68: Effective Fundraising and Power Partner Principles with Seth Godin

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“(Donors) aren’t doing you a favor. They are buying something on sale — the feeling, the emotion, the connection, the magic — for less than it costs.”

– Seth Godin
Episode #68


In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

When it comes to marketing, leadership, connection, and inspiring change, there is no one else out there quite like Seth Godin, my guest on this episode of What the Fundraising. Seth is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker. In addition to launching one of the most popular blogs in the world, he has written 20 best-selling books, including The Dip, Linchpin, Purple Cow, and Tribes (just to name a few of my favorites). Seth has spent his career trying to get us to be the best version of ourselves and when necessary, change everything. 

For this reason, and because of the personal impact his work has had on my career, I wanted to have a conversation about how his work applies to fundraisers and the nonprofit space in particular.

As the son of parents rooted deeply in the nonprofit sector, Seth grew up around fundraising and regards fundraisers as powerful, professional agents for change. He’s not mincing words: it’s up to us to value and believe in exactly what we bring to the table. And fundraisers are bringing a lot of value to the table – the opportunity to give is a gift.

You’ll want to take notes on Seth’s actionable advice for managing everyday fundraising challenges like internal resistance, demanding donors, fundraising in moments of uncertainty, and why hyper-focusing on outcomes is a recipe for burnout. And of course, because it’s Seth Godin, we had to talk about the need to build real relationships with our donors if we want long-term donors and sustainable fundraising. The pants-on-fire marketing and fake urgency not only shut serious donors down at the moment, but they burn a bridge for years to come. We decide how we show up in our communications; we can’t show up transactionally and then be surprised when we have low donor retention because we designed our fundraising for that outcome. The good news is that there is an entirely different way to fundraise.

Seth’s famous quote, “people like us do things like this” demonstrates the way that donating is an important behavior rooted in identity. We talk about the fact that people not only choose your organization based on their current alignment with your work but inspiring people to give to your organization actually helps people cement their identity. Why does this matter? Because it means that fundraising isn’t just a ‘necessary evil’ to run our programs or a ‘means to an end’.  It means that fundraising in itself – the movement of money in alignment with who people want to be – is actually a critical part of building your movement and community all on its own. 

We also talk about how nonprofits should think and talk about ‘failure’. Seth gets that nonprofit work is about constantly pioneering and “doing experiments on the frontier,” which means we’re going to feel anxious, out of our depth, and at risk of failure — and that’s okay! In fact, that’s the point. We’re trying to solve problems that have never been solved before, testing and experimentation is the only way. And while failure is a loaded word it’s actually critically important because then we have learned one more thing that didn’t work. “Publishing your failures is an extremely generous thing to do,” says Seth, who believes the more data nonprofits share the quicker we can figure out what not to do.

There is so much advice jam-packed into this 30min interview and it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of how Seth’s wisdom translates to nonprofit leadership. If we want to change the sector, and we want to change the fundraiser experiences in the sector, we have to change the way we think about the sector and our specific work. My hope is that this episode helps us do exactly that.

Check out The Carbon Almanac to see the work Seth calls the most important project of his career. You should also run and sign up for Seth’s Blog and you can also learn more about his many upcoming workshops at this link.


sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable sustainable 

Seth Godin


Brought To
you By:




Learn how to segment and speak to YOUR specific donor audience(s) with this great resource put together by Mallory & DonorPerfect!

About Jacqueline Novogratz and Acumen, a catalyst for changing the way the world confronts poverty.

Lemontree, is an innovative software connecting New Yorkers with free food available at local food pantries.

About Momofuko and legendary chef David Chang.

Seth’s blog post about Permission Marketing.

Seth shares A Manifesto in Defense of Nonprofit CEOs.

More about Kevin Kelly’s theory about the power of 1,000 True Fans.

Interested in seeing permission marketing in a nonprofit context? Join the Waitlist for Critical Mass, the brainchild of Vik Harrison, one of the co-founders of Charity: Water.

Nonprofit Highlight:

This week’s guest @sethgodin came on the show thanks to our mutual love and respect for @scottharrison and @vikharrison so I want to make sure to shout out @charitywater as the nonprofit highlight for this week!

Get to know @charitywater

charity: water works with local partners to implement sustainable, community-owned water projects in remote communities. Since 2006, they have worked with over a million supporters, being able to bring clean and safe water to more than 13 million people around the world.


Get to know Seth:

Seth Godin has been described as “‘’the ultimate entrepreneur for the information age.’’ He is the author of 17 bestselling books, addressing various aspects of marketing, advertising, business venturing and leadership. He is also a successful entrepreneur, marketer and public speaker. He received his MBA degree from Stanford Graduate School of Business and worked as a software brand manager before he started Yoyodyne, one of the first Internet-based direct-marketing firms, with revolutionary ideas on how companies should reach their target audiences. 


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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

Mallory Erickson: Welcome everyone. I am so excited to be here with Seth Godin. Seth, thank you so much for joining me on What the Fundraising. 

Seth Godin: Good to see you, Mallory.

Mallory Erickson: So I wanna start by talking about my favorite sentence in the world, which happens to be your sentence. And I would say of all thought leaders in the world, you have changed the trajectory of my career more than anyone else. And this sentence in particular completely altered the way that I showed up as a fundraiser and a nonprofit leader.

And it is, people like us do things like this. And I talk about it a lot in my fundraising training as well, but can you talk us through specifically for nonprofits, what does this mean?

Seth Godin: Well first, I just want to thank the people who are showing up for nonprofits. My dad was the volunteer head of the United Way when I was growing up. My mom was the first woman on the board of the art museum. Fundraising seemed normal to me growing up. That’s one of the things that we do. And before we get too far into the quote, the most important thing to remember if you’re a fundraiser is that no one donates a hundred dollars to your cause unless it’s worth $200 to them to do so. That people aren’t doing you a favor. They are buying something on sale. The feeling, the emotion, the connection, the magic for less than it costs. So you’re giving them an opportunity, you are not taking. 

With that said people like us do things like this is the definition of culture. Not everybody is gonna give money to any nonprofit, doesn’t matter which one it is. Everyone will not do it. Everyone will not drink a Coke. Everyone will not be a vegan. Everyone will not drive an electric car. Everyone is irrelevant. We are looking for someone. And one of the main reasons that someone does something is because they see identity and affiliation in doing it. People like us, the way I define myself, one of the ways that we show people that we are people like us is we do things like this. 

Mallory Erickson: And I’m curious, there’s also some literature around the way that taking an action continues to build identity over time. James Clear talks about this in Atomic Habits.

I’m curious when you think about galvanizing support, the role you feel like donating also plays in their continued identity building around the issue area. 

Seth Godin: Well, I think it’s pretty clear. We become what we do, not the other way around that. If you are regularly adopting a certain set of habits, it’s going to reinforce who you see when you look in the mirror. And this is one of the reasons why an organization like Alcoholics Anonymous has to work so hard to change the story in people’s head because once you see yourself as somebody who drinks a bottle of wine and sitting, it’s very hard to unsee that because you’ve been doing it for a long time. 

And so when we think about the work of a nonprofit, part of it is the program for sure. And it’s interesting to note that almost no nonprofits announce that their program has been successful and then shut down because partly the professionals there wanna keep their job, but a bigger part of it is the supporters like being supporters. And once you’ve identified yourself as the kind of person who supports this cause and sees the people in the room as people like you, you don’t want someone to take that away from you.

Mallory Erickson: Okay. I love that. And it makes me wonder how you would think about a nonprofit’s flexibility in perhaps pivoting around the core program that they’re fundraising around. Let’s say they really did solve an issue, but they’ve created this community. It sounds like what you’re saying is that an opportunity is there to really keep the community together and tackle the next issue or think through what the next program would be in the trajectory of eradicating whatever that issue is.

Seth Godin: Yeah. I mean, I’m a huge fan of nonprofits announcing that they have achieved something. That declaring victory and shutting down, if you’re not prepared to do that then it’s much harder to show up at work. And if I think about my career, I’ve started companies and I’ve sold them. I’ve started products and I’ve shut them down and you can see a list of all the ones I’ve shut down on my blog. If I didn’t shut down projects, I wouldn’t be able to start new ones. 

And if we see that the role of a nonprofit might not be to persuade people that your program is perfect and needs to be funded immediately every day. But that your mission is simply to give people like us a thing to do that establishes who people like us are. Then you have this new opportunity, which is to find program for your donors, not find donors for your program. 

And an example of this is one of the things that my mom did. She passed away a long time ago. The museum in Buffalo, Buffalo used to be one of the richest cities in America. It’s where Woolworths was founded. It was the destination of the Erie Canal. And so building a museum in the 1920s and 1930s was not a very hard thing to do, because there were a lot of super-rich people. And by the eighties, it wasn’t like that anymore. And what the museum figured is that they weren’t gonna be able to attract a young generation by saying you should spend time and money to preserve our paintings that you’re not interested in. But instead, they used their facility to establish a place where one or two evenings a month the young up-and-comers of town came together just to see each other, happens to be in a beautiful building, but they weren’t there to raise money for a new Jasper Johns  because  there are no new Jasper Johns. They were there because being in the room with the other people was worth it to that group. Now that they had donors, they could find program for their donors, not the other way around. 

Mallory Erickson: That really opens up this conversation, well, what you were saying earlier about if we’re not prepared to achieve and shut down but also to pivot, what are we doing and how do we stay motivated on the day-to-day?

Which brings up a topic that I am always eager to talk about which is nonprofits making the decision to shut down when it’s also not the right fit and how to think about failure in nonprofits. And I love the way that you particularly talk about this. So can we go there? 

Seth Godin: Sure. First, I’m really hesitant to use the word failure, because it’s so loaded.  Here’s the deal. If we knew how to solve the problem you were trying to solve, we would’ve solved it already. And what we’re actually doing if we’re running a nonprofit is we are doing experiments on the frontier. We are saying there are people in Tanzania or Ethiopia who are dying of thirst. What would happen if we did this to get water to them? If it doesn’t work you’ve just found one more way it didn’t work. You better publish your work because otherwise, someone else is gonna go down the same alley. Publishing your failures is an extremely generous thing to do. Being willing to say I organized the right donors but there’s tactical problems with our program. What will we do next is critical. 

My dear friend, Jacqueline, when she created the idea of patient capital and started building Acumen. If you look at what Acumen was doing 20 years ago, it’s not what Acumen’s doing now. Acumen isn’t sitting there insisting that kiosks in rural India are the way because they discovered they’re not. That when they were funding Eco-tech, which was building sustainable latrines and bathrooms in places that didn’t have them. There’s some really good things in that idea, but the execution had some really significant flaws. Announce them so that the next person will learn from that, that’s not a failure. That’s is one more way not to solve the problem. If you really care, as opposed to just trying to defend yourself, that’s where it will lead us to going forward is being very clear. What would it take for you to say this worked? If you can’t say that, don’t raise money. If you can say that and it’s clear you’re not gonna get to what it would take, go back to your donors and say we need a new method forward. 

Mallory Erickson: I love how you talk about the decision-making process around when to shut down and when to persevere in the dip. So how do you think about the dip related to this type of nonprofit decision-making? 

Seth Godin: So let’s talk about two parts because this is a fundraising rant. There is clearly a dip in fundraising and the dip has to do with how we get from the people who want to fund something that is brand new and work our way to how we get people who wanna fund something that is working. And those are two different things. And I know only some of the people are watching this on video, but if they’re watching on video, we look at this chart. What we see is that early adopters are only innovators, 15% of the market, one out of six people. One out of six people are the people who wanna when you say I have something new, I have something that might not work. And then there’s a much bigger group of people who we’re talking to when we say everyone is already funding this, do you wanna be part of it?

Those are two totally different things to talk about in between the two, Jeff Moore calls it chasm. There’s a dip because you’re gonna be new for a while when there is no data. And then you’re gonna have to build enough data and enough credential that you’re on the other side. And you have to ignore the people who want you to do innovative new stuff.

Say we’re boring on purpose from now on, right? So nobody funds the metropolitan museum of art, because they’re innovative. They fund it because that’s where the fancy people are. And that’s very different than if you’re on the board of Lemontree, which is an innovative software-based nonprofit that’s feeding the hungry in Brooklyn because those folks are saying try something new, please. So that is where the dip is, between those two. 

And then when we think about program, there are a lot of problems that nonprofits are trying to solve. Where at first it looks like it’s gonna work. Part of the reason is the people who showed up to get help were ready to get better. They were the ones who were already leaning toward getting better anyway.

And if we look at medications that have a significant placebo effect, it’s usually 20 to 30 to 40%. Well, those happen right away because people who are susceptible to the placebo effect, it works right away. Then there’s a dip and it might not be a dip. It might be a dead end and you have to be smart enough as a nonprofit to say you know what, we’ve been doing this, I use climate as an example. We’ve been trying to push people to recycle by shaming them for 30 or 40 years. Guess what? We should stop doing that because everything has gotten worse since we started pushing. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that advice. And I’m curious how you think about for fundraisers who are simultaneously trying to fundraise for programs at different moments of the dip, whether it’s one that they’re going to get through or not, and they don’t know and there’s this certain amount of uncertainty. And something I often hear from fundraisers is their discomfort fundraising around something when perhaps the program is showing some data that wasn’t expected. What would some of your advice be around something like that? 

Seth Godin: Well, there’s two parts to this. The first part is, as we learn from multi-level marketing, the first thing that happens when you get into multi-level marketing is you pitch all your friends. And you break friendships, there’s some initial success. That’s not professional. If you want to be a professional fundraiser, you’re not allowed to call your friend. You’re not allowed to call people who quote, owe you a favor because that doesn’t scale. You’re gonna have to figure out an approach that scales. So don’t do so well in the first four weeks. Don’t announce that it’s an emergency, figure out what are you gonna need do to create the conditions for strangers to choose to be people like us. 

But the second part is your voice as a fundraiser has to be a level of trust and connection, because otherwise why don’t we just build the website, right? The reason we’re sending a human being into the world, is because Mallory’s gonna look me in the eye and say this is the thing for you. I saw it. I know. Well, if you can’t say that with confidence about your program, your reputation isn’t worth whatever money you’re gonna raise. It is way better to go to a donor and say, I’m not sure if this is gonna work. I’m looking for the kind of donor that’s willing to fund something that might not work, is that you? Is so much better than saying we can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt is the single best way to invest your money in mankind. Because guess what? River blindness is the single best way to do that. And if you’re not raising money for river blindness, you’re already lying. 

Mallory Erickson: Wow. I really like that way of thinking about it. And it also brings up how the fundraiser personally stays motivated throughout this process.

So you talk a lot about passion for the work versus passion for the outcome. And when I hear you talk about that, I think so much of how broken it is often inside how nonprofits are tracking success, or giving feedback to fundraisers. And it really holds their feet to the fire around outcomes and very little management around their day-to-day experience.

Seth Godin: Right. So outcomes are luck. They are not the results of strategic, thoughtful planning.  And the stories we tell ourselves, if we get too hung up on outcomes, we’ll burn us out. So I tell the story about David Chang, who started Momofuku, which is a legendary restaurant now. Now we used to go to Momofuku with the kids when it was starting and no one knew who it was. There was no reviews, nothing. We would go on Saturdays and sit at the counter and I’m pretty sure David himself was serving us sometimes, I’m not sure. And on the menu were brussel sprouts with bacon. Well, I haven’t had meat in more than 30 years and I would say to the person who was cooking, who was also at the counter, can I have the brussel sprouts, no bacon, please? You save money. I can’t eat them. And they would make them for me. And the fourth week I went, they said, you know what? There are no vegetarian items on the menu that you eat. There’s a vegetarian restaurant five doors down, we don’t run it but they’re good people. We think you and your family should eat there from now on. 

And that was the day it became Momofuku. And that was the day that David Chang could say, I don’t feel bad if a vegetarian leaves because it’s not my fault they’re a vegetarian. They were a vegetarian before they got here. My mission is not to make vegetarians eat bacon. My mission is to say this is what I made, people who want this please come here. And so if you clearly state who the people like us are and what we do and why we do it, and someone says, no, thank you. Your answer needs to be thank you and leave. Not feel bad. 

Now, if it happens to everybody, including the people who should be donating to you because of who they are and where they are in the world, you need to get better at your work.  But you need to be really clear who this is for. And an honest engagement of someone who makes it clear it’s not for them occurs you should say, thank you. Not beat yourself up. Not try to change their mind, because you’re there not to change who they are. You’re there to get the people who are inclined to be part of what you are building to know you are there and join. 

Mallory Erickson: I could not agree more with what you just said, and I really appreciate the reminder that people even identifying that they’re not your people is a sign that you’re doing something right. Because it’s making clear who’s supposed to be there and who’s not supposed to be there and that’s a good indicator. It’s great data and information that we’re really representing ourselves. And so I really appreciate that framing. And do you find when this happens in marketing and fundraising, when folks are really starting to focus on how they’re showing up in that moment, being true and aligned with who they are and making it clear who that community is, that their day to day passion for the work is improved as a result?

Seth Godin: There’s just no way to be a heart surgeon if you’re gonna beat yourself up every time someone dies. Part of being a heart surgeon is people are gonna die. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about it. It doesn’t mean you should take it lightly, but you can’t go to medical school if one of the rules is no one’s allowed to die under my knife.

That’s the deal and what it means to be a professional, when I started out as a book packager, I got 800 rejection letters in a row. And the first 40 were crippling. They were so hard, they were punching the nose because I had no income. I had no self-esteem and one after another people were paying for a stamp, writing me a letter that said, I thought, I hate you and I’m not going to publish your book either.

And then I realized, wait a minute, they don’t know me. All they know is I showed up and said, I would like to make this book. Would you like it? And they said, no. So what that meant is either I was coming up with ideas that weren’t very well described. I was coming up with ideas that publishers didn’t wanna publish, or those are the only two. And so what I realized is someone who cared enough to send me a note saying, we don’t wanna publish your book was giving me a hint that at some level I was onto something, because I was worthy of a response. And then I decided to stop sending out proposals about books. I wanted them to publish and I started thinking really hard about what books they wanted to publish. And that is when my career changed.

So if you’re going out to raise money and you’ve decided that cats in South Korea that need to be rescued from trees is the most important cause in the world. And when you start telling that story to people, their eyes glaze over, maybe the problem is you are bringing the wrong idea to the wrong people. And if you wanna be a professional, you should think about what those people want to do and bring them that instead. 

Mallory Erickson: This goes back a little bit to what you were talking about before around fake urgency versus building really meaningful relationships over time. But I know that when it comes to nonprofit communications, they feel they’re in this battle for attention against every other flashy, urgent countdown timer out there. So how do you suggest that people keep their eye on the long-term relationship, that sort of permission that you talk about, even in the midst of what we’re dealing with today?

Seth Godin: Okay, so I can talk about this forever. So you stop me whenever I’ve gone on for too long. So the first thing, if you want to be Sally Struthers. If you wanna be the National Lampoon, buy this magazine or we’ll shoot this dog. If you wanna be the one who’s living right on the edge of annoying and fringe and raising $10 or $15 at retail every time. If you wanna be the local fire department which shuts down the street and stands there with their boots and won’t let you drive by until you put a dollar in the bucket, go ahead. But don’t whine about it when you realize what a horrible way that is to raise money. Because what you’re basically doing is annoying people enough that they give you $10 so that you will go away. 

But there are nonprofits that raise hundreds of millions of dollars from 20 people. There are nonprofits that have a regular loyal base of hardworking, regular, people who get the work done. That takes discipline. That is a choice. So the simple question is if you didn’t send that email, would people miss it if it hadn’t gone out. If you didn’t put that flashing thing on your website, you didn’t invent the next political emergency, would people miss it? If the answer is no, they wouldn’t but this is really, really, really important. I would say, yeah, and that’s part of what got us into this mess in the first place. 

That the forces of selfish capitalism, the ones that have pushed us ever closer to sort of a fascist outcome that breaks my heart, have a lot of patience. They show up quietly and persistently for decades in a row, not because the emergency of the Washington Post and the New York Times this minute, because breaking news keeps breaking and you’re just gonna have to amplify it and amplify and amplify it. They do it because they are going to the identity of the smallest viable audience, the smallest number of people that would make a difference for you. So the National Rifle Association with fewer than 1% of the population of this country changed the way our constitution was interpreted, 1%. Because if you show up for the smallest viable audience with consistent generosity over time, you will always outperform people who are gonna get you to put fake stuff on the outside of some fundraising envelope or some horrible image that’s designed to guilt somebody sending you 10 bucks so that you’ll go away. 

And I got kicked out of the Direct Marketing Association for pointing out that spam is not our friend, for pointing out that interrupting people is not the way forward. I was really gratified when they let me back in and put me in the Hall of Fame. But I gotta tell you, I’m still ashamed of a lot of direct marketers because they don’t have the guts to say to their clients, yeah, that’ll make your numbers go up for a week and you’ll pay for it for the next decade. But that’s the truth. The truth is you wanna be missed if you were gone, you want to earn permission. The privilege of showing up with anticipated personal and relevant messages to a few people who want to hear from you. Kevin Kelly calls it a thousand true fans. Your nonprofit had 1,000 people who wouldn’t let you fail,  you wouldn’t fail. That was a rant. Sorry. 

Mallory Erickson: No, I loved it so much. And in some ways I wanna just end with that because I think that point is so perfect. But I am gonna ask you one more question because there is another topic that you talk about that aligns so much with what we discuss here, which is around the resistance. 

And something, I hear you talk about a lot is you don’t need one more strategy. You don’t need one more shiny object. What you need is less resistance and that could not be more true for fundraisers too. There’s this sinking feeling and I felt it in my career as a fundraiser before I became executive coach certified. I was like, oh, I must be bad at this because I’m so uncomfortable and there’s no way good fundraisers wanna throw up before a major donor meeting, right? I just must be bad. And so I had so much resistance to taking the next right action and learning how to handle that resistance completely transformed my career. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?

Seth Godin: So my friend, Steve Pressfield calls it resistance, not The Resistance. I call it The Resistance, but Steve came up with the term. Anytime you’re about to do something important, you’re gonna feel something inside of you telling you maybe not. This is where writer’s block comes from. This is where call avoidance comes from. This is why you get nervous before you give a speech, it’s resistance. You cannot make it go away. Not in my experience. What you can do is learn to dance with it. You can use it as a compass. You can use it to realize you’re headed in the right direction. 

So one way I like to think about this is if you’re a lifeguard. And I don’t know if you’ve ever saved anybody’s life as a lifeguard. But if someone is drowning right in front of you, one thing that might pop into your head is there’s probably someone better qualified than you to rescue them. Someone who did more on their WSI or spent more time studying. But you’re right there, and you signed up to be a lifeguard, and you were gonna rescue them. And this person you were rescuing doesn’t care if you’re the best lifeguard at all of all time. They’re just glad you came to rescue them. 

The act of talking to a major donor is a generous act. It is a gift to see them, to hear them, to help them get to where they want to go. That if they donate $3 million, they’re not giving it to you. They are exchanging $3 million for $5 million worth of status, affiliation, satisfaction, joy, and a story to tell. And if you do your job right, you are serving them. So just like the lifeguard, you might be scared. You might feel resistance. That’s a good thing. It means you’re onto something, but no, this is not a referendum of you. It’s simply a referendum of whether you did a good job of telling a true story that resonated with the person you were there to help. 

Mallory Erickson: I appreciate those words so much. And I think for me it really hammers home the passion for the workpiece because I believe so deeply that fundraisers should be so proud of every single major donor meeting, of every single opportunity they’re giving folks to cement their identity go deeper around an issue area where there’s alignment. That alone is such a sacred and important practice. Let alone all the ways it impacts the programs of the organization, but even in their day-to-day work is just this really special, really important work. 

Seth Godin: Well said. Yes. 

Mallory Erickson: Okay. What question am I not asking you that I should be asking you?

Seth Godin: We could talk about is the customer always right. 

Mallory Erickson: Talk to me about it. 

Seth Godin: So, there’s a chain of supermarkets that used to be more burnished than it is today, Stew Leonard’s near my house. And in the front of Stew Leonard’s is a 2000-pound granite obelisk and engraved in the granite it says; Rule one: the customer is always right. Rule two: when in doubt, see rule one. 

And it’s very easy to believe the donor is always right. And there are some donors who gain satisfaction by punching you in the nose. And here’s the deal, there’s a corollary of the customers always right. Which is, it’s okay to fire a customer because as soon as you tell a customer they’re not right, they might not be your customer anymore. And it is okay to say, you know what, you wanna get on a bus that’s going to Miami. And this bus is going to Cleveland. Here are some phone numbers of people who might do a better job of helping you get to where you want to go. And as soon as you are willing to get rid of 10% of your donors, you will serve the other 90% dramatically better because it will force you to be clear about what’s on offer.

So if you have a donor that wants to go to the board and beat you up, if you have a donor that wants to tell you that all your programs are wrong and wants you to change them. If you have a donor that hangs up on you or cancels meetings or whatever it is, failing to treat you like a professional, it is entirely okay to say to that donor. It’s pretty clear to me that I’m not doing a good job of serving you. Thanks for your time. Goodbye. Because once you do that, now you’re a professional again. And now you’ve raised the stakes for the next place you go because there’s nothing about your program that says it’s entitled to chew you up because the donors aren’t treating you well.

Mallory Erickson: Thank you for saying that. And thank you so much for this conversation today. I’m so grateful for your time and your wisdom and everything you do to support the sector. 

Seth Godin: Well, it’s a privilege, but you’re the one who’s working so hard. You and the people who are listening to this, they really do make the world better. And I miss my parents every day. 

Mallory Erickson: Well, thank you.


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