Who do you think you are?

My eyes follow Maestro’s baton up… and…. down.

SPLEE-AAAAAH! (The cacking sound no French horn player wants to make, also known as a clam.)

Tap tap tapping on the podium. Concentrate. Hear the note you’re aiming for, please. Again. Maestro gives another preparatory beat. I focus entirely on the tip of that white stick, willing a perfect and beautiful entrance. Down….


I miss the note again, and with his left hand Maestro cuts off the orchestra. Some of the woodwind section rubber necks to see who’s messing up.

It’s sound check on concert day. I’m not feeling well and playing poorly. Maestro grips the baton, lifts his right arm, and communicates Mahler with his eyes. Just don’t tell me to relax, I think. “Relax, horn! Breathe. Here we go.” Up… and….down.


And number three makes it a clambake, as we say in the biz.


Thank you, dear 101 readers, in allowing me this bit of self-indulgent writing. But what has this scene to do with you and your fundraising? It’s bouncing off a fabulous blog post I read this week, and also something I’ve wanted to blog about before there was blogging. Are you Really Proud to be a Fundraiser? challenges fundraisers to embrace the fact we raise funds, and at the end offers a brilliant manifesto to drive home the idea professional identity. Fundraisers raise funds. There’s no such thing as “just a fundraiser”. But for my colleagues who still have existential night terrors, or want to put a finer point on the quality of fundraiser you are and how to be better, sometimes the answer is in doing the opposite thing or another thing. Consilience. I invite you now to step away completely from our profession and reflect. Who are at your essence?

Back to me and my French horn, and that sound check last month. What did I do after such a rough rehearsal, with the concert a few hours away? Crisis managed, of course. I tucked away Rebecca-the-Musician and invoked Rebecca-the-Director. Instead of seeking an artistic answer to my musical problem, such as practicing my breathing or fingering technique over lunch, I instead applied what has been the second single greatest reason for my fundraising success (the first being a loyal team): the art of delegation. That was it! I would delegate that exposed entrance to the assistant principal horn player, a full-time professional player. This was the responsible thing to do: the concert would be less likely to start with a clam, which would rattle in everyone’s heads on and off stage for the duration of the concert and for the rest of our lives, and I’d be able to relax over lunch. Barbara would play the note. And as the principal horn for that piece, it was my entitlement to delegate.

“Barbara: I’m going to sit out that entrance. Please play it. Now I can enjoy my lunch and concert.”

She said: “I’m a professional player, yes, but I’ll still worry about this note over lunch. I’ll do it, of course, but you’re a fabulous player and musician. Are you sure this is what you want to do?”

Her response triggered a moment of clarity into who I was, and a moment of essence. At my essence, I am music. At my essence, I’ve a need to express myself with flourish and emotion. At my essence, I crave the adrenaline of performance. And at my essence, there’s a deep, deep yearning to connect with people, which I’ve always done best through music making. All of which I’d just delegated for the sake of a safe, clean start to the piece.

I felt like both victim and bully. My heart chafed. You can’t delegate essence.

You see, I’d done it backwards: I tried to draw on acquired skills from my chosen profession to fix something artistic, intrinsic, when for the twenty years I’ve been a fundraiser, it was always my musicianship that successfully informed and supported my fundraising practice.

Because at my essence, there is no fundraiser. For me, the matter of amateur versus professional does not come into essence/identity arguments, and both are absolute: I AM a musician; with this, I CHOOSE to be fundraiser. It doesn’t matter that I’m a far more skilled fundraiser than horn player at this point.

It’s because I’m a musician that I can fundraise.

Our sector’s brilliant Alan Clayton encourages fundraisers to activate emotions: I can do that. I can do that because I know how it feels to go to war, to lose my love, and what it’s like in Heaven. What redemption feels like (Tannhauser). The anger in Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude Op. 10, no. 12. The deep sorrow that is the third movement adagio from Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 29, and, from the same composer, the opposite: joy (in his mighty ninth symphony). And, of course, Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini, where the strings climax into the love theme. I mean to make you blush.

Beyond the emotional content, because of my music I can be a player, a coach, or a player/coach. I’m also comfortable to quietly analyze complex rhythms, patterns, and data, as I have the courage to perform in front of hundreds.

So that’s me. I’m now conscious of just how much I draw on my essence to be an effective fundraiser, and also how proud I am to be one.

And you? What makes you so effective? In our sector there are as many worlds as there are fundraisers and donors. What is your essence and how does it inform your own fundraising? I’d love to know you.


PS – I did play the full performance, and rocked the hizzy. Thanks Barbara!

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