Everything I need to know about fundraising I learned from my Mom




This photo was taken on the very first Mother's day I shared with my Mom – the lovely woman who has taught me so much.

While she wasn’t a professional fundraiser, I credit my Mom with teaching me three important lessons I use every day in my work.

How to talk to anyone, any time, anywhere

I remember standing with my Mom in the checkout line at the grocery store.

We couldn’t have been there for more than a few minutes - but before we were done, she’d made friends with everyone within a ten foot radius.

She struck up a conversation with the person behind us in line, the person in front, the cashier, and the teenager who helped us bag our groceries.

As a surly pre-teen, I was MORTIFIED by my Mom’s propensity to chat with everyone – but today, I consider strong conversational skills one of the most important assets of a great fundraiser.

I learned how to strike up a conversation with anyone from my Mom – but even if you didn’t have a chatty parent as a role model, these are learnable skills that will make you a better fundraiser (not to mention making the dreaded networking event a lot more fun!).

One of the most valuable skills that'll help you hone your conversational agility is cultivating your sense of curiosity – if you are truly curious about a person and their experiences, you'll never run out of things to talk about.

Grab attention by telling a great story

Before she retired, my Mom was a Grade 1 teacher. As a university student, I’d occasionally go in to help her organize her classroom, and lend a hand on field trips and other special outings.

I learned something important in my visits to my Mom’s classroom – that nothing could quiet a room full of rowdy six year olds like the promise of story time.

My Mom would go sit in her story chair, the kids would gather in a circle around her feet, gazing up at her, waiting with anticipation for her to crack open a great book and take them away to another world.

Our love of stories never dies - whether you are six or sixty-six, the promise of a great story will always grab your attention.

How are you tapping into our innate love of stories in your fundraising? Whether in your donor meetings, your direct marketing, or your latest annual report, you need to channel my Mom, and grab your classroom’s attention with a great story.

Say thank you – and do it well

Like many kids of my generation, any time we got a gift we had to sit down and write a nice thank you note to share our gratitude with the gift giver.

Anyone can write a rote thank you – goodness knows we’ve all received enough soulless form letters as donors.

While I spent many hours sweating over my thank you notes to Grandma, I learned there was a difference between a mediocre thank you, and a fantastic thank you.

A great thank you is personal – it’s a handwritten card, or a phone call (or both!). A great thank you talks about how you’ll use a gift. And a great thank you is timely – Grandma’s not happy when she gets a thank you card for her Christmas gift the following Easter.

Thanks for helping me be a better fundraiser, Mom!

Do you have a mentor, role model or other figure in your life who had an unexpected impact on your path as a fundraiser? I’m spending some time reflecting on that myself this week - who has had an influence on your fundraising, or inspired the choices you’ve made?


*Post updated May 4, 2021.



Emma Lewzey, CFRE is an award-winning fundraising expert

with 20+ years experience raising millions of dollars across the arts, education, health and human services sectors. If you want to raise more 5, 6 and even 7-figure donations your non-profit, you can download Emma’s free Blueprint for Major Gift Success, and learn the 4 crucial steps to raising big gifts (at any size shop!)

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