10 psychological principles I learned from getting conned out of money

shell gameHappy new year, everyone. I just came back from visiting in-laws in Louisiana, in a little town called Greensburg, which is so small that the local newspaper’s front page headline read “Man arrested after bar fight.” I probably could have made the headline too, something like “Seattle man tries to recycle, gets laughed at by locals, faints from lack of vegan nourishment.”

There was not much to do in Greensburg, so we took a day trip to New Orleans, which was two hours away. We were walking down Bourbon Street, which is a magical lane filled with food and drinks and strip clubs, when a lady from a balcony called to us. I looked up. She was holding some beads. “You gotta do something to get these,” she said, winking. So I did what anyone who wanted cheap plastic beads would do. I lifted up my shirt and flashed her.

All right, I didn’t do that, since no one wants to see eight vegan ribs, except a 60 or 70 people on Craigslist. We blew her some kisses, and she tossed down the beads, which I wore proudly while I drank my 20-ounce Hurricane adult beverage, sauntering down the sidewalk.

On the way back, we stopped for gas. It was New Year Day, and there were barely any people around. I saw one of those carnival game stations with giant stuffed toys hanging all around. It was the only one there. It looked empty, sad, the stuffed bears and alligators staring into the cold air with vacant, empty expressions, the kind that we see on EDs when they get grant rejection notices. It was here, at this game station, that I got conned out of money. It still haunts me till now. At night and on long drives I think back at what happened, wondering what I could have done differently.

Upon reflecting back, I realized that this gas station game booth was a very sophisticated machine, designed to swindle people out of their hard-earned cash. They deployed psychological principles proven to work on people, even smart, sexy people who direct nonprofits. Since there is no way I’m getting my money back, I might as well use this opportunity to learn something, so I am going to dissect the psychological tricks they used and how they could be applied to our nonprofit work. I know, I know, we’re not con artists and it’s crass to compare our work to this little con game, but I lost money and I must make some sense of it.

Principle 1: Hook them in with something free. “Here, honey, maybe you can win a toy for the baby,” said a lady who hovered around the parking lot. She handed me a card that said “1 free play, no obligation.” Free, I thought, I love free! That was how it started. Application to nonprofit work: Figure out something free that could pull in potential board members or donors or volunteers. Tickets to events, for example. I am tempted to go around with cards saying, “Help 1 low-income kid for free, no obligation.”

Principle 2: Humanize yourself. I walked to the station, where a twenty-something blond kid popped up from napping. “Hey, I’m Bobby,” he said, setting up the game, “what’s your name?…Vu? That’s a cool name. What do you do, Vu?…Work for a nonprofit? That’s noble, man, helping people.” Application to nonprofit work: In our rush to get people to donate money and stuff, we sometimes pass over getting to know them. Especially during the beginning of relationship building, slow down, ask about their kids, tell them how and why you got into the field, tell them about that rash that’s been bothering you, etc. People are much more likely to invest in your organization if they see you as a human being. A human being with a weird rash.

Principle 3: Make sure the objective is obvious and attainable. “The game is simple,” said Bobby, presenting a small board with a hundred holes in it, each hole marked with a number from 1 to 5, “you scatter these 10 balls, see which holes they land in, then add up the numbers.” The sums correspond with squares on a chart, most squares having numbers, some positive, some negative. “The goal is to reach 100 points, and you can win one of these prizes, or $100, up to you.” I rolled, he added up the numbers, and I got 15 points. Application to nonprofit work: Make sure stakeholders know clearly from the beginning what your organization’s mission and goals are, and make sure the goals are measurable and sane.

Principle 4: Start with low stakes, then ramp up. “That was free,” he said, “the next roll will cost you a dollar.” I paid a dollar and rolled again. I got 50 points for a total of 65 points!! Application to nonprofit work: Hook in potential volunteers, donors, and board members with something simple and low-stake, such as helping out with a small one-time project or buying a “Men of [your organization] Calendar” or something. (What, you don’t do an annual calendar? You should. It works for firefighters).

Principle 5: Provide frequent rewards, small and large. “Let’s see,” said Bobby, counting up the balls I just rolled, “that’s 25, and that corresponds to 15 points as well as a 2-for-1 on the point chart.” I looked puzzled. “That means you have a total of 80 points, AND I give you back double what you bet,” he said, “so here’s 2 dollars!” 2 dollars, I thought, I’m rich, rich! Application to nonprofit work: Provide stakeholders with rewards for their efforts, such as newsletters or mailings detailing successes your organization has achieved thanks to their help.

Principle 6: Provide a sense of safety. Since I had made a net profit of 1 dollar, I wanted to continue playing. I rolled, and the numbers added up to 28. “You got 28!” said Bobby, “That is the insurance number! That means from now on, your points can’t be taken away if you ever land on a negative square on the point chart.” Application to nonprofit work: Make sure you have director and officer insurance to cover your board members, and an umbrella insurance policy to cover volunteers and everyone else.

Principle 7: Get them close to the goal. I had gotten up to 80 points. So close! Soooo close! Only 20 points away! It would have been foolish to quit! “OK,” said Bobby, “but the following rolls are now 5 dollars each.” (See Principle 4 about ramping up the stakes). Only $5 more for a chance to win $100! I didn’t realize it, but I was addicted. Application to nonprofit work: We use this principle all the time, such as during annual dinners where we say “We are only $5,000 from meeting our goal of raising $100,000.” People like to achieve goals, so make sure you keep everyone updated of your organizations’ measurable goals, especially at the end, when things are down to the wire, e.g., “We have 93 bone marrow donors registered out of our goal of 100! We just need 7 more!”

Principle 8: Play nonchalant. With the last roll, I got 5 point, for a total of 85. So close. I knew I was in dangerous territory. Stop right now, my brain was telling me, this is obviously a con…but wait, what if it isn’t? What if I am just lucky? I could earn a hundred bucks today! That’s a lot of vegan dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa mass…“I think I’m done,” I said, reason winning out. Bobby wasn’t fazed. “Suit yourself,” he said, “but I don’t know why you would quit with a score like that, plus insurance.” I sighed, then handed him another $5. Application to nonprofit work: Sometimes we get way too eager and thus overwhelm people. For instance, one time we were doing a Saturday morning program tour with 4 potential donors, and we had 3 board members there along with 4 staff. I think being outnumbered like that freaked out the potential donors. It’s a great program, we should have just let it speak for itself.

Principle 9: Distract and confuse. On that cold January day, holding my little 9-month old baby at the empty gas station, I reached into my pocket for another $5…I had gotten a negative 15 points, but thanks to the insurance card, I didn’t lose any. I was so close. Only 15 more points. Only 15 more points. I played until the horror set in, and I finally looked Bobby in the eye and said, “I’m done for sure this time.” But by then, it was too late.

Now, days later, thinking back on it, I realized that I never added up the balls’ values myself. I scattered them, but it was always Bobby who added them up. I never double checked his math. He counted fast, and I was too trusting. I am sure he manipulated me using the numbers, making me think I was lucky. Application to nonprofit work: There is none. We must never distract and confuse people. We must always be transparent with our supporters and community.

It was a bitter, painful lesson, this experience. It feels awful to think that you are a sucker. It haunts me till now. And now I realize there is a terrible Principle 10: Exploit people’s compassion. I only came to the booth because it was New Year’s Day, and I felt bad for that family, probably not making much money at all. We shouldn’t apply this principle to nonprofit work either.

So I got conned. It feels awful, but I have learned some great lessons, and life goes on. You might be wondering how much money I lost in total. It was $10. Yeah, 10 dollars, which may not seem like a lot of money, but remember, I work for a nonprofit.

Being a nonprofit with balls, part 2

balls 1Two weeks ago I had lunch with Luke, whom you may recall from “Being a Nonprofit with Balls.” Luke had come to VFA a couple of months ago asking us to rally 15 to 20 community members for a focus group. I had just woken up from my daily ED power nap and was kind of groggy and in no mood to be accommodating, so we got into a fistfight. Of course, this the nonprofit field in Seattle, so by “fistfight” I mean that we threw big concepts, hoping to wound each other with phrases like “authentic engagement” and “equity.” I told him that we small ethnic nonprofits are overwhelmed with similar requests from well-meaning organizations who are trying to be “inclusive” and that we just didn’t have staff capacity to do it and that he should go back to advocate for more equitable funding if he really wanted to authentically engage the communities of color.

We decided to have lunch, and I was looking forward to it. While I thought Luke’s approach was ineffective, I appreciated his refreshing directness. He arrived on time at my favorite restaurant. Since he was technically my elder, I poured him tea.

“So, how did you get to where you are?” I asked. He told me of his journey and of his philosophy on life, which is basically that if you serve others selflessly, the Universe will reward you.

“I moved up here, didn’t have a job. I was at this event, and I met Ted, who is a millionaire. He told me about this thing he’s trying to do to improve education, so I said that sounds great, how can I help? And he gave me a job.”

“That’s great,” I said, wishing that I knew more millionaires so I could be selfless around them.

“Listen,” he said, “that thing with asking you to put together a focus group, that was garbage.”

“It’s OK,” I said, “we get asked all the time. We know people mean well.”

“It’s just, how do we get the communities to the table? We keep inviting them.”

For the past several months, I’ve been on this bent about community engagement and funding equity, especially around education. After talking to Luke, I realize that he’s a nice guy, but his approach is very indicative of the standard approach to community engagement, which has gone nowhere. People wonder, Why are the communities of color refusing to join our table? We’ve invited them countless times. Don’t they want to work with us? We’ve prepared place settings for them and everything!

The reality is that whoever hosts the table has the majority of the power. They can shift people’s seats around, kick them out, refuse to share the recipe for coconut cornbread, or whatever. It is challenging to have authentic engagement when people feel like guests at a table and not a co-host. “Inviting” people to the table is not enough, since this is symptomatic of not engaging people at square one, when the table was being created in the first place.

“Community engagement must begin at square one,” I said. “Too often efforts get to square three or four, usually well-supported by funding at each step of the way, before people stop to realize, ‘Hold on, we’re not doing a good job reaching underrepresented communities.’ They scramble and backtrack, but it may be too late, since funding usually has been allocated without these communities in mind. So then we get asked to participate without being provided resources.”

Another thing,” I said, “the people most impacted need to lead the effort. This is especially true with an issue like education, where the ‘achievement gap’ is basically kids of color. If this is the civil rights issue of our time, then the people most impacted need to be in the front leading. Allies and supporters are critically important. This work cannot be successful without then, especially since they have the relationships with funders. But they must be on the side or behind supporting the people most affected by inequity. Too often we see well-meaning people coming into the neighborhood saying ‘Hey, we know what works best for you. Come join and support our efforts!’”

“Also, people think that presence equals engagement. I’ve been to numerous ‘community input’ events that are fully attended by diverse communities. VFA has rallied our community members to these events. They have interpreters and UN-style headsets, and the room looks beautiful and inspiring, and no doubt pictures of the event will be posted everywhere afterward as proof of how effective the outreach and engagement was. Many of our community members leave going ‘Huh?’ Then they don’t see any results and feel that their time was wasted, and VFA loses credibility with them for inviting them. They may not understand all the concepts presented, but they know enough to feel shafted and tokenized. Presence is only one-half of engagement.”

“Here, try this vegan lemongrass chicken,’” I said, taking a break from my lecture, which I realized had been welling up for the past few years. “Having names on a list does not indicate engagement,” I continued, “VFA and other ethnic nonprofits get asked to join various coalitions and efforts. Because we are so busy doing direct service, we sometimes say ‘Yeah, go ahead, sign us up and use our name. We’ll drop by occasionally.’ This is a horribly destructive practice, as it stymies responsibility on our part to actively lead in the effort, and it reinforces the system of funding inequity and poor engagement. Funders looking at this list of ‘members’ may not be aware of how actively engaged they actually are. Heck, some organizations on the list may no longer even exist.”

Finally,” I said, “direct service organizations have tremendous potential for advocacy. After all, they work directly with families and know their needs and can mobilize them to change policies and practices. But we are not funded to do that stuff.”

This was a lot of information to take in. We paused for a while to eat our food. “So what can I do to help?” he asked. I thought about it for a second. For the past year and a half I’ve been involved with the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), which is mobilizing the communities of color and allies to work together to improve education in Southeast Seattle. This is one of the few efforts actually led by the local communities of color to address the achievement gap. We are tired of being “invited” to the table. We must be a table. Trouble is, communities of color are not as connected to funders and decision makers, so we’ve been struggling with funding.

“Introduce me to your millionaire friend Ted,” I said, “I want to talk to him about SESEC.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he said. We continued our conversation until the bill came. “I’ll pay,” I said, but Luke insisted on getting it. I could have fought for the bill, or at least to pay for my share, but I knew he felt some guilt, and this was his way of appeasing. I let him pay. I guess it’s my way of being selfless.

Last week, Luke emailed me saying he had talked to Ted and that Ted was willing to meet with me. I followed up to schedule a meeting. I am going to meet with a millionaire. Will keep you updated. [Read Part 3]

Being a nonprofit with balls, part 3

[Part 3 of the Nonprofit with Balls series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 before you read this]

batmanAfter several months, I was able to meet with Ted, Luke’s multi-millionnaire friend. It had taken a while to arrange this meeting, and the coordination was done through Ted’s assistant, leaving me to conjure up the image of Ted as an elusive genius, like Batman inside his Bat Cave devising plans and building awesome gadgets to combat injustice.

I got there 20 minutes early, parked my car, and started re-googling Ted and his accomplishments. They were numerous and very impressive. Obviously he is a very smart man. And he’s trying to improve education. Since I chair the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), which is trying to rally community-based organizations and schools to work together to help all the schools in Southeast Seattle succeed, my primary objective was to learn what he’s doing, and to tell him about what SESEC has been up to, and see if there is any ground to collaborate.

The secondary objective was to convince him to give Southeast schools a gazillion trillion dollars.

He had a modest office, a small room tactfully decorated, and all around were pictures of his family. What a nice man, I thought.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” I said, “I know you are extremely busy, and I am very appreciative of your time.” He nodded. Behind his high-quality but simple desk, Ted described his effort with Luke to reform education. I asked him question after question, and he was open and articulate, the easy confidence of a man who has earned his laurels. One day, I thought, I too shall have the easy confidence of a man who has earned his laurels. And I’ll also have a high-quality yet unostentatious mahogany desk.

Ted is trying to build a movement that will change the educational tides, pushing agenda items that many would agree to. As he talked, however, I was getting a little concerned. Not so much about his policy agenda, but about his approach to building the base.

“Our strategy is to target the low-hanging fruit,” he said. I had heard this term before from Luke. Low-hanging fruit are families that are already engaged, have the language skills, don’t work several jobs to make ends meet, etc. “Basically, White families, and some Asian families,” Luke had said.

“So then high-hanging fruit,” I said to Ted, “are people like immigrant/refugee families, or others who have language, socioeconomic, transportation barriers and other stuff they have to deal with that make them hard to reach?”

He nodded.

“Don’t you think, though, sir, that these families have been historically left out of these types of discussion, even though we know they are MOST impacted by our flawed education system?”

He sighed. “Yes, but we only have so much funding.” He paused. “However, we do everything with them in mind.”

I argued that this low-hanging fruit approach is one of the weaknesses of current educational advocacy efforts. How could you inspire people to action when you see them as passive fruit on a tree, waiting to be picked? And doing things with people “in mind” is patriarchal and condescending, which might even be OK if it were actually effective. It hasn’t been. For several decades we have had this “achievement gap,” and this approach has not been closing it.

Having worked in the community for a little bit of time, I understand the temptation to go fast, to go big. We get pressure by funders who are driven by regional, global reach. But it is counterproductive if in our urgency for change and for scope of impact, we leave behind the very people who most need this change. SESEC, comprising over 25 organizations and growing, take our time building relationship and trust and agreeing to a collective agenda. We are rallying diverse communities who speak different languages, who face all sorts of historical and political traumas, who are still trying to navigate a very complex system. We will not be able to quickly agree on anything. It is complicated and sometimes frustrating and always challenging.

It is also inspiring. We are starting to see the SE communities starting to work together. Funders and education advocates need to understand that it takes lots of time to build bridges. It takes years and a series of small victories, leading to medium ones, leading to big ones. It takes belief in the premise that those who are most impacted by anything should be leading the efforts to change it, no matter how messy that process might be.

For forty-five minutes I sat across from Ted. Debating with him didn’t get me anywhere. I also realized nearing the end of our meeting that he never asked me once why I wanted to meet with him. He never asked me a single question about anything, in fact. I started telling him what SESEC is doing, which is precisely trying to engage these “high-hanging” fruit. He nodded, asking no follow-up question. He seemed both focused and bored; focused on his own methods, and bored by my attempts to argue with him and also present the work that SESEC has been doing. He was meeting with me probably only as a favor to Luke.

I thanked him for his time and left the Bat Cave disappointed. Ted seemed intellectually uncurious, as if his admittedly impressive success in life made him immune to ideas that run counter to his own. In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne has vast resources to invest in new technologies that he uses to fight injustice. He is influential, connected to others who are just as powerful. Together they can change the world for the better. Batman becomes a symbol of hope for the city. I don’t think that was whom I met.

Or, who knows, maybe Ted just had a bad day. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. Still, I wrote him the customary thank-you email and have yet to hear a response. Maybe I should hang lower.

The art of giving bad news

bad news 2In this field, we receive bad news from funders and donors as often as people get eaten by zombies on the Walking Dead, which is pretty often (by the way, if you are running into a trailer to escape a zombie attack, it is a good idea to close the door behind you. Jimmy, you exquisite fool!). VFA has received our fair share of bad news over the years. You would think that repeated exposure would desensitize us, but no, it is still pretty painful each time. When it comes down to it, any sort of bad news from a funder or a donor or The Next Iron Chef first-round auditions is a personal rejection, and it hurts. You intellectualize it—“Well, we got our foot in the door; it’ll increase our chances next year,” but it still stings.

Despite the ubiquity of rejection notices, people are awful at giving bad news. No one wants to do it, especially when it concerns huge grants that could potentially keep an organization floating another year, or fulfilling someone’s dream of being America’s first vegan Iron Chef. I have received a bunch of rejections, and as an Executive Director I’ve given out a bunch too, so I’ve learned a few lessons that I hope will help us all be better bearers of bad news.

First, the timing. Get it over with! There is absolutely nothing worse than waiting. It is terrible to exist in that sort of limbo. You may be dreading giving the news, but it is infinitely worse for the receiver, who has probably been checking their email or mail with a combination of hope and fear. Format is not nearly as important as timing. Once you know someone did not get the job, or the grant, or the consultancy gig, let them know right away and end their torment. Sure, it may be Friday and you want to wait till Monday so you don’t ruin their weekend, but I say it’s still better to get it out of the way, so that they can start going through the stages of grief, which for me are denial, anger, consuming an entire bag of wavy potato chips (with Sriracha), sending out a depressing email to the staff, intellectualizing, more anger, sadness, three or four Long Island Iced Tea, calling up several ED friends to complain, and finally, acceptance. Or maybe more anger. [Author’s note, based on feedback: Don’t give bad news on major holidays or Superbowl Sunday].

Second, the format. In general, I like emails, especially for job rejection notices. I know it is more personal to receive a phone call. You’re hoping the receiver will think, “Aw, how thoughtful, he’s personally calling me; this softens the blow and makes me feel better that I didn’t get this job after going through the application process.” Well, maybe precisely because it is personal that it should be reconsidered. After raising someone’s hopes up, probably the last thing they want to do is talk to the rejecter and hear the pity in your voice. It’s just awkward all around. You may disagree with me on this, which is OK. Overall, I think it’s best to send an email notice and include the option for the rejectee to call you to get feedback. Then, if they do decide to call, at least it’s their choice, and this feeling of control can be helpful and maybe prevent them from having that fifth Long Island.

Third, the sequence. No matter the format, rip the band-aid off immediately. Because bad news is no fun to give, and because most of us try to be thoughtful, we end up with notices like this: “Dear Vu: Thank you for applying to the ABC Foundation. We really appreciate the work that you and VFA do. We received a lot of good applications this year for the Awesome Program Grant. Yours was one of them. But due to the economy and the Euro crisis affecting the strength of the Yen…”

It is agonizing! Start like this: “Dear Vu: Unfortunately you didn’t get the Awesome Program grant. We received a lot of good applications this year, blah blah…” Start your notice with either “Unfortunately” or “Congratulations.” Everything else is filler. I once sat through a horrific minute on the phone after applying for an $80,000 grant: “Hello Vu, thank you for calling me back. How are you doing? Great. Well, I wanted to let you know that 16 organizations applied for this grant. 8 from small organizations like yours, and 8 from big organizations. The review committee selected 10 for a site visit, (remember how much fun that was when the four of us showed up early? Ha ha). After heavy consideration…hold on, are you in a car? Are you driving? You’re not? Your staff is driving? Well, wonderful! Safety is really important you know, so I’m glad you’re not driving. Anyway, after much consideration, VFA is selected as one of the six organizations we’re funding. Congratulations!”

I was clawing at my face, and at one point, my life started flashing before my eyes. Thank God that was good news. If it had been bad, I probably would have jumped into traffic.

Get to the point immediately. In fact, do it in the email subject line. I got an email just two weeks ago with this subject line: “Regrets from XYZ Foundation.” I did not get the $15,000 grant. But I really appreciated their approach. Let’s follow their example. For all notices from now on, let’s agree to standardize the subject line to either “Regrets from” or “Congratulations from.”

I’m getting ready to send out a bunch of “Regrets from VFA” emails today regarding a consultancy gig. It’s not fun to dash someone’s hopes, but you know, the Euro crisis has really been affecting the Yen. After I deliver the bad news, I’ll be in my cubicle, eating a bag of wavy potato chips with Sriracha.

Sigh…XYZ Foundation, why, why don’t you like us, why?!!!

Fundraising: on not being a wuss

moneyAs the director of a small nonprofit, I live in a constant state of fear, one that is thankfully broken by occasional moments of terror. Recently these moments of terror come in the form of asking people to give money to VFA, since our annual dinner is coming up. Apparently, this is a major job of the ED, and one that I have been shirking on, because it is just so painful to do. There are ED’s who are really good at it, and then there are ED’s like me who would rather juggle open vials of Anthrax than sit down with a potential donor and say “Would you consider a gift of $500?”

Cultivating donors and corporate sponsors is not one of VFA’s strengths. So with SVP funds we hired a consultant, Al, a well-respected former ED who thrives on doing this stuff. He has been coaching the board on everything from how to set up the meeting with major corporations, to what to say during the meeting, to how to follow up. Al has been escorting us, like a mother duck, on various excursions to meet with some big companies. Usually we show up early to strategize:

“All right,” he says, “Vu, you will open with VFA’s history and what your current programs are. Jenny, you talk about why you joined the board. Thao, as board chair, you find a good time to present the handouts and ask for a sponsorship of $1,000. That’s not a lot, but it’s our first year, and they usually need at least six months to decide, so we’re already late. If they decline, move down to a table at the dinner. If that fails, ask for an ad in the program booklet. Here she comes; Vu, move down one seat so you’re sitting next to her.” I move down, hoping the proximity will allow my Axe deodorant to work its charms, like in those commercials where some guy sprays on some Axe deodorant and a bunch of ladies chase after him; maybe it might have the same effects on potential sponsors.

Sometimes first encounters can be really awkward. I can get very nervous and say stupid things. “So,” I said one time, talking to a rep at his office as we waited for another person to arrive, “where do you work?” “Um,” he said, “I work here.”

With Al’s coaching, asking for corporate sponsorships has been easier. It’s actually started becoming sort of fun to meet with people and tell them about the cool stuff we do. Last week I met with a rep of a company that sponsored us in the past. They had contributed $2500 last year, and after I met with them to confirm recommitment two months ago, we were disappointed to find a sponsorship form filled out for $650, or one table. I asked for a second meeting:

“Anna,” I said, “we really appreciate the $650 for a table, but I am here to persuade you to increase the support. Last year you gave $2,500. And it went a long way to serve our immigrant and refugee families.”

“Hm,” she said, “our company has not been doing as well as last year. $1,000. That’s what I can do.”

“$1,500,” I said, “look at these children on the sponsorship package with their big eyes brimming with hope and potential.” (We also serve children with small eyes brimming with cynicism, but we don’t feature them as often in promotional materials).

We stared at each other for a moment.

“$1,500,” she said, “but you have to attend this other dinner that we’re sponsoring.”

“Fine,” I said, “but you have to send in a check, so we don’t lose 3% to the credit card company.”

The most terrifying ask of all, however, is the individual donor. It’s as nerve-wracking as asking someone out. You see them and your heart palpitates. You sweat. You start to daydream. “Vu,” they say, “VFA does such great work. Here’s a check! Also, I have connection to Theo Chocolate. They want to donate 20 pounds of chocolate to you personally. You don’t have to auction it off or anything; you can just eat it while watching the Game of Thrones. You deserve it, you sexy vegan, you.”

Of course, that’s not how it works. I have learned some important lessons, one of which is that if you ask people to give your organization money, you have a much higher chance of them giving your organization money than if you don’t ask them to give your organization money. I have also learned another very important lesson from fellow ED Matt Lacey, which is “Don’t be a wuss.” His point is that I am not asking for money for myself, but rather for continuing important work that I really believe in.

But, just like with asking someone out, you sit across from them and all your lessons and intellectualizing go out the window. The thought of rejection, of ridicule, of ruining a relationship takes over. I guess it is something that can only become easier with experience. So if I ever come to you, my hands shaking, my words jumbled, just remember that at that point I am not so much the leader of a nonprofit, but rather just a boy, a simple boy in front of you, asking you to give the organization that he loves a chance.