As a child of the 80’s, I was starry-eyed over Kevin Costner. Because I dated a high school baseball player (who, by the way, was a member of the 1989 Alabama 6A State Championship team – go Grissom Tigers!), I willingly saw Field of Dreams at least 100 times. In fact, nearly everything I know about baseball I learned through my former boyfriend’s comments during the many viewings of this film. This being the case, I would never have expected that the most famous line from that movie would haunt me through my career and become probably my most hated phrase.
“Build it and they will come.”
Curse you, Ray Kinsella, for making me and everyone else believe for way too long that this was true!
Particularly in fundraising, the concept that support will magically appear because something is a great idea or meets a really big need or is just “the right thing to do” creates a lot of problems for fundraisers and other nonprofit leaders in charge of bringing in financial support. The truth is that we live in a world that is so overrun with chatter and persuasion that most people don’t have the time or brain space to go out and investigate options for ways to meet the missions that are close to their heart.
Fundraising has had to become professionalized to meet the demand for private support for nonprofits. On the flip side, the same is true because people have become more interested in becoming donors, and that process is more meaningful and joyful with an ethical, skilled, nurturing fundraiser as a guide. The evolution of the professional fundraiser has offered nonprofits the opportunity to become sophisticated in how they message their mission and engage across stakeholder groups. The work of fundraising is as dynamic and complex as any other professional role.
So why do we still hear that stupid phrase all the time?
It’s a fabulous thing when board members, staff, government officials or even strangers on the street think that your organization is so fantastic or special that it will raise money for the simple reason that it exists. But that isn’t reality anymore. Money doesn’t come through the door unless someone asks for it. Fundraising not only needs to happen but it needs to be undertaken by people who are trained in the work and made a pillar in the strategic plan of every organization.
James Earl Jones didn’t make things any better with his monologue about how people would mindlessly drive up to Ray’s ball-field in Iowa and throw money out the door. He’s right that giving brings joy and maybe even peace, but there’s a whole lot of magic waters in the form of philanthropy actively and professionally competing for that engagement. I love you both, Ray and Terence, but neither of you know what the heck you are talking about.