would just essentially take them and massage them into the final version. But I saw how, yeah and first of all, I just wanna say she was a bad-ass, she’s still my mentor. Like I talk to her all the time. She was highly credentialed, all the letters next to her name. She had 40 years of clinical experience. She had lived experience, like she had all the things, she checked off all the boxes of credibility and I was surprised as a young professional at how much, I will just say like impostery thoughts that she had. She had fears around sharing her own story and that taught me, what that taught me was even the most just amazing, externally confident, highly credentialed, capable people also have their self doubts. I kinda thought I was the only one.

But as she got 1% more uncomfortable with each piece and got herself out there as a fundraiser, it was amazing because reporters just came out of the woodwork. They’re like, tell me more about this thing. Or board members would just start to be naturally attracted to our work because they saw us in the OC register or a referral source or a doctor would see her speak at an event. And they’d say, oh, I don’t have any places to send my pregnant women, tell me more about what you do. 

As a fundraiser, as a cheerleader, as a person whose job it was to go out there and like when they build relationships, it just, I didn’t have to worry about where the funds were going to come from anymore because we were just attracting and raising a sustainable stream from her sharing her stories.

And so really to wrap that up. I’m really all about stories, right? My career has been in fundraising, but I think that stories are our best tool to really build trust in community as we imagine and shape the future together for the better. 

Mallory Erickson: Ooh. Okay. I love everything that you said. And I actually, what I want to explore first is this piece around the stories we tell ourselves, because I think there’s a lot of focus in the nonprofit sector around crafting stories for external consumption first. And I remember as I was fundraising and leading organizations going to different sorts of workshops that we’re all about like how you tell the story around X, Y, and Z for your donors or for your community members, your volunteers. And never did I in any of those trainings have anyone say that a critical part of how you tell any story starts with the stories you’re telling yourself. Because that impacts the way that you show up, the way that you magnetize people into your network, the energy that you bring to certain situations.

And I feel like what did ultimately fundamentally change the way that I fundraise was the shift in the story I was telling myself, about myself. When that changed it opened up clarity and access to all the other types of stories that you’re describing. Not that I didn’t hear them before, or maybe have the data, but I couldn’t access them somehow. I don’t even know how to describe it.

Tania Bhattacharyya: You’re describing it perfectly. You’re describing it so perfectly. I think what you’re describing is a lack of integration. Like integration is so important here. Because we all have big visions, like our organization has a vision statement, has a mission statement. We personally oftentimes might have a vision statement and usually it’s aligned with the organization’s vision. Usually it’s a little different, but aligned. 

And I have started asking my clients actually, because this is a big problem, because when we are somatically, energetically when we are not aligned with the vision, it creates problems. It creates performance, right? It creates ,whether we realize it or not, because we can’t show up with a fully embodied vision, there’s something blocking us. 

And so I’ve started asking my clients, okay, let’s make a list of things, they could be actions, it could be thought patterns, it could be behaviors. Any kind of barrier that stops you from fully living this vision. What is that? And so I’ve started accumulating a list of them. And I think some of the most common ones, like they fall into buckets. I think one of the most common ones is, I don’t want people to think that I’m too much, or I don’t want people to think I’m not enough if I share this story.

And the little stories under that would be, who cares about my story? It’s not as bad as many of the other people in my community. It’s, I got lucky, so I feel bad sharing. I think that this one’s a really interesting one in the nonprofit field, because so often we’re attracted to a mission or vision because we have lived experience in it. And then we see our patients, we see our community and we see their stories. And we think that we can’t share our own stories again, because we just didn’t have it bad enough. But that creates this thing that I like to call the trauma Olympics. Like we think our stories have to be the worst or the most intense to have an impact, but no, all of our stories can have a really powerful, powerful impact and you never know, right? 

So I mentioned, I worked in addiction treatment and I don’t have a personal story of substance use disorder. I just didn’t have the allergy to drugs and alcohol and the way that our patients did. But that doesn’t mean, I believe that all of us have addictive behaviors, for me, that was work, overwork. And even if it tends to be like a quote unquote, good addiction, like it makes you look good in the eyes of others. Like they’re chipping away at you. We all have addictions that are chipping away at us. And we can share those stories, in the right place and in safe community with the right people.

And you just never know what story is going to turn the tide, is going to make people look at things differently. Because I know we had people who eventually became donors for our organization, especially, this was 10 years ago, they just didn’t understand addiction, like it was very stigmatized. It still is, but they just didn’t get it. I remember presenting to rotary clubs and such, or just different places. And it was very much like why would we give money to women who are choosing to abandon their kids. There was a lot of education that goes along with fundraising, but stories are a part of that because maybe somebody is going to be able to understand addiction differently when you talk about and point out the fact when you point out their overwork, when you point out they’re overspending. And that of course, if you’re talking to a donor about that, it requires trust, but there are spaces where you can have those deep conversations and people will start to get it in a different way.

Mallory Erickson: So I’m curious, like when you hear a client or something say one of those stories, like I’m worried that I’m going to be too much, or I’m worried that. What do you think there? What is that underlying fear? What are they afraid is going to happen when they share that story? 

Tania Bhattacharyya: There’s a beautiful quote essentially. The fear, the quote is something around how the fear of being too much and the fear of being not enough or the exact same fear, right?

It’s the fear of being yourself and showing up fully as yourself. And I think those stories that we tell ourselves, those negatives, they’re not actually our stories, right? Those are the stories of the inner critic, the inner chaperone that any bitty shitty committee, like whatever we want to call it, like that’s our training. That is the conditioning that has been put in us by systems, much larger than we, that are invisible, that we don’t even realize are working. Indoctrinate us with these stories to keep us small and keep things the way that they are. If we stay quiet and we just stay comfortably silent, nothing will change. Everything will stay exactly as is. Which is really what some people want, like what the people who imagined this world want. All of us, if we have an inner critic or different voices that come up in different parts that come up to try to protect ourselves, there’s also an inner mentor.

I work with a coach, she’s amazing. Her name is Emily. She’s an anti-oppression life coach and she’s really taught me all of these fractured parts have emerged to try to keep us safe and well and okay in this world that we live in. But there’s also an inner self, and a self with a capital S. Tara Moore who wrote the book Playing Big. She calls it our inner mentor. And so as many stories as we have that are trying to keep us safe that are trying to chaperone us. 

There’s also an inner mentor that is absolutely wise, has the answers and if we can just stay still enough and get quiet enough, and a lot of things stop us from accessing this mentor. A lot of things that are present in nonprofit fundraising, like things like burnout, things like trying to hit all these metrics, right? Just go, go, go over work. But when we can get really quiet and listen to our inner mentor, I think we have the answers. I think we have the right story. Yeah. And I forgot your initial question, again. 

Mallory Erickson: I’m with you, I’m with you. So I forgot again my initial question too. But I actually really love where you’re taking this because I feel like, okay so you’re talking about how I usually refer to visibility, right? So when you are, you were talking before about how when we don’t do the inner work, then there’s this disconnect that happens. And there’s this performance that’s created, right and a lot of times that’s created around a perfectionism version of how we believe we need to tell that story.

And then we can feel in our bodies, deep sometimes it’s so deep that maybe you don’t think you can feel it yet, but it’s there. And it’s showing up in other ways this disconnect between what you’re saying and what’s true, what that self with a capital S would say, what your inner mentor would say.

And then that disconnect can be felt. I think about a plug for a light, if the plug is half in, the light’s going to be flickering, it’s going to be dim. It’s going to go in and out. Sometimes it’s going to be bright but sometimes it’s not. And what does it look like to plug ourselves fully into ourselves? It requires this level of vulnerability that creates visibility to be seen truly as you are, which then you are available for criticism that feels so much harder because it’s true. It’s really about you, not about a performance version of you. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: I just want to add one thing to that. I love that analogy of the plug. I really liked that a lot. One thing I want to say before we move on, I want to say that it’s not your fault. It’s not our fault if this is happening. If our actual, if our vision is misaligned or not integrated with how we’re actually behaving in the world, it’s not our fault because these things that were ,this perfectionism, this overwork, this running from place to place with urgency, like those are actually protective factors, like we’ve evolved them to protect ourselves so that we don’t get just mashed up in this world that we live in. And there’s nothing wrong with us if we’re that way, but there is a way out. But it requires a lot of that deep work. And it requires years of work. It’s not going to happen overnight either. It’s a process. 

Mallory Erickson: And lifelong work. I’m really glad that you said that and I think that’s something we talk about a lot on this podcast, is like these ways that we are in misalignment or are not our fault. They are a product of the system. And then actually in so many ways, I think just to double click on what you said, it’s like our bodies being very smart to try to protect us, to try to keep us safe. It’s not that our bodies are doing something wrong or our brains are doing something wrong or even that like inner critic or we call the gremlin a lot here. It’s just trying to keep you safe. 

And that exactly, as you said, that’s not wrong. It’s not our fault. But recognizing that it’s a choice to identify when you need it, when you don’t, to feel like you have access to other options of being when you want them. I think that’s for me at least where I think the work lives.It’s just yes, this thing is a part of all of us in different ways, than I say to my clients all the time about the self-critic I don’t know that voice ever completely goes away, but the way that I think about it a lot is, okay but when does it get the microphone? And so sometimes I’ll hear my own inner critic come up and it’s okay I hear you screaming. Like you really want to keep me safe. You can see that there’s some risk involved in this task. That to me is a sign that I’m being brave. I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone. Thank you so much for showing up and trying to raise a red flag here, but I don’t need it. So I’m just going to take that microphone back. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Yes. I love that so much because you’re able to now build a relationship with that piece of yourself and navigate that relationship and take the microphone away. I like to think of it as instead of being in the driver’s seat, it’s locked away in the trunk. It’s still there, still there. And I don’t know that we’re going to get away from it fully, but we don’t necessarily need to, because at the end of the day it is a protective factor. And as long as we can navigate that relationship, then I think we’re good.

And something else that I know you and I have talked about that I think comes up here. It’s not just things that have been conditioned into us in this lifetime. We have to look at what our parents went through, what our grandparents went through, what our great grandparents went through. And sometimes we don’t know, but sometimes we know even if they’re not in words, like we know cause our bodies know. And I’m a big fan of Resmaa Menakem and I’m in his six month kind of container right now learning more about Somatic Abolitionism. 

But the way I think that fits into fundraising work is I remember my parents were refugees in the Bangladesh liberation war and I grew up in a gated community in Irvine, California. And so if you look at my ACEs score, it’s oh she’s good, she’s good. But there are things that have not been dealt with in my family lineage that now show up in me when I’m sitting across from a donor and these things start popping up. Am I going to say the right thing? If I don’t say the right thing, what’s going to happen? Things have way more weight than they need to because I’m still dealing with this survival energy that has never been healed from past generations. And so sometimes we have to think about that too.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I think that’s really important and just another reason why I think fundraising it’s so many things, that so many pieces of our identity because it involves this incredibly vulnerable topic of money, value, self-worth identity.

At the core of fundraising is this good enough question? Am I good enough to get the validation of your money? That’s how we’ve been programmed to fundraise. And that is an activity that activates our inner critic in every action. That is if we have not done some of this work, of course, it’s burning us out.Of course, it’s rocking us. It is a deeply vulnerable thing. And so I think understanding the layers in our own identity and our own lived experience, in our historical experience, in our lineage and the epigenetic changes, all of those things, that’s all so real and so much gets activated in this one moment. And we try to tell ourselves. It’s just fundraising 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Or it’s just a lunch, but it’s not.

Mallory Erickson: It’s not, it’s so much is happening in that moment. And so I’m so curious, when you were talking about this piece of it’s not your fault for feeling the way that you feel and there’s something else available to you. And I’m curious, how you work with clients or in the work that you’re doing you think about, okay do you believe that visibility creates an opening for more trauma to be inflicted? 

Tania Bhattacharyya: I think visibility gives us an opportunity to step to that growth edge and figure out what is too much for me. Doing an Instagram live is too much, I’m just not going to do it. I did it once with my friend, Rachel, because she asked me and I was like, okay, I can do this. Some things are going to be too far past the growth edge. And I’m just not going to step past that growth edge. Or I think it gives us the opportunity to figure out what is too much and allow ourselves to set up boundaries so that when people ask us to do something that is going to be past our growth edge, we can say no.

But there are things like doing a podcast, like no one has to see I’m wearing my pajamas. And I’m having a great conversation with you, with my friend. And so for me that is okay. That feels good, that’s a good thing. So yeah, of course I think it could create an opening, but I think that there’s a second piece to this answer, which is entrepreneurship and sometimes fundraising, especially like if we’re a small shop, it can be very lonely, it can be very lonely. I have been in the place where I’m the only fundraiser in the organization and if you’re not a fundraiser, you don’t get it.

Like you don’t get what it’s like to go out there and do this work, to do this work that I think is really sacred work, but it’s also scary work. And so if you’re not held in a community, it’s going to burn you up over time. And so that’s why being a part of, for me, it was community centered fundraising, for me it was sometimes our local AFP chapter can be that for us. But find your community that are working on doing the same things, whether it’s getting visible, whether it’s working on a capital campaign. Whatever it is that is making these things come up for you, find other people who are doing the same thing because these feelings thrive in isolation. And I think when we can hold it together in community it makes it much, much easier to go down the path. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah, I think when you said that, I was like, yeah, shame thrives in isolation. And I was thinking about what you talked about at the very beginning with the women you are working with in the organization and how ashamed they felt at the beginning. And then it sounds like through the sort of ownership of their own story and maybe the reclaiming of their story, reframing them as the story allowed them to move from shame to feeling more proud perhaps of everything they had overcome and been through. And my guess is that in that process of bringing the thing to the light, we also are moving the trauma through us in different ways. And what do you think about that? 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Yeah, so I was just doing this process. So I studied psychology, I’m not a licensed clinician. I didn’t get any higher level degrees in psychology. And so I was doing this work and I was like, something’s happening here. This seems to really be helping. But then later I found out that it was very related to a type of therapy called narrative therapy, where people are actually able to instead of being an actor in their life story, they become the director. They can rise above it and see their story for what it is. And see the power that’s coming. In their story and move forward in a way that is that, where they’ve reclaimed their agency versus they’re just following the script. So I think in some ways, right, like the storytelling this way of framing the story differently it’s really a socially just empowering thing.

Another thing I remember is when I was working at this addiction treatment program, we offered a therapy called psychodrama which sounds intense. But all it is, experiential therapy where the group actually out acts out a traumatic instance from somebody’s life in that group, right. And so if I was the identified person, if I was the person I’d be going in there, everybody around me in that group might play a different role. Somebody might be my dad, somebody might be my aunt, somebody might be whoever was in that situation. And then we get to act it out a new, we get to act it out in a different way where we have the agency to say what we couldn’t say, because we were five or we have the agency to walk away when we didn’t, because we couldn’t. And so sometimes there’s different things that we can do to rewrite those stories, rewrite those narratives, and live the rest of our lives in a different way. Because so often it’s those stories that are what’s holding us back. 

Mallory Erickson: Okay. I had never heard of narrative therapy before, but what’s really interesting about that one in particular is I’ve often found myself saying recently that a fundraising plan, everyone wants their fundraising plan, their fundraising strategy, and I’m like, okay, but that’s the script. That’s the, imagine a movie, that’s the script. The movie is only going to be great if the director is great, like this script is just the script, but actually where the power and the opportunity and the magic lies is who the director is. And who the director is depends on all the things that we’re talking about right there, the director and they get to decide how aligned they are as the director of that script, based on so much of the work that we’re talking about here. 

And so I just think it’s so interesting, I had never heard that before, but just the alignment between those principles which is that we’re like inside the strategy where either inside the plan or we have more of this sort of empowered director level role that kind of pulls us out from the drama of it, perhaps in certain ways and lets us really be able to like access a more global vantage point. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Yes. Yes. The 30,000 square foot view. Yeah. I’m a hundred percent. A hundred percent, I see this with storytelling all the time. Like we are too close to it to really be able to see it for what it is, whether it’s a story, whether it’s a fundraising plan, whether it’s just how we feel about fundraising, we were so close to it. There’s a saying, when we’re inside the bottle it’s really hard to read the label on the outside.

And yeah, it’s like getting that 30,000 foot view of all of it and being able to see it for what it is. And sometimes that requires help. Because we’re just, we’re in it, we’re in it. So whether it’s seeing a therapist, whether it’s having a fundraising coach, whether it’s getting together as a team and working together on the strategic plan, all of these things can really help us get us out of any potential funk.

Mallory Erickson: Yes. Okay. So there’s a few things I want to ask you about. But I want to start with this one, which is, I feel like one of the, you and I are aligned in so many different ways. I think one of the things that I have felt uniquely aligned with is that somatic piece and your relationship to your body and what your body says and what your body feels is this really informative component of the work that you do in your life and the work that you do with your folks. So can you just talk to, you mentioned somatics and the integration of that a little bit before, but can you just talk about your sort of beliefs around that and the importance of it and how it plays into these different pieces. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Yeah. This is something that I’m not an expert in, but this is something I’m very much in an active learning mode, which is a great place to be in because I think I’ll honestly, I’ll probably be in that place for the rest of my life.

Because there’s so much, you can go so deep but it layers are so much. But I have oftentimes really relied on my intellect throughout life. If I was just the smartest, if I got straight A’s, if I was in all AP classes I’d be fine. And now I’ve gotten to a place where I’ve realized that has almost stolen some of the knowledge that my body has, if that makes sense. And I mentioned I’m very influenced by Resmaa Menakem and I recommend everybody reads his book, My Grandmother’s Hands, like just everybody needs to read it because there’s a lot of somatic practices in there that will help us get back in touch with our body. And there’s this presentation I used to do about dismantling imposter syndrome for fundraisers and how impostor phenomenon, impostor thoughts show up in a, there’s a different flavor of it for fundraisers and for fundraisers of color specifically. 

And there used to be a slide that I would show, and it was a picture of the top philanthropists by giving in 2019, I think I did this presentation like in 2020. And guess what the slide looked like. Like you can guess what it looked like. And if we’re not in touch with our body, it’s very easy for us to look at that and then just keep on going, keep on moving, just override whatever potentially had come up. 

But when we were in touch with our body, it can be like, okay how did this make me feel like nobody that looks like me is on here. There’s no women on here. I think it was, there was one, and so it’s getting in touch with what is evoked in our body when these things come up, because we are activated all the time by different things. And unless we deal with that, it’s going to come out sideways. It’s going to come out as fear, as crying when we don’t even know why, as all these different things, our body is so smart. Our body has so much intelligence. And we have just delegated it to the realm of, oh, it’s just a burdensome meat sack that’s walking around. 

But if we listen to it, like there’s so much stored there that can really help us get to this place where we’re integrated, where we’re integrated with our vision, to move it, to move at full circle, because there’s going to be things that we just can’t access unless we do that hard work of sitting with ourselves. And, I don’t know that you can figure out how to just do this because we’re so ingrained in our ways of overriding what our body needs. I would encourage people to work with a somatic coach, a somatic practitioner, a somatic masseuse, people who have really been in tune and trained to learn about the body’s intelligences.

Because the mind is just one form of, and I don’t think it’s even, I think our body is far smarter because it’s storing everything. It’s carrying around everything that we have been through, that our parents have been through, our grandparents have been through and it has the answers, we just have to listen. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Okay. I want to go into what you said about imposter syndrome and the unique flavor of imposter syndrome for fundraisers. Tell me a little bit about what that means. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Yeah. As fundraisers, we are out there in the world asking for funds. And that brings up a whole lot of things because our dynamics that are just ever present in fundraising are set up in a certain way where we are never on the top, as fundraisers, we generally are not on the top of the power dynamic when we’re going into a meeting.

But I think that we also have the ability to change that because the thing is we are bringing, if we are not there as the bridge to the organization, these social ills cannot be addressed. And so the power dynamics should be equal. They should be 50-50. And so I think it’s up to us to do the hard work of overcoming these imposter thoughts that have been planted into us. Like they’re not ours. But one example, so there’s a book that I love and you’ve probably read it. It’s by Edgar Villenueva and it’s called Decolonizing Wealth. And so he has a chapter called colonial social architecture and he tells the story of rolling onto the manicured grounds of a foundation in Virginia in his old beat up Honda Civic as a fundraiser. And so you can already see the difference in the power dynamics from day one. And he talks about how the property even had a name, like the building was called Reynalda and it looked like a plantation, because it was back in the day. And this foundation was built by a man who was a large-scale tobacco farmer. And he also happened to be one of the largest slave holders in Virginia. And so this family had invented pre-packaged cigarettes. That was how they had all of their money, that was the origin of their wealth. And today what they give money to is health and human service in their state. 

And so there’s this misalignment, there’s this we can start to think that we’re crazy because we’re like, what is going on? And so we know in our bodies, something’s wrong. Something’s weird. Like, why am I asking for funds? Why am I sometimes, it feels like begging for funds to help the communities that we serve, who are dying of let’s just say lung cancer from smoking pre-packaged cigarettes and the place we’re getting the funds are a big part of why they’re dying in the first place. Like it’s, are we crazy? And so it points to the institution of philanthropy in itself which there came a point where it was so confusing but I knew that my job was to raise funds. I knew that I was passionate about what I was doing, yet the ways that we were going about it just didn’t seem right. It just didn’t seem right. And that causes imposter thoughts because it’s is something wrong with me? Like everyone else seems to be doing okay with all of this.Why am I having these thoughts? 

And then of course, I’ll share another story. We served women who are struggling with addiction. And so I had experiences of going to a funder’s office building like that, not like a plantation per se, but really fancy buildings that looked more like a bank. And so I’d be at this swanky funders office I’d be stressing out about, Ooh, am I dressed up enough? Am I acting proper enough? Do I belong here? And then in the afternoon I would accompany our understaffed intake person to pick up a young woman impacted by heroin addiction at this shady hotel room. And the two experiences couldn’t be farther apart. And they happened in the same day. They were related to fundraising or at least to social impact. And so it’s like the buildings of philanthropy are so physically different and distant from the communities that we aim to support. And I think that discrepancy can make us the change maker or the fundraiser feel like we don’t belong, there’s something less than about us. And just continue to create these unequal power dynamics. 

Mallory Erickson: I think what you’re talking about is so critical and I experienced so many similar things, even actually in the confusion, really resonated with me. I often say that I thought for most of my career that I was a bad fundraiser because I thought there was no way that good fundraisers felt the way I felt, like there was just this belief, I think exactly like what you said, that there’s no way everybody else feels like this. There’s no way everybody else feels this. And I think if we could even just dispel that myth alone in the sector to say, guess what, 95% of people actually feel that way because of this disconnect that exists around us systematically and the way that these power dynamics show up. 

And my course is really designed around a strategy to shift the power dynamics at the table. And for me, one of the key pieces to that is that the power dynamics do not change. If the only thing of value is money, it is not until we start to see, recognize, embody, value in things beyond money that all starts to shift because if money is the thing that holds all the value at the table, then the person with the most money is always going to be the thing that holds the power at the table. And there’ve been a lot of stories inside power partners of people raising tons of money. But by far, my favorite story was an executive director who told me about turning down a million dollars. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Ooh, because it had bad vibes attached to it.

Mallory Erickson: It was out of alignment. It wasn’t even actually the funder was in alignment, but what they were asking her to do was not, it was going to run her staff ragged. It was going to divert their attention from their core mission and vision. And she valued her knowledge of what was best for the organization, for the issue area over the money enough to say, thank you so much for that offer. But no. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Oh, amazing. That is so amazing. Oh, and I can only imagine how difficult that must have been but the right decision. And I’m sure  after that happened, everything else just started aligning in the right way. Because that’s what happens when we follow, when we stay true to our values and our vision, as hard as it may be.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. In fact, the funder came back and said, okay, thank you for telling us that, we respect that and here’s I think $200,000 for something that was really in alignment with what they were trying to do. And so I just think to me, that was like, okay, this is one piece of the puzzle forward because that sort of like mutual respect and more equal playing field starts to get created when we’re not just taking money at all costs, when we’re not contorting ourselves to the funder, when we’re not creating a new program just to get that money. 

And I get it, like as a fundraiser, as an executive director for many years, I totally understand the stress and the pressure and the board pressure. And honestly, the validation I think that comes from getting money like that. I think when we’re experiencing this deep imposter syndrome and then we have a reputable funder want to give us a lot of money, it soothes us in a way that then feels so impossible to say no to because all of a sudden we feel validation around this vulnerability that we’ve been grappling with. But I do feel like just in you sharing your story, me sharing my story, like just having more language or stories around if you feel uncomfortable, like you’re not alone, is a really core and really important thing for fundraisers to feel. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: I just love that story so much. I just want to, I’m so happy that you shared that with me because I think as we shared those examples, like you said, we can showcase that it is possible to do that. I think a lot of us think mission above all like it’s we’re so mission-driven, it’s all about the mission. Like how are we going to be able to get this done?

And I think sometimes we have to like again, take that bigger 30,000 foot view and look at the vision and be more vision-driven because long-term, and I’m talking really long-term like. I’m talking about even after we are gone, like you and I are gone as fundraisers, how is this decision going to impact the people who would be served in 50 years, a 100 years? And if it’s not a good decision to take these funds because they’ll be worse off then of course the answer is no. So we have to expand our timeline a little bit. Yeah. This whole field, this will look great on my P&L, but how will it actually look for the individuals that are coming generations from.

Mallory Erickson: I saw a post recently that was for business owners that said something like, how would you run your business if you knew you were running it in 50 years. And I just sat with that for a long time because I think, and I’ve been thinking about it in relation to fundraisers too, because I think exactly to your point, sometimes we are in this scarcity mindset that inhibits our ability to look down the line. And a lot of that is because of the philanthropic structures around single year funding. And again, things that are not our fault but what they do then is they corrupt the way we want to fund raise, and we start fundraising. With the same mentality of the funding and actually we can fundraise with a longer term vision then how the funders are behaving. 

And yes, 100% it’s going to feel uncomfortable to do that. But I think that to me, that also I second your recommendations around somatic coach or therapist, or I think working with a somatics professional has always been a big part of my life. And I couldn’t agree more because I think then sometimes when you find yourself in a moment of tension and you’re trying to get clarity on the right decision. Your body knows, like you said. And our brains, there’ve been so many times with clients where I’m like your brain can’t answer this, your brain has the ability to make up a complete story around either option. And that’s why you feel stuck because your brain has a totally valid story for both decisions. So here we are and we can’t get past it. And I do some somatic work with my clients. And it’s just interesting when I can walk them through a visualization when I can ask them questions in a heightened state of activation in their body but with some clearing in their mind, they know immediately what they want to do.  

Tania Bhattacharyya: That’s right. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to do the thing it’s but it’s simple. It’s not easy, but it’s simple. The answer is always there.

Mallory Erickson: It’s clear. Not easy, but clear. And then you still get the choice to go in that direction or not. I think that’s another thing that’s just really important for people to know is, I think sometimes we don’t want to access those truths because we’re so scared about then what it means if it would be so hard to do it. And I think the reality is knowing the truth and still making a conscious choice around this time. I am going to go with this decision for X, Y, and Z reason. I’m doing it consciously. I’m not exactly sure where it’s going to lead, but even feeling that sense of choice I think is really important. And then you’ll learn and then you can make a different choice next time, if you want to, or you can make the same choice next time if you want to, but still having that moment of tapping into yourself and trusting your own inner wisdom I think is just so important.

Tania Bhattacharyya: You know if there’s going to be one skill that you work on, I would say that would be, that’s the one, because it transcends all areas of our life, all areas of our life. 

Mallory Erickson: Yes. Okay. Let’s just marinate in that and close out with just telling everyone where they can find you, who’s the right person to work with you, who are your people and where they should go to learn more.

Tania Bhattacharyya: Yeah. So probably the best way to find me is LinkedIn. That’s my playground. That’s where I spend my time and build my community. And so that’s just under my name. You can also go to my website, which is Lumosmarketing.co. And that is Lumos after the Harry Potter spell for illumination. But one little known fact about the spell is that it actually helps illuminate unseen entrances and doorways. And that’s what I think this work does, thought leadership and personal branding helps us find those doorways that we never even knew were there. 

And I love working with vision led female founders, so nonprofit founders, social impact entrepreneurs lately. I’ve been working with a lot of individuals who have left the nonprofit field because they were pissed off about something. And now they’ve created a solution to overcome that as a consultant.

So yeah, anybody who’s working on a big problem and they have a unique solution for it and just need and just want more people to know about it. So that’s who I tend to work with. And I have a podcast too, about these kinds of things about storytelling and thought leadership and overcoming the itty bitty shitty committee and that’s called the Campfire Circle. So yeah, those are the ways to get in touch with me. 

Mallory Erickson: Awesome. And I’ll make sure all those links are below as well. You should definitely check out her podcast and her work. And thank you so much for joining me today. 

Tania Bhattacharyya: Thanks for the opportunity. I loved this conversation and I’m excited for next time.

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