The Gambler: Lyrics to Live By

Gambler photo
October 2, 2020

I have to admit that I am a fan of country music. Something is soothing about the tempo, and I can usually understand the lyrics. Some other types of music I can barely understand — my teen sons mock me for it. One of the tried and true songs is The Gambler by Kenny Rogers. I believe that it has lessons in it for fundraisers. The lyrics are:

So the refrain is “Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em. Know when to walk away and know when to run”. In the world of fundraising, canvassing becomes a negotiation. What is the donor interested in, and how can that help my organization? What accommodations can we make to a program that will satisfy the donor’s need for impact? When is it time to cut bait and move on?

The same refrain holds in human resources. If you supervise people, you should consistently be evaluating their performance, even if it is informally. By creating a constant feedback pattern, you will also understand when you need to hold on to an integral part of your team or when it is time for them to fold up shop and move on.

A True Story

Here is a story from one of my more unique canvasses. The donor was a prominent businessman who was a bit erratic. I had finally secured a pledge of $1,000,000, and we were getting to the pledge payment terms. I had asked him to consider $200,000/year for five years. He shook my hand and agreed but refused to sign a letter of intent (even though in Canada, a letter of intent is not legally binding). He said that if his business performed poorly one year, he wanted the ability to skip that year’s payment and make it up in another year. I had fostered this relationship for many years, and I knew that he was sincere. I agreed to his terms. Left to his own devices, he paid off the pledge in a little over three years. Had I stuck to my guns, it would’ve taken five years to pay. Sometimes “you gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.”

Another Parable

In The Gambler song, he sings, “…the secret to survivin’ is knowin’ what to throw away and knowin’ what to keep.” This particular story involved a business. They would sponsor certain events at the entry-level every few years. It was evident to the fundraising team that the donor had much more capacity. Furthermore, there was confirmation of the business’s interest in our organization — they would attend every stewardship event that we hosted. Without exception. But, after three different fundraisers had tried to move them along the donor continuum to a larger gift, they remained at the minimum level to get invited to these events. I don’t want to say that any of the three fundraisers threw the donor away. Instead, I want to draw your attention that the fundraiser knew that the relationship should get passed on to someone else who could foster it in a more meaningful way. By the way, the fourth fundraiser was able to do that.

The Gambler

The last phrase of The Gambler ends with “You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table. There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done”. Fundraising is never about the money. It is about helping a donor achieve their goals. The money is merely a by-product of an investment in your organization. And every time you are in front of a donor, you are taking a gamble — will they support this organization or not?

There will not be a posting next week (due to Canadian Thanksgiving).