Game of Thrones Nonprofit Staffers

We know them. We work with them. We eat lunch with them. They are our colleagues who resemble characters from Game of Thrones. By no means a definitive list, but definitely an accurate list.

Bran Stark

Bran is the quintessential Executive Director. Doesn’t say a lot in meetings, pretty much zones out in every conversation, and where exactly was he before coming to your organization? No one knows. On the other hand, he has somehow convinced the entire organization he has special skills (powers?) which everyone expects will somehow make great things possible. The one time you expect him to step up big and close the icy major donor, he wargs into some lame corporate sponsor who gives an in-kind gift of bags with ravens on them. Way to under-impress everyone, Bran.

Arya Stark

Arya is obviously the day-saving Executive Assistant. You can tell she has a bit of a sordid past, but she’s charming and knows how to clean up the ED’s lackluster failures. Her wardrobe choice is a bit peculiar, and you’re pretty sure she could kill you with an envelope opener. But remember that one time the ED was supposed to close the icy major donor and didn’t? Yeah, well Arya snuck in at the last minute and closed the deal, even though it clearly wasn’t her responsibility. I’m not sure anyone was really surprised, though.

Cersei Lannister

Cersei is your run-of-the-mill horrible board member. She’s clearly in it for selfish reasons, and only got on the board because of her rich husband, who died rather questionably. She has something negative to say at every meeting and just wants her stupid kids and brother to chair various ridiculous committees. She would gladly see the organization go bankrupt before giving up her position.

The Night King

Controversial opinion here, but I’m going to say the Night King is the rarity we know as a true “Nonprofit Leader.” Leaders have followers, and this guy has hordes, doesn’t he? And is there a better example of a leader who raises up his followers and lets them do what they’re supposed to do? Conversely, his staff are too dependent on him, and when he goes on a “long vacation” everyone pretty much falls down on the job.

Tyrion Lannister

Tyrion is probably the CFO. And since so many nonprofits do this weird thing of shoveling finance, operations and HR into one position, it’s perfect. He knows the numbers, but also somehow gets people. The ED and board question him all the time, though he usually ends up being painfully right. Side note: He may have a drinking problem, and several people have reported smelling Dornish wine on his breath in the office.

Rickon Stark

Sweet Rickon. Sweet, sweet Rickon. As the millennial Project Manager, everyone really enjoys his generally positive attitude, including the belief he can survive the cruelty of the dreaded Program Director. Sadly, no one was very surprised when the Program Director gave Rickon “autonomy” over that Zig Zag project, and when he didn’t deliver, he was executed. Fired, I mean fired.


As a fundraiser myself, I hate to admit… Varys is a Development Director, but a really smarmy one. He deploys a ton of sinister methods to get people’s donations, including really icky methods of gaining people’s trust, and even flat-out lying about the organization’s mission and programs. To the chagrin of Association of Fundraising Professionals, he uses his friends who work at other nonprofits to gain information about their donors, then solicits them directly for his organization.

Who’s missing? Who are we leaving off? With the seemingly endless list of characters, who’s obviously a nonprofiteer from the show?

See also: The Five People You Meet In Nonprofits


The 7 Faces of Fundraisers

Some people may know the early 90s book, The Seven Faces of Philanthropy. It mused on seven types of donors — the “socialite,” the “investor,” etc. The book is a quarter-century old, though it still holds its weight in the canon of good practice literature.

Since there are, evidently, seven types of donors, I thought it would be fun to explore the types of people asking those donors for support. I give to you, THE SEVEN FACES OF FUNDRAISERS

  • The Lazy Larry — You’re not at all sure what this person does all day, since they’re never out with donors. They spend a lot of time in the kitchen, and absolutely no one is surprised when they leave after 18 months, just a few weeks before you learn the organization won’t meet its fundraising goal. Thanks, Larry.
  • The Michael Scott — Much like the character from The Office, this person somehow remembers everything about every donor, like grandchildren’s birthdays, favorite cars, spousal musical interests and beyond. It’s magical to experience, though replicating this skill is impossible. If they quit, you are screwed.
  • The Sleeze — Much like Clementine from this post, this person is always fundraising, irrespective of the situation. Doesn’t matter if it’s a luncheon, funeral or doctor visit, they are always talking about their organization in the most smarmy way possible, and it’s gross.
  • The Overachiever — Your organization wants to do an annual appeal, capital campaign AND gala, even though there’s only one development staffer? No problem, the overachiever has your back! Not one of those things will get done well, but by golly, “E” for effort. Much like Lazy Larry, this one may also be gone in 18 months, but only because they need to go “find themselves” in a new job at Lululemon.
  • The Transition-ist — This one doesn’t make any sense on paper. They come from a totally different field like corporate banking or Starbucks, perhaps with the expectation they might bring a fresh perspective. Usually they spend too much time talking about “how things used to be” at their last gig, with nonsensical suggestions on how to do things like “scale up” or “optimize.”
  • The Analyst — Numbers are the only thing that matter. Did you make your goal, no. Will the organization have to lay people off, yes. But new donor acquisitions are up by 3 percent, so, winning!
  • The No Nonsense Nicholas — Colleagues and contributors alike love working with this person. They have passion for the mission, don’t overstep with donors, never suggest new program ideas just to solicit funds and they are generally super pleasant. Similar to The Michael Scott, this one is a unicorn.

So does this sum it up? Who is missing from the list? Inquiring minds want to know…

[See also, The Five People you Meet in Nonprofits]


Slow Your Roll, Fundraisers…

Real talk… nonprofit development people need to not be so development-y all the time. We should always be aware, and we should always be mindful, but this isn’t Glengarry Glen Ross — we need not always be closing.


I recently volunteered at a friend’s fundraising event. My tasks were simple… greet donors, tell them where they’re sitting, and direct them to the restrooms. Sure, I recognized some donors to my own organization, and some of them recognized me, but I was there as a traffic cop, not a nonprofiteer.

At one point, a fellow volunteer we’ll call “Clementine” (also a fundraiser for another nonprofit) veered away from the table and began chatting up guests. How nice, I thought. So friendly, I thought. Until I realized Clementine was being smarmy and development-y for her own organization.

It was gross. And worse than that, it was transparent. The donors were there to enjoy a great event for this nonprofit, not Clementine’s nonprofit. Stuff like this happens a lot, especially with fundraisers who can’t “turn it off.” It’s the kind of behavior which gives nonprofits a bad name.

What’s the point? Well, I think donors and stakeholders deserve better. It’s as if you went for a haircut, and there in the waiting area was a salesperson pouncing on you about Lasik. It’s a great big sector out there, and we’re all vying for the same resources. It might seem counterintuitive, though I don’t believe the way to get those resources is to pounce on every seemingly available contributor you see.

So everybody calm down. Especially you, Clementine — slow your roll.


A Day in the Life

Non-Profit Organization: *sends print invitation for a program*

Donor: *doesn’t RSVP*

NPO: *sends email reminder #1 for the program*

Donor: *doesn’t RSVP*

NPO: *sends email reminder #2 for the program*

Donor: *doesn’t RSVP*

NPO: *sends final email reminder for the program*

Donor: *responds, declining the invitation*

Donor, arriving at the program anyway, the next day: “Why don’t you have me on the list?”



Got ABS, bro?

Abs are great and all, but have you ever tried being a great steward of the trust your donors put in you by contributing to your organization?

See for me, that’s abs: Always Be Stewarding. It’s somewhat of a lifestyle for me, the way exercise might be for others. I write about it a lot, though I’m not sure it can be overstated.

Over 15 years in and around nonprofits, one sees myriad ways of demonstrating appreciation. Some organizations barely scratch the surface (thank you letters/emails) while others are utter rockstars with full stewardship programs (donor newsletter, event invitations).

Forever I worked in arts and culture, before transitioning to other types of nonprofiteering. Different sectors appreciate their donors differently, though I’ve consistently found a foolproof practice of sharing what you might consider “mission moments.” In this way, rather than telling donors what they get for their giving, show them how their generosity makes a difference.

I tried this at the end of last fiscal year a simple one-page letter with five short paragraphs, each spotlighting a different area of our work. I titled it simply, “impacts and benefits.” Nowhere in the letter did it ask for anything, rather, it was straight appreciation. This wasn’t novel, and in fact, it was a lightbulb idea after talking with a friend who’s a donor to the organization. And something funny happened.

A few weeks later, we started getting checks in the mail. And most of them were additional gifts beyond what the donors had already gave — not renewals of previous gifts, but increases. Again, we reinvented no wheels, but we put some gas in the car. This was sort of wonderful, and rather affirming to know people felt strongly about our efforts.

So how are y’all getting your abs?


It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Most of us are familiar with the classic holiday Andy Williams song. But the song was actually co-written by George Wyle and Edward Pola. Behind the scenes, the two crafted possibly one of the most well-known Christmas songs, ever. A lot of great things happen behind the scenes, and the movers and shakers often get less credit than they deserve.

As a nonprofiteer, I think about that a lot during the holidays. I think about all the terrific things happening throughout the year, and I certainly think about the equally terrific people who make those things happen. In our world of fundraising — especially as it relates to corporate and foundation partners — those people are not always the top figures. They might be coordinators, executive assistants or other complementary collaborators.

Each year, at some point between Thanksgiving and December 31, I always make it a point to set aside a good chunk of time to not only reflect on the past year’s meaningful experiences, I make sure to thank each and every one of those complementary collaborators. I pick up the phone, I write notes, I send e-mails. Some I’m closer with, and some I’ve never met, but in no small way, they have all made my life easier and better, and they deserve exceptional appreciation.

So as we inch closer to December 31, won’t you all join me in sharing thanks with these superheroes? Because really, it IS the most wonderful time of the year.