Learning From Other People’s Words

Clever, insightful quotes and turns of phrase can help us remember and apply principles that are important for success in our field and in our lives.

by Tom Harrison

Borrowing from Yossi Siegel, here are some thoughts that inspire me.

Last Year at the Direct Marketing Association Nonprofit Federation’s New York Conference, the keynote address was delivered by a brilliant guy named Seth “Yossi” Siegel. Whether the topic is business or marketing, law or politics, or international affairs, Yossi is a joy to engage. He’s knowledgeable, well-read, and has the ability to connect seemingly disparate things to come up with new ideas and approaches.

Yossi especially enjoys deriving insight from well-crafted quotes – so much so that he published a book of his favorite quotes which he called “Other People’s Words”.

Like Yossi, I’ve always enjoyed clever, insightful quotes and turns of phrase, because they can help us remember and apply principles that are important for success in our field and in our lives.

Here are some of my favorites. I hope that a moment’s reflection on one or more of these will be valuable to you:

Most people have the will to win. Few people have the will to prepare to win.

Are you willing to do the hard preparatory work, or do you let yourself wing it, hoping that good enough will be good enough?

Wishin’ don’t make it so. And its corollary: Hope is not a strategy.

We all need a healthy dose of idealism and aspiration if we truly plan to change the world … or our lives. But getting anything important done also requires practical planning and hard work.

When the pain stops, the nostalgia can begin.

Back in college we used to say, “The best view of the Golden Dome is in the rear view mirror.”

Hire for attitude; train for skills. 

Obviously, we’d prefer getting both, but if you have to choose, remember that skills are easier to teach than attitude.

People can’t give to you if they don’t know you’re there, and they won’t give to you unless and until you persuade them of the importance of your work. 

Nonprofits deserve and need strong branding to create an environment in which their fundraising can      work better and their programs can be even more effective. But to be successful, the branding needs to support – not undermine – fundraising messages. For example, a brand of “hope” does not differentiate your organization from others and, worse still, risks undermining fundraising messages of need and urgency.

You can’t cut your way to greatness.

This is why I regularly tell our staff that we do our best work with growth-oriented nonprofits with a vision to change the world.

Boys are icky.

I repeat this to our daughters regularly, but they don’t appear to be listening…

They’re just fixin’ to begin to commence to start.

I’m impatient with people who over-analyze or over-promise, but never get anything done.

Reality has a way of asserting itself.                                                                                            

Especially in the fundraising profession, we can wish things were different all we please – that ordinary donors gave to complex programs, that we could raise all the revenue we need without spending money on printing and postage, that donors would give to success rather than need, etc. – but in the end, to succeed, we must have the courage to face reality and meet donors where they are, not where we might wish they were.

People look for a reason to feel excluded. And then they begin to hallucinate about it.

This is at the root of much relationship pain – in families, among friends and at work. If you pay      attention, you’ll discover that this happens all the time. People are hyper-alert to even the possibility of not being wanted (included) – often when this isn’t even the case – and then they concoct reasons for the      perceived sleight and act out. Be understanding when you see someone do this, and be aware when you are tempted to do this! It can save a lot of pain.

The economy is like a train with business as the engine. There will always be people in the back of the train, but the way to help the caboose move forward is not to slow down the engine.              

The application of this truth to fundraising is wonderful. A nonprofit is like a train with fundraising propelling the program forward. When advocacy or program people get impatient with the attention paid to fundraising, it’s remarkably short-sighted. One nonprofit executive, faced with complaints from the advocacy staff said, “Well, we could cut back on all this fundraising. It’s just that when we didn’t do the fundraising, we didn’t have any budget for advocacy or program staff.” Point. Game. Match.

My last three are so eloquent that they need no commentary:

Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.

There is a sacredness in tears. They are not a mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition and of unspeakable love.

Trust in the Lord with your whole heart; lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

I’d love to hear your favorite quotes, and how they guide you in our business.

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