My wife, Barbara, was a very talented party planner when we lived
in New Jersey. She coordinated many weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, and
even corporate events. Now she has become a gifted artist and
interior home designer, skills lain dormant during our tenure up
north. But I learned a very important lesson from her party
planning experiences and always applied it in my work as a
professional fundraiser. Truth be told, anyone involved with
interpersonal relationships should learn to apply these
were occasions when Barbara confronted "sticky situations" with
some clients, at times with the parents of the bride and groom.
Getting married is already a stressful event, even though it is a
happy time. And as many of us have discovered, the parents of the
soon-to-be-wed couple don't always see eye-to-eye on infinite
wedding details. This can be nerve-wracking for all parties
concerned, especially the soon-to-be-newlyweds who, as is usual,
get caught in the middle.
I remember one incident in particular that was escalating to the
DEFCON-1 level. Each set of parents had reached a point where they
weren't talking to one another. Whatever it was that upset them is
not important. What was significant is these families were closing
in on the wedding date and crucial decisions weren't being made
because of the communication breakdown. What to do?
My wife took a chapter from Aaron, the brother of Moses, and donned
her social worker's hat. In Ethics of the Fathers, chapter
Be among the disciples of Aaron,
loving peace and pursuing peace...."
In Talmudic literature, Aaron was described as the great
peacemaker, who went to any ends to make peace between spouses and
feuding friends. To the best of my knowledge, Aaron didn't possess
a social worker's degree but instinctively knew what to do. My wife
isn't an MSW either, but she possesses a profound understanding of
Back to the wedding.
She made an appointment to meet with the father of the bride who
was the most difficult to work with. They had a very positive
discussion that focused on the future. She emphasized that the
twosome one day will have children with many joyous occasions such
as birthdays, graduations, and other family milestones. What will
dictate the serenity and happiness of the couple and future family
events will be the resolution of present disputes that will be
forgotten over time. This approach worked and long after the
wedding Barbara received yearly congratulatory calls from him on
her birthday, always showing infinite gratitude for her
intervention. And, once more, there was joy in Mudville!
So, what does this have to do with fundraising?
I can recount instances when my intercession resolved many sticky
situations. In one case, two major benefactors who were friends but
then experienced "bad blood" between them refused to be seated at
the same table during a Gala Dinner. I mitigated their dispute by
seating them at opposite ends of the table along with distinguished
VIPs next to each one. Their paths never crossed and it worked.
Afterward, they became friends again sharing stories about the VIPs
who sat with them.
Another episode that comes to mind involved a generous board member
long neglected by the directors and ready to "walk" and take her
beneficence elsewhere. She hadn't been invited to all regular
meetings, wasn't asked for input on key policy decisions, and was
excluded from board-related social gatherings. It took considerable
time and effort to explain to the president and the CEO the
importance of always inviting her to meetings, calling on her on
important voting matters, and including her in social
get-togethers. A lot of hand-holding in the end resulted in her
making some significant gifts and even a critical
Good people skills can be leveraged often to resolve differences
between fundraisers too. There were times when the chemistry
between members of my staff became unraveled during intense periods
such as in the middle of major galas. Yes, we expect absolute
professionalism from professionals but the human condition being
what it is sometimes nerves become frayed around stressful periods.
Sitting down afterward and calmly sharing the etiology of these
stressors helped alleviate them, and we moved on.
By this time, you might be raising the nurture vs. nature argument.
Meaning this: are such conflict resolution skills learned or
intrinsic in our DNA? Are we taught these skills or are they
inherent in our being? Without conceding to oversimplification, I
maintain it's a little of both. Mediation, active listening,
compromise, accommodation and collaboration are as a rule key
ingredients to peaceful resolutions.
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have declared: "It
isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it
isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." Fundraisers
facing sticky situations know all too well the truth behind this
Oh, and about that wedding Barbara coordinated. They all lived
happily ever after!
© 2022 Norman B. Gildin. All rights reserved.
About the author:
Norman B. Gildin is the author of the recently released book on
nonprofit fundraising "Learn From My Experiences." He is the
President of Strategic Fundraising Group whose singular mission is
to assist nonprofits to raise critical funds for their
organization. His website is www.normangildin.com.