Why Making a Fundraising Call is Better than Root Canal

Alexander Sanger

Alexander Sanger was introduced to me by the Director of Major Gifts at International Planned Parenthood Federation /Western Hemisphere Region, Jessica Gillotta. “I love Alexander,” Jessica said, “because he’s an equal partner when it comes to fundraising. He’s not afraid to come on a donor call, ask people for money, and roll up his sleeves.” 
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Alex is a committed donor, fundraiser, and advocate for sexual health and reproductive rights. He’s served as President and CEO of Planned Parenthood New York City for ten years, and as a board member and leadership-level volunteer for Wellesley Centers for Women and International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region.  Alex has also served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund. I was privileged to meet him recently and was so inspired by his passion for fundraising I asked him to contribute his personal story to our blog. – Sarah Durham

A root canal or a donor call? Ummm. You choose the root canal every time, right?

I was like you. Asking someone for money? A rush of abject terror ensues at the prospect, followed by multiple fears – fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of spilling your coffee on your prospective donor’s white suit or dress or throwing up on their white rug or sitting on their cat.

By contrast, what could happen in the dentist’s chair? Yes, a little pain; but doc, hit me with the needle and don’t spare the Novocain, and wake me when it’s over.

There is no Novocain for a fundraising call, is there?

Actually there is. It’s called, spreading the good news. The religious among us would call it spreading the Gospel, but let’s be non-sectarian for a moment. You are spreading the good news, and that is a very good thing for your soul.

Take me. Thirty years ago, I was approached to join the board of Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC). Why I hadn’t thought of this on my own is a pretty good indicator that I had zero desire to raise money for the organization. Now, I had given speeches for Planned Parenthood and written about Planned Parenthood and cared deeply about the cause, but joining a board meant raising money. Isn’t that what joining a board is ultimately about? Yes, I know, there is all the stuff about stewardship and fiduciary responsibility and sharing your expertise and all that, but to get right down to it, the organization needs money and, if you are on the board, you are the conduit to the funds they need. That’s what they pay you the big bucks for, except that they aren’t paying you the big bucks. No bucks actually. So why would anyone volunteer to give up their valuable time when the price of admission is having to badger your friends and acquaintances and having them stop returning your phone calls, emails, tweets and texts.

I’m thinking about all this as two board members from PPNYC are sitting in my office grilling me about my beliefs about choice. I pass their test. They invite me to join the board. One meeting a month, they say with straight faces. I say I’m busy at my job but could handle that, so long, I add, that I don’t have to do any fundraising. No problem they say. And I’m on the board, and within a year I am Chair of the Board Development Committee and attending a meeting a week and making fundraising calls on the side.

What happened?

What happened was New Year’s Eve. I’m sitting at my desk, checkbook in hand and I’m figuring out how much money I have left after a year living beyond my means. I make a list of the organizations I care about. Planned Parenthood tops the list but performing arts organizations and my schools are there too. Would they all survive without me? Yes. But would I survive without writing checks to them? Yes, but in some diminished way. I would be lessened in some way. As I wrote the checks, by hand – this is in the days with no computer generated checks or internet transfers or GoFundMe campaigns – the dusk falls, my wife calls out that we are late, and this feeling of warmth comes over me as I’m giving away money, taking money from myself and my family and giving it to people who need it more that I do through  the organizations that help them. It felt good.

That’s what fundraising is. Giving others the chance to get that feeling. Giving them the opportunity to feel good, to feel warm inside, to be part of something larger than themselves.

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