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Fundraising and the Forgotten Word
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By Dr. Paul Hunt
 
The Great Wall of China was built so high that no one could get over it, so thick that no one could break or tunnel through it, and so wide that no one could go around it,  but that simply wasn't enough...
 
Much of this impregnable wall still exists today. In the first 100 years after it was built, however, China was invaded three times. Each time, invading forces managed to come through a gate that was left open for them. China had lost the significance of an important but forgotten word.
 
This word shows up in a list of America’s top-10 most searched words on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. The word is integrity. But what exactly is integrity and why is it so crucial to fundraising?
 
Integrity is defined as ‘wholeness’ and ‘consistency’ in both people and things. Take a home for example, if built to the correct specifications, entering that home shouldn’t create anxiety. On the other hand, if tell-tale fractures reveal that short-cuts were taken, you’d be wise to avoid it all together. Integrity has a great deal to do with being the type of person or organization others recognize as wholesome, consistent and trustworthy.
 
Integrity is vitally important in fundraising, largely because people who want to be affiliated with meaningful and impactful causes, instinctively look for it. Donors seek qualities that let them know ‘the person in front of me and the organization they represent can be trusted.’ The most effective and ethical approach to fundraising, recognizes that donor relationships, are in fact, close, and deeply significant partnerships, built on trust.
 
Ethical fundraising, creates a safe-space where genuine, personal connection is the focus. This is perhaps more important than any subsequent (or continued), financial commitment, because trust always precedes investment. Prospective donor-partners, both instinctively and intelligently seek strong, overt indications of personal authenticity and corporate integrity. It’s the trigger that tells them; ‘it’s safe to be in-relationship with you.’ Perhaps more than ever, it’s virtually impossible to develop a relationship, cast a compelling vision, or raise a single dollar when your integrity is even slightly, in question.
 
The dilemma in our corporate and organizational culture, (non-and for-profit), is to mistakenly, or even unintentionally, place intelligence, presentation and expertise above integrity. Perhaps this is because we tend to rely on experts and specialists to advise and lead us. When integrity is
downplayed in a drive for results, questionable behaviors and decisions are ignored or tolerated—all in the name of winning. While intellect and results certainly do matter in fundraising, expertise and high intelligence will not prevent a person from lying to stakeholders, stealing, falsifying records or manipulating, but integrity certainly will.
 
We don't have to look very far to see how a lack of trust creates a loss of confidence, a rise in public suspicion and a subsequent fall in brand credibility and market share. Importantly, people equate the integrity of the brand with the person representing it. So why should this matter to you? In fundraising, there is no middle ground, you’re either  communicating trust or setting off an alarm. Therefore, a cause can rise no higher than the person standing in front of a potential, partner-donor. So, whether you’re connected to a for-profit or non-profit organization, integrity will always be critical to success.
 
Integrity is the convergence of four aspects: 1. Who we are, 2. What we think, s. What we say, and 4. What we do. If your thoughts, words and actions align with each other—if you’re saying what you believe and behaving in ways that don’t contradict your ideas, congratulations—you have integrity. It’s not an easy path but it certainly beats the alternative. Commit to these four, practical integrity-essentials:
 
  • Believe in your own message or walk-away! Integrity begins with authenticity.
  • Don’t be afraid to be who you are. People need to connect in order to trust.
  • Admit mistakes quickly, apologize openly and strive to maintain a clear conscience.
  • Say what you mean and do exactly what you promise—there is no substitute.
 
The ancient people of China sat comfortably behind the prowess and security of the Great Wall, but it simply wasn't enough! We, too, can sit behind the greatness of the causes and organizations we represent, but more is required. This ancient story teaches us that anything great, worthy
or seemingly impregnable can be undermined or destroyed by forgetting a vital element. Whatever our talents, strengths, intelligence or noble causes, lasting success rests
on a foundation of integrity.
 
Dr. Paul Hunt is assistant executive secretary for the Texas Conference