Seinfeld Explains Fundraising

I grew up in New York, so I have a strong affinity for Seinfeld — for me it’s like cultural oxygen. Often I have found the show to be incredibly relevant with myriad life experiences, one of which recently dawned on me.

The show’s episode 133, The Wait Out, is filled with the usual hijinks, and centers on a couple who get divorced. Jerry and Elaine pounce on the opportunity to pitch themselves as immediate rebounds, with Elaine famously conjuring up the plan to tell the ex-couple: I’m there for you. Then after a period of being “there for you” … we’re just “there.”


Isn’t that… development? At the very least, it’s a pretty good development philosophy. You find the most right way to initiate with a donor or prospect, and move from initiation to presence. Great fundraisers are present, consistent and persistent (but not too persistent) whereas the less-than-great have sporadic, poorly planned interactions with donors, which can come off as transparent, ineffective and sometimes smarmy.

Now, this doesn’t excuse the work that needs to be done once you are there. In fact, that’s really where the work begins. Once you get to know a donor and their background, history, love (or emerging interest) for the mission and so on, maintaining presence — again, while not being too present — is so important. I may be a sample group of one, but the relationship should grow to where the donor feels comfortable enough to call or e-mail (or text or whatever is appropriate) if they have ideas, questions or concerns. Conversations shouldn’t only be about making gifts; in fact in some scenarios, gifts are made simply as a result of being present without any ask.

So what’s the takeaway? Don’t be the one-night-stand of fundraising; be the counterpart who’s “there.”

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