Nonprofit on the Rocks - Rhea Wong

Season 3, Episode 6

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“People think that fundraising is about asking for money. It's not the core of fundraising is asking for people to participate in a cause that you believe in and that they might believe in. It's about the relationship. It's about putting the work in the center of the conversation, not the money.”  

Matt talks to Rhea Wong, nonprofit consultant, fundraising expert and host of her own popular podcast – and yes, Nonprofit on the Rocks competitor, The Nonprofit Lowdown. 

The pair discuss topics ranging from the importance of “The Ask,” how to engage your board in the fundraising plight, rethinking the rubber chicken gala, and how they can combine forces to take down those pesky “church podcasts.”

And as this is a “cross-over” event episode, and Rhea is going to air her own version of this episode on her podcast, they pair “flip the script,” and Rhea interviews Matt about Envision Consulting and his own nonprofit journey. It’s a great opportunity for listeners to learn more about our fabulous host and what he does and why! 


Matt:

You know, we do we do a ton of board retreats and one of my favorite questions is, Hey, like on a scale two board members, right? On a scale of one to five.

With five being. I mean, I love it. It's the most amazing thing. All I want to do is ask people for money, to like one being like, I'd rather poke my eyes out and ask people for money, you know, and truly the majority of board members are like, I'm a one, like I don't want it. So what is it about fundraising that you liked so much?

Rhea Wong:

I'm so glad you asked this question. So, I've been thinking a lot about this and I have a blog. So I was thinking about today's blog post, but I think it, it's a couple of different things. So number one, I think we all have baggage about money and even if people are wealthy, everyone has baggage.

And so I think we assume in the nonprofit sector that because you're wealthy, you don't have baggage about money. So like number one, really coming to terms with the bag of trout money and the baggage that we have about money, or, you know, sometimes the trauma that we have about money is really wrapped up with our own personal stories about money.

So if you grew up in a family where, you know, Everyone worried about money. I mean, in my family, it was like, well, money doesn't grow on trees. And who do you think we are? The Rockefellers? Oh no. Oh, we can't afford that. That's for rich people. Right. So, the message I always got was like, there's never enough.

And we always have to freak out about and stress out about money. Right? I'm sure this sounds very familiar to folks out there, or, you know, I've also heard from the other end people whose families really were like very loose with money and like, we never really talked about money, money just sort of float it, floated and it flowed out.

And so it's like this mysterious resource. So I think number one, it's we all have a money story. I think number two, we don't provide enough training for our board members because I mean, the truth is most EDS have never received actual formal training in fundraising. So how are they going to teach their board members about fundraising and then number three?

And I think this is sort of the core of it is people think that fundraising is about asking for money. It's not the core of fundraising is asking. For people to participate in a cause that you believe in and that they might believe in it's about the relationship. It's about putting the work in the center of the conversation, not the money.

And so when you're asking your board members to go out there and ask for money, essentially, it's like the equivalent of asking them to go into a bar and just ask people to marry them. It's like, that's not obviously going to work, or if it does work, it's probably not someone you want to marry. Instead fundraising really good fundraising is about relationships and it's about invitation.

So that's what I love about fundraising, because it's actually not about the money. It's about the relationship. But tell me more, Matt, from your perspective, is that, does that square up with what you've perceived and observed with. 

Matt:

Yeah. You know, it's really interesting actually. You are totally right.

It is about our upbringing and it is about that. But I had, you know, it's interesting. I never really thought about that. And when I ask board members, Hey, what is it about fundraising that freaks you out? What is it about fundraising that you just don't want to do? Right.  What they say is I just don't feel comfortable asking my friends for money. And I think, you know, what is so important is what you said. Like, it's all about the relationship and it, if you sit on a board and this is the other thing that I don't think people understand is that when you sit on a board, you are taking on all the liability of the organization.

If they get sued, you get sued. And so, and if they look well, you look back and if they don't, you don't. So really being passionate about that mission, really understanding what the programs are. That's key because if you're not interested in, and if you're not passionate , obviously your friends aren't going to be.

So that's what I always tell them. Like you've got to really understand and care and feel this organization and live and breathe it. Your friends and your family will, will come right behind you.


Enroll in Rhea’s Group Accelerator Coaching Program – an 8 week program working mostly with EDs and some development directors creating a major gift program and strategy. 

Rhea recommends Laura Fredricks’ book, The Ask, a “personal manual for building the best, most fulfilling personal and professional life possible.” It’s a great guide for fundraising.   




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About Envision Consulting

With offices in Los Angeles and New York, Envision Consulting works exclusively with nonprofits all across the country on executive and supported search, strategic planning and partnerships, and other organizational transitions, with diversity, equity and inclusion integrated into all of our practices.