WHAT THE FUNDRAISING

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70: Why Bravery & Nuance Matter: Our Marketing & Fundraising Mindset Defines the Donors We Attract with Simone Seol

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“It’s very common to be taught to manipulate through words, using psychology and emotion. Copywriters are masters of psychology and that’s a lot of power … We’re able to get people to do things like press the ‘buy’ button.”

– Natalia Sanyal
Episode #70

Overview

In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…

My guest on this episode of What the Fundraising is challenging all of us to throw out self-limiting beliefs in favor of playfulness and transparency. Simone Seol, a coach, and host of The Joyful Marketing Podcast, shows us what it can look like to step away from self-doubt, fear of rejection, and perfectionism. “How we get to show up is our decision,” she says. “You get what you think you deserve and you call in who you speak to.” 

This is such a powerful message for nonprofits whose goal is to cultivate long-term, trust-based relationships with donors! We can push back on old narratives not based on current realities. And that constant drive fundraisers feel to do good and be seen as good? Simone believes the harder we work to be sainted martyrs the farther we get from authentic, resilient connection with our partners – whether in business, philanthropy, or life. 

Simone is an evangelist for truth and vulnerability – which shines through in her work with life coaches and her lively Instagram posts. Her own candor gives us all permission to dig deeper in service of universal stories and nuance. It’s through humanity-centered narratives and shared experience, she says, that we transcend “no” to live instead in a powerful place of connection and joy.

This inspiring conversation is sure to open you up to new ways of thinking. 

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“The Anti-Racist Business Book: An Equity-Centered Approach to Work, Wealth and Leadership,” by Trudi Lebrón.

To learn more about Simone’s books, click here. And you can check out her Joyful Marketing Podcast at this link.

Many thanks to our sponsor Cosmic,  the social impact creativity agency that delivers compelling stories, builds brand awareness, and inspires action. The team at Cosmic knows how to leverage clarity to catalyze real-world change. 

Check out my Power Partners Formula and register for a masterclass here. You might also be interested in taking my Fundraising Superpower Quiz.

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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 thrilled to be here today with Simone Seol. Simone, welcome to What The Fundraising. 

Simone Seol: Yay. So happy to be here. Thank you for having me 

Mallory Erickson: So why don’t we start, I know that actually there are a lot of folks because I reshare your content all the time who follow me who are familiar with your work. But why don’t you give everyone just a little bit of your story and your journey to this conversation?

Simone Seol: Sure. Mallory and I connected on Instagram I think for the first time because she saw that I actually come from the nonprofit world and I was a fundraiser and a grant writer. And she was like, oh my gosh, we share that. So that is part of my story. I was born in California and spent my life divided between living in Korea, where my family’s from, and in the United States.

And right now I live in Seoul, Korea, but I have a business and most of my clientele, most of my audience is in North America and Europe, and all over the world. I am the host of the Joyful Marketing Podcast and I teach marketing to life coaches through a program also called Joyful Marketing. I’m an author of a book called The Fearless Marketing Bible for Life Coaches. And so I teach marketing to life coaches, but also a lot of people who aren’t life coaches follow me. And a lot of people who aren’t even particularly interested in marketing follow me. And I think it’s because I talk about those things on the surface, but on a deeper level, I really speak to being human and loving yourself and showing up to the world with your imperfections and owning it. And that’s why I think a lot of people resonate with what I offer. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that. And I feel your work speaks to so many different pieces of the lived experience of people doing marketing, fundraising, or really anything that involves a level of vulnerability and visibility. And so you really talk about all of the things that surround that. I’m curious from your perspective or how you think about it, why do you feel like those are important topics to be talking about when it comes to helping to enable folks to be their joyful marketing selves? 

Simone Seol: As you were talking, I was reminded that let’s say you have a job and you don’t have a business, so you don’t have an interest in having a business, but you wanna, for example, be promoted from one role to another role of leadership, or you want to take leadership in your community somehow or let’s say you even want to improve the quality of your marriage or something. So all of this is going to require us to step up into a different level of being where you see yourself with more power, and you see yourself with greater capacity. So I brought up the marriage thing because I think everybody has a set point for how loving and happy they can be. And that set point can change. But for the longest, I had a certain set point for how loving I was willing to be. And then when I realized, I had a marriage coach and I was working with that coach on improving the quality of my marriage, not because it was bad but I wanted it to be amazing, not just good.  

And so I realized that in order to go from a good to an amazing marriage, I had to first become somebody who is capable of giving an amazing kind of love and receiving an amazing kind of love. Which is very uncomfortable if you’re just used to your experience of love being like a lot of drama, which I definitely was. I was like, wait, I don’t understand how do you just have love without drama? And, this is an uncomfortable process of becoming somebody who can hold love and peace at the same time, it was very awkward. It was very uncomfortable. So that’s the kind of discomfort and for example, when you wanna be promoted at work, it’s the same thing. You have to become somebody who can hold yourself at a different level of leadership, different level of power, which sounds good on the surface, like who doesn’t love power, who doesn’t love leadership, who doesn’t love more pay, whatever. But it’s actually pretty uncomfortable to your nervous system because it goes against the way you’ve been habitually thinking.

So creating these upgrades in your life, and what I specifically talk to in my business is about creating an upgrade in the way of your being where you can be a match for more clients, more influence, and more money coming your way. So much of it is knowing that yes, a lot of it’s gonna be uncomfortable. You’re gonna have to learn how to think and feel in new ways. And you’re gonna have to step up into a new way of being, and you don’t have to get a brain transplant to do that. Who you are, what you have, the assets you have, and the weaknesses and fears you have, none of it has to change like who you are is enough. And we can work with what we have. 

Mallory Erickson: Okay. This is where it is really similar to fundraising. And I wanna talk a little bit about how you see the relationship between marketing and sales because fundraising is different. Fundraising and marketing gets siloed the way that marketing and sales can get siloed in big companies. But good fundraising is marketing. We hear all the time don’t be a transactional fundraiser, but also the marketing’s over here, and the volunteer stuff is over here. And this is over here and all you’re left with are fundraising campaigns but don’t be transactional. And it’s, wait a second, that makes no sense. It’s all those other things that make the building of the relationship with your audience, not transactional, they’re in those other things.

And so I think what’s interesting though is marketing, I don’t come from a marketing background, and so I don’t know what marketers feel like, but based on sort the way you talk about it. It sounds like many people when they’re marketing feel cringy the way that fundraisers feel when they’re fundraising.

Simone Seol: Because they’ve been siloed because compartmentalization has been forced on them, but it doesn’t feel natural to them because it shouldn’t. 

Mallory Erickson: And I think because they’re holding a lot of limiting beliefs about their value in that space. And so when you were talking about the way you talk about everything else for me, it really has always struck me the way you talk about it for both my own business, but also for fundraisers because it continues to reinforce this point that you feel cringy, not because it is cringy, you feel cringy because of things you’ve been taught about it. Other ways you’ve seen it done, things you might believe about yourself. And what does it look like to own this thing?

Simone Seol: Okay. I have so much, I love where you’re going with this and I think that’s it. All you have to do to un-cringe it, is to de-silo it and to almost un-compartmentalize it. So when marketing feels so aligned and authentic and delicious and nourishing to you as the marketer, is when it comes organically from really high-quality relationships. Meaning you are hanging out with the kind of people that you would want to hang out with. People you actually you enjoy their company and you’re talking to them and you’re having a great time and they trust you and you trust them and you’re just shooting the shit and having fun. And then they look up to you for the things that you know how to do well. And they think you can give them something useful that way very organic naturally transaction, oh hey, can you help me with this? Oh, of course. Oh yeah. Great. 

That is what we are talking about, Mallory, and I think when we talk about things not being compartmentalized. It’s not like here’s the relationship building and here’s the fundraising. Here’s the part where you give value and here’s the part where you make offers. And here’s the part where you nail down your ideal customer avatar. Those are ways we dehumanize the process of both fundraising and marketing. And my biggest thing is we gotta add the whole humanity back in, we can’t have relationships without you being a human being first. 

So back in the days when I was grant writing, I had excellent mentors, which I am still so grateful for because they really taught me how to think and write like a marketer actually, an effective grant writer. And even if I’m writing to something that feels impersonal like a federal grant, or for a grant from a giant corporation, or even an academic grant, which seems very impersonal. It feels like it should be very sterile and clinical. But even in those grants, my mentors taught me about the importance of building that human emotional connection with your reader first. Even if it’s just writing something that they’re gonna read, as opposed to you getting to sit down with them, open with a story that they can relate to. Give them something to emotionally connect to. And what that’s really doing is we’re using on our end, our humanity to connect with their humanity. And that is what it’s all about. And here’s all the things that get in the way of humanity, put yourself into this formulaic box of what’s acceptable. And what gets in the way of humanity is these artificial departments, compartments that we make about what belongs where.

One of my favorite books as of late about business, it’s called The Anti-Racist Business Book. 

Mallory Erickson: Oh, Trudi LeBron

Simone Seol: Trudi LeBron. I love that book. Love Trudi. I worked with her and one of the first things that grabbed me from that book and punched me in the face when I read it, is something I don’t know if I’m quoting it exactly. But she said business has to be personal. Usually, we were taught the opposite, we were taught, hey, it’s business, it’s not personal. She says all business is personal. And if it’s not personal, there’s no business. And I was reading that on a plane one time and I felt like I’d been punched in the face on the plane. I was sitting there stunned. What does this mean? If it’s not personal, it’s not business. And I had to sit and process it. I was like, am I doing everything wrong? 

So that got me thinking about are there any ways I’m treating my clients like they’re not full humans. How am I showing up transactionally? How am I treating my marketing? And I’ve always championed this but like that question took me to grapple with this question at a much more deeper and confronting level. And so what if we apply that great quote by a Trudi to fundraising and we ask if it’s not personal, it’s not fundraising? How can we bring humanity, that genuine, authentic human-to-human relationship building? You asked about how to not make it feel slimy. So I think that’s it. We have to put all the pieces that we were taught were separate. We have to put it all back together again. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that. And okay. Because you’re the queen of nuance in my opinion. I can imagine fundraisers are listening to this and they’re like, okay, Mallory, but I’m working really hard on not taking rejection so personally. So how do I make everything personal and lean into my full self and all the pieces in how I offer things? And then manage how I feel and how hurt I feel when people say no.

So I know this is something that you also think about and talk about in your work with coaches. So talk to me. 

Simone Seol: I have an answer. So that’s so interesting. So fundraisers feel personally rejected when donors say no? 

Mallory Erickson: Yes, because their work is so deeply personal. It feels like it’s a rejection of their core values, that someone thinks their core values are not worthy of investment.

Simone Seol: Okay. So I think that’s very understandable. And I also think what if it didn’t have to be so heavy? Meaning, yes, we obviously care about the causes that we represent a lot. They’re very personal. Oftentimes they’re very emotional. That’s all very real. And also what if instead of it being this like, oh, it’s about your core values, what if it was just more like a game? Because here’s what I wanna offer is that I deeply believe this when people give, when people donate, it feels good to them. Why does anybody give, because it makes them feel good. So you are inviting them into an opportunity to feel good. This wonderful experience of giving to this cause. And if somebody says no, they’re just confused because they just don’t know how much better they can feel when they say yes. 

This is exactly how I teach marketing. And I think it’s the same thing how you teach. And when you look at it like that it’s a fun game where if somebody says, no, it’s just because they’re like confused about what they really want, which is obvious to feel really good. They wanna feel this high of giving and feeling, all these wonderful emotions. Then you’re like, oh, this strategy didn’t work. Let me tell you this other story. And you can be a dog with a bone about it, but in a playful way as opposed to it being this very heavy thing. I think it becomes heavy when you turn it into a moral crusade, which it can feel like. I don’t mean to deny that element. Of course, that is real but also it can’t all be that right. There needs to be playfulness. There needs to be silliness. 

I think one of the organizations that I give to regularly, what I love about them is that they deal with very intense, topics like refugees and stuff like that. But also whenever I go look at their social media, there’s lightness, there’s laughter. Obviously, they’re not in denial of what’s happening but it doesn’t feel so damn heavy all the time. It makes me wanna give more. 

Mallory Erickson: I think it’s a really good point. Yeah, we take ourselves too seriously. And that doesn’t mean that the work isn’t serious work. But we take ourselves too seriously in a way that actually depletes us and exhausts us. And it’s okay, can both things be true that the work is serious and we don’t always have to be serious.

Simone Seol: Exactly. Here are the sort of the mantras that I wanna offer. It’s like the only reason anybody ever gives is to feel good. And I’m just inviting them to feel good, play with it. Really wanna challenge people to play with this idea of we’re all in the feel-good business, fundraisers especially. And I think once you get that, you’re gonna be probably able to connect with donors on an emotional level where they get to like tap into their own feel good too. And that’s gonna make them wanna give more. 

Mallory Erickson: I’m curious as people move through their marketing journey and they start to get more playful, or get more joyful, or try things that maybe a few months before they would’ve never taken that risk and put something like that out there, or said something so vulnerably. How does their identity start to shift? Like just in the play, aside from the outcomes, aside from the sales, or anything like that, what do you notice about your clients as they start to adopt some of these ways of engaging with their people?

Simone Seol: Yeah. I think the biggest side benefit, which is actually not the side benefit I would say, the core benefit in my opinion is that they begin to see that the biggest asset that they have is not how professional and perfect they can present, but their flawed humanity. And all the places that they thought were shameful and all the places where they thought they needed to hide, all the things that they thought made them look bad. So when you kind of release trying to uphold this image of perfect, a perfect person who is meticulously representing whatever brand you’ve got going on. Because when you are doing that and when you’re holding very tightly to that, what you’re communicating to the world is this is where I think my value as a person lies and the maintenance of this carefully polished brand. So of course that is exhausting. And after a while you feel disconnected, you feel resentful, you get burnt out. 

So when people tend to come into my world, one of the first things they tend to experience is all those facades crumbling down. I like to think that I seduce people into putting cracks in that and letting them fall apart a little bit by a little bit. Because then what you realize is that, oh wait, I stopped trying to maintain this facade of me as this kind of person. And not only did I not die, not only did the sky not fall, that’s the highest engagement I ever got, what? That’s the thing that made seven people message me and say, oh my gosh, thank you so much, you saved my life for saying that today. That’s the thing where people are connecting with me. That’s where my value is. Me just being me, then that is so healing. Because they can feel I can stop performing for once. And they play with the edges of okay, so what if I drop that act too? What if I drop this pretense too? What if I just show up without my makeup one day, and I thought the whole world was gonna fall apart? But actually, 1) nobody noticed and somebody was like, you look so beautiful. 

So more and more, the cracks happen. And then it’s just a journey into realizing none of that stuff was necessary in the first place because the greatest value I can offer the world is just being exactly who I am right now. That’s so healing. That’s spiritual. People keep being like Simone, you’re a spiritual teacher. I’m like what? That’s weird. But I think that sort of process of unraveling all the shit around who you truly are that does that work, feels very spiritual. 

Mallory Erickson: I totally agree. And I know, like in your work, you talk a lot about how people feel into different things in their body and deal with their nervous system.

So I’m curious, how does somebody know even in themselves when they are doing something that is truly aligned with what they do want to share with a level of vulnerability that they are comfortable with instead of searching for a raw moment for the likes or for the likes, how did they get out of the like outcome side of it? 

Simone Seol: My answer might surprise you, but my real answer to that is who cares? Who cares if you are doing that, if you’re like, okay, I’m gonna say this vulnerable thing so I can get legs and people can connect with me. Is that wrong? I don’t think so. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I don’t think so. I don’t think so as long as ultimately, I think it feels okay for the person who shared. I guess what I worry about sometimes is that they share because they’re trying to be more vulnerable, like somebody else who was maybe ready to be vulnerable there. And so they share something, then they get dragged for it. And because it didn’t come from a place of deep desire or personal alignment. I don’t mean wrong if it is what they really want. 

Simone Seol: Yeah. What I’m really speaking to is I think when I say, who cares, what I’m really speaking to is I think a lot of people have a fear of getting it wrong, getting authenticity wrong, getting vulnerability wrong. Oh no, if I do this, is that performative? And that’s what I say who cares to, right? So what if you were a little performative, so what if you were just like hustling for legs? You’re human, who cares? And I always say you wanna be unattached from what comes back to you when you make offers and stuff. But so what if you feel attached sometimes, you’re human. 

In my journey to become as unattached and generous as I feel today, I think I had to do a lot of trial and error of what if I do it like this, how does this feel? What if I do it like that? How does that feel? And I had to experience a lot of feeling very attached and needy in order to fail enough to be, fail in quotes, to become the person who can really be unattached. So if you are in that place where you’re scared to be performative. I say, who cares? Be performative, sometimes try out all the ways of playing with self-expression. There’s no performativity jail, nobody’s gonna lock you up and handcuff you. So that’s the first thing I wanna say, don’t be a perfectionist about it. Who cares? It’s just words on the freaking internet, right?

Mallory Erickson: I think it’s such a good point. I think we obsess over every little thing and there is this need to play and to get it wrong. And I really actually appreciate what you said about the journey in fundraising, in coaching, there’s often this there’s a lot of chatter around, raise a million dollars without blank, or do this without blank. And I just was on a call with another consultant today and I was like, I gotta be honest,  I’m now two years in getting to the point where I feel like I’m really able to take this spaciousness I wanted. I hustled my brains off for the last two years. And so if you’re under the impression that you’re gonna leave your full-time gig, and consulting and coaching in this sector’s gonna be really cushy. I just wanna be really clear that I have not found that to be true. 

And I just think there isn’t a lot of honesty sometimes around all the, whether we call them failures or bumps and bruises we have to get. Or the crying I had to do when I made an offer that didn’t feel good, but I did it anyway because someone told me I should and it really bombed. And I knew inside I didn’t wanna do it. But that taught me some of the most important lessons of my career. 

Simone Seol: Exactly. What if authenticity was also that kind of journey, right? What if aligned vulnerability is also something you figure out by doing? I look at some stuff that I wrote years ago where I thought I was being very transparent, but looking back I’m like cringing at my former self a little bit because there was a lot of posturing in my trying to be authentic, but also who cares? It’s just words on the internet. It probably helped somebody, maybe somebody cringed at it, at the end of the day who cares? So what I always say, which is something that one of my mentors taught me a long time ago is to what helps me so much is to always think of myself as building a body of work rather than trying to get it right each time. So if you think about an artist who builds a body of work in order to end up at one painting that’s a masterpiece. There were countless sketches, studies, other paintings that weren’t as good and just scribbles and ideas that got discarded and things that were attempted and failed. That all built up, I literally imagine like a pile, like a physical pile and on top of the pile could be this masterpiece, but that didn’t come out of the vacuum. 

So many questions about authenticity and vulnerability, is it okay if I talk about this? I wanna talk about this, but I think my family’s gonna get mad. There’s so much fear of getting it wrong. Every time, what I would encourage you to do if you’re interested in this work, dear listener, is if you’re interested in this work, try taking an unemotional risk. Do something that feels emotionally risky in a way that you can manage, not like it’s gonna traumatize you. And see how it goes, see how it feels. 

And then if it feels safe to play with that edge a little bit more and do something one day is gonna result in a giant explosion. And you’re like, holy shit, how did that happen? And then learn from it. So let’s be brave with our vulnerability. Let’s be brave with our authenticity and be willing to do authenticity wrong. And I think that’s something that I haven’t heard other people say 

Mallory Erickson: No, and I really love it because I think you’re right. It is only sometimes in finding that edge and being like, oh no, it wasn’t that. I thought maybe it was that, but I did it and it wasn’t that. And then figuring it out and continuing to figure it out because also what was authentic to you perhaps even a few years ago, doesn’t feel that way now. I think of that for myself I’m constantly changing and growing and evolving, and just because something doesn’t feel good to me now that maybe did a few years ago, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t authentic to me then, it just changed.

Simone Seol: All that means that you grew and you learned. 

Mallory Erickson: Yeah exactly. And yeah, I think your point is well taken that it’s just another thing we’ve boxed in to say gotta be this one thin, one way, this one perfect time. 

Simone Seol: And the other thing that’s important for me to say about that is that we live in a really imperfect world where it’s not safe for a lot of people to be who they are in ways that are very real and literal. And it’s literally not safe for you to be in a lot of places if you are Jewish, if you’re a queer, if you’re black, if your body looks a certain way. And I think it can be an oppressive standard to tell everybody you have to be perfectly transparent and authentic all the time when we live in a world with a lot of systemic inequity and violence and oppression that makes transparency a question of safety genuinely for lots of people.

So that doesn’t mean we just give up and dismay and say, oh, the world is horrible. We can never be ourselves. But it means you do have compassion for yourself. I tell so many of my clients who are women or who were socialized as women, what lives in your body is a memory of literally being punished for revealing your body or revealing your mind. Like if you are a woman and you spoke your mind when it went against the patriarchal grain, you literally could have been physically punished, put to death, had your children taken away, beaten, all of these things. And in the part of the world that my family is from if you were a woman, you couldn’t walk down a street by yourself without a male chaperone and you couldn’t show your body unless you were a married woman, all these things. We’re used to our minds and bodies having been controlled for millennia and all of a sudden we’re supposed to be perfect at being transparent, I don’t think so. So again, it’s not to just feel depressed. I say this so that we have compassion for ourselves as we navigate this, it’s an individual journey for all of us.

Mallory Erickson: I think that’s such an important point. And I feel similarly about money. Women have been told forever that it’s inappropriate to talk about money. They weren’t allowed to talk about money. And then in the nonprofit sector in the US, 75% of the people who work in nonprofit are women-identifying people and they are tasked with talking about money and then they’re so uncomfortable and they think it’s because they’re bad at it.

Simone Seol: Like they have a bad money mindset. 

Mallory Erickson: I’m like actually we have internalized all these things that we’ve been told for a very long time. And if we don’t have that awareness, and this is how I felt as a fundraiser, I was like there’s no way good fundraisers feel this uncomfortable fundraising, but actually that’s not true. And it was amazing the first time I remember I spoke to a 30-year fundraiser, an amazing fundraiser, and she confided in me how nervous she still got every time she would walk into a donor meeting. 

Simone Seol: Wow. 

Mallory Erickson: And I was like why doesn’t anybody talk about this? And so I think just like having that awareness that every time we get a sensation that’s uncomfortable that we don’t make it about us being wrong or bad. 

Simone Seol: Yeah, exactly. I think asking can be inherently vulnerable. And I think my clients imagine an ideal state of being, which they imagine that I’m in where there’s no vulnerability, I feel confident a hundred percent of the time, but as long as we have desires and aspirations. And as long as we care, and as long as we are truly relating to other people in a way where we are emotionally invested in them, which is everything that I always do want to be, there’s gonna be emotional risk. And I think the more we resist that and make that wrong and turn it into a problem that we have to unquote overcome. I think that with stickier it gets, and so yeah, this feels vulnerable. Sometimes I wanna throw up when I make an ask, I sometimes feel needy. I take it personally. Perfect. I’m human. Get on with our day. Not oh no, I’m broken and I have to fix myself.

Mallory Erickson: Or I’m not ready, yeah. 

Simone Seol: I’m not qualified. Yeah.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. I don’t know how to do this. It’s interesting you were talking at the beginning about the marriage counseling or coaching. And I think about that in marriage too, what you were saying about receiving love and being able to give that level of love, and those are scary things. But having the awareness that like, yeah, it’s scary to let yourself be that open to receiving because what that means is that there’s always this risk then that you won’t be given what you’re now ready to receive. That’s what it is to be open to those things and there is just no opportunity for that receiving without the risk. 

Simone Seol: Exactly. And when you anticipate the risk and you’re not gonna be surprised by it. I think that’s when you can be the most, most brave, most powerful. Speaking of marriage, let me tell you a little story in this history of my marriage coaching is that, so I’m married right now and it’s my second marriage, I’ve been divorced before. And one of my biggest fears that I had to work through entering my second marriage is, what if one day I wanna divorce my second husband too? And it was a giant fear looming over me because  hello, it’s a very rational fear. I entered into my first marriage thinking it was gonna be forever too. And then one day I was like, nope, it’s not forever. I was like what if I don’t wanna be with my husband anymore? It happened the first time and it felt so, so scary because I didn’t wanna get divorced again. 

And through getting marriage coaching here’s what I realized is that there will be days when I will feel like not being with this person anymore. There will be days when I just want out and I don’t feel the love for him anymore. And it all feels like a giant mistake, it’s not a question of if, but if you’re with somebody long enough, these days will happen. When they do, what are you gonna make it mean? And I think if you aren’t anticipating them and if you think you walk up the aisle and you’re like, yay, happily ever after, until death does us part. 

And 10 years later, you’re like, oh my God, I deeply hate this person. I never wanna see their face again. And I wanna be out of this marriage. You’re gonna be like, oh my God, it’s a huge problem. Our marriage is falling apart. Whereas if you expect that something like this happened, not because there’s something wrong with your marriage necessarily, but because it’s two human beings dealing with each other, growing with each other. Learning how to love each other better and better all the time, there’s gonna be challenges that come out. 

So when those things, when those days happen, my thought about them now, they don’t happen a lot but even when I have those passing thoughts, what if it would be more exciting to be with somebody different? Like my brain presents me with those thoughts because I’m human. Like I’m a red-blooded human person who has all of the drama. But now I’m no longer freaked out by them because my thought about those thoughts is oh, of course, I have these thoughts. That’s what it means to be in a long-term relationship, doesn’t mean I don’t love him. It doesn’t mean our relationship is in trouble. It just means just there’s drama and brains. And that ironically gives me so much peace and stability and faith that our relationship’s gonna last because it can withstand all kinds of crazy thoughts in my brain. I don’t make it mean anything about us. I just make it mean I’m human. I have a cray-cray brain. 

Mallory Erickson: I love that. That is a really interesting concept, I’ve applied it to many things, not my marriage but I probably should. I think the reality is like normalizing ebbs and flow is just something you are not really taught how to do. 

Simone Seol:  Or even normalizing crises. Because what happens when we don’t normalize them? Do they not happen? No, they still happen. And we were so fragile in the face of crises. What if we anticipate and normalize crises too? So I’m 36. My husband’s 40. I hope to be married to him for another 60 years and there’s gonna be crises. And so I’m mentally prepared when this shit’s gonna fall apart. And how am I gonna navigate that? Or, I’m sure you’ve heard this thing, a lifelong marriage is like being married to six different people or something because people change and evolve so much. 

And so am I prepared to live with six different people? And how do we keep the love and the connection? How do we keep actively engaged and creating that on purpose actively over and over? As opposed to being, oh my gosh, we no longer feel the way we did on our wedding day. Oh no, there’s a problem, right? So that’s a resilient relationship. 

And I have no idea how we ended up in this topic. But it’s the same thing with, that’s how you create resilience in the way that you do your job. It’s the way you create resilience in developing your expertise in, whatever, whether you have a business or fundraising job. Do you have that kind of long-term resilience, resourcefulness, and sturdiness, where you’re in it through thick and thin.

Mallory Erickson: Yeah. Okay. I love that because both in terms of the how you’re navigating the crisis in the moment. But also something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately when I’ve been helping people with their fundraising campaign or a letter is a question I’ll ask them sometimes is if you knew you were gonna be fundraising from this same group of donors in five years, would you say this.

Simone Seol: So good. So tell me why you asked that question.

Mallory Erickson: Because I think when we aren’t consciously thinking about the long-term relationship all the time. And fundraisers have in the back of their heads, low donor retention numbers, and constant new acquisition of donors. And so I think like the long-term relationship gets deprioritized and people are making short communication decisions.

Simone Seol:  I’m sorry. I have to clarify what you’re saying. Are you saying that people use short-term strategies because they don’t think that donors will be around long enough? Cause that sounds like a total crazy self-fulfilling prophecy. 

Mallory Erickson: Is it not?

Simone Seol: So much crazy. 

Mallory Erickson: I know I’m doing a talk soon called Who’s the chicken and Who’s the egg, the self-fulfilling prophecies in fundraising, because this really is a huge challenge. We take donor data and we internalize it and apply it to our decision-making. And we never look at how fundraiser behavior impacted that donor data in the first place. Donors give at end of year, all these donors give at end of year. Guess when they’re asked to give?

Simone Seol: At the end of the year. 

Mallory Erickson: Yes.

Simone Seol: That’s so funny.

Mallory Erickson: So like our donors wanna give at the end of the year. And I’m not saying people aren’t generous during the holidays, but if you only ask your donors to give at the end of the year, it’s not your donors who made that decision.

Simone Seol: It’s like when I coach entrepreneurs and they’re like, all anybody wants is my cheap offers and nobody wants my high-end offer. I’m like, how many times have you offered the high-end offer? They’re like three times. And then how many times have you offered the cheap offer? They’re like 500 times. It’s like Hello! 

Mallory Erickson: I was on a coaching call recently where someone told me that one of their donors had never given a higher gift. And so I asked her what she had asked for that the person had said no to. And she said, oh we haven’t asked her for a specific other gift yet.

Simone Seol: We don’t have to go into like very fancy law of attraction stuff to see it’s if you don’t ask, you’re not gonna get. And if you have assumptions and self-willing prophecies, they’re gonna come true. So let’s check your beliefs and assumptions before you work yourself to the ground, always.

Mallory Erickson: Exactly. And because some of these things are so ingrained in the way fundraising has been happening in this sector to just simply say would you say this to this group if you knew you had to come back to them in five years? For a lot of people, they’re like, oh no, or I wouldn’t say it exactly that way.

That piece you said around perfectionism, that happens a lot in terms of I think promises that aren’t false promises because it’s not that the outcomes will never happen, but they’re being told on a timeline that is unlikely. If you give this is gonna happen. Yes, maybe in 20 or 30 years, but we have not solved that problem in this country yet so it’s probably not gonna be a result of this one campaign. And so they aren’t giving themselves enough credit to give themselves the space for nuance, which is something that I think you are so  good at.

Simone Seol: And that probably undermines trust. If they’re leaving all the nuance out, they think they’re being more persuasive, but I think it’s a very subtle unconscious thing, a total self-fulfilling prophecy. Your donors will rise or drop to your expectation of them. And this is what I tell my clients all the time. Your clients, your customers will rise to your expectation or drop to your expectation of them.

Mallory Erickson: Can you talk to me about what you just said, what I think you were saying before is people think that in order to be persuasive, they need to remove the nuance. They need to be as simple and straightforward as possible. But I think what you’re saying is that’s not true. That nuance is magic. And what does that do in terms of engaging people in your work? 

Simone Seol: Okay, let me put it like this. You offer something like, okay, you’re gonna get rich really fast. You just have to follow these steps. This is the hack that only rich people know and blah, blah. And you’re two weeks from making this amount of money. All of that could be true for some people, that could be a very solid, information, solid method. But when you present it like that, removing all nuance, removing all complexity, who you’re going to attract is people who are desperate for that get-rich-quick scheme who are not interested. 

And by the way, those people are also the people who are not equipped or willing or have the capacity to put in a greater depth of work or a greater commitment. Somebody who’s searching for a get-rich, quick scheme is not going to necessarily be interested in doing the hard work to develop a quality product and to develop high-quality relationships. So then when you get all those people in there. The results are predictable because like that’s who you got. If you’re looking for a quick buck. it’s all predictable. 

Whereas I have found that the approach that I described so far, I think it works if you are interested in hitting the market short-term, making some money, and getting out, and you’re never gonna make use of those relationships again. Because you don’t have a need to build credibility. You don’t have a need to build relationships. You don’t have a need to build trust. If you’re looking at it in a short-term way, you can do all of that and get away with it. It’s totally fine. 

But if you are looking to play a longer game, when you are willing to bring in more complexity and say, you know what, not everybody’s gonna get rich really quick because here are the factors, because here are the constraints. Here are all the different scenarios. That, especially nowadays online, there’s so much hype, there’s so much adrenaline in the air. Anybody, somebody actually, slow the F down and talk about things in a non-hypey, non-exaggerated, non-adrenaline, pumped kind of way. I think it invites so much trust. It invites someone to plug into a frequency that is calmer. And when you offer up that frequency that is calmer, the kind of people you attract are people who see the value of doing the harder, longer term, higher return work. And therefore, when you attract those people and you work with people, of course, over time you’re going to have a higher caliber of say client results. 

So bottom line, it might feel scary at first, but trust people, right? Trust people to value the nuance with you, trust people to be suspicious of the super hyped-up stuff, like you and trust people to be intelligent and thoughtful. And when you trust people to be all those things, that’s who you’re going to attract a caliber of people who are thoughtful, who appreciate the nuance. And guess what, you are going to have the best collaboration with those people. 

I think fundraising is also collaboration, right between the fundraiser and the donor, and marketing in my world is a collaboration between the business person and the client or the consumer. We’re all doing this to create a better world, fundraisers fundraise to create a better world. And businesses, they offer quality products that consumers can benefit from so that we have a better world. 

And when you’re doing the work of creating a better world, you wanna collaborate with good people. You wanna collaborate with smart, thoughtful people. And it’s so easy to call them in. All you have to do is believe that they exist and speak to them as if they’re intelligent, as if they’re thoughtful, as if they appreciate the nuance as if they want to do the hard work with you, the long-term work with you. When you assume it with them, you’ll be really surprised and amazed how they show up for that. 

Mallory Erickson: Ooh. Okay. What you just said is so important for fundraisers to hear, because if you are offering a fundraising campaign or engagement that is all about the quick win. Those are also the donors you’re gonna get, the ones who want the quick win, who are not in it for the nuance, who are not gonna be in that long-term relationship with you, who are not gonna take the highs and lows of solving the problem together with you. Because you didn’t trust them either to tell them the full story about what’s happening and to believe that they could go on the journey with you. 

And so just what you said, if you wanna come in, you wanna fundraise real quick. You wanna get out, you’re not gonna email that same group again in five years. Okay. That’s your choice. You’re going to get the donor base that you fundraised for in the way that you showed up.

Simone Seol: I was smiling because I keep drawing analogies to relationships, that’s my favorite thing. What you just described is the equivalent of something I used to do, which is date people and assuming they only want a short-term relationship. And so it’s, what I’ve got to offer is my charm and my good looks, and I’m gonna be hot and cute and sexy and cool for you. And I’m not gonna show you any of my humanity or my complexity or my intelligence because why would you be interested in that? And low and behold, what did I get? 

Mallory Erickson: Ditto. 

Simone Seol: Right! In the end I learned my lesson, but across so many areas of life, it’s true. You get what you think you deserve and you call in who you speak.

Mallory Erickson: Okay. I wanna be conscientious of your time. I am so grateful for this conversation today. And just for the model that you set around what’s possible in terms of how we get to show up. And everyone should go and follow her right now on Instagram, you’re one of two people who I like go on Instagram and go to their profile to see what they’ve written about over the last few days. Because it always really pushes me to think differently and gives me things to think about from a fundraising lens too. So I’m just really grateful for you and for the work that you do.

Simone Seol: I couldn’t be more honored to receive that. And I am just so happy to know that you are doing this work, cuz you are obviously so brilliant and you are just saying all the things that your people need to hear, exactly. I know that I needed you like 15 years ago when I was working in fundraising. So grateful for you. 

If you’d like to keep up with my work, you can follow me in Instagram at Simone.grace.seol. That’s spelled S E O L and please also do check out my podcast where I talk about a lot of these topics. My podcast is called Joyful Marketing, so you can just search for that wherever.

Mallory Erickson: Amazing. Thank you so much. 

Simone Seol: Thank you.

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