Just this past week, the world lost one of my heroes. Maya Angelou was a renowned American author, poet, and civil rights activists. She was amazing, and she said many amazing things.
My favourite quote of hers goes like this:

You’ll forget what I say
You’ll forget what I do
But you’ll never forget how I make you feel

Truer words have never been spoken.

I experienced that quote this morning in Barrie, Ontario. I was invited to speak to the Simcoe Planned Giving Counsel – a CAGP-like professional group of fundraisers and allied professionals. There were about 40 people in the room to listen to me talk about ‘what donors want’ and to do some case study workshops.

I talked about lots of stuff. Brain hemispheres. Focus group findings. Neurological research. At the risk of sounding less than humble, I think most of the material I covered was pretty darned interesting.

But, truth be told, it was also quite forgettable. I’d be surprised if anyone could recite a finding or quote a factoid from my presentation a week from now.

But  they will remember me a week from now. And, if they see me at a conference in a year or two, they’ll greet me like old friends.


Because I told them stories about my life. I opened my heart to them. I showed them my feelings. I told them about the night my daughter was born. I told them about the night my mom died. And I told them about the afternoon when my wife (as a young girl) was cruelly bullied by schoolmates.

The simple fact of the matter is this: My stories weren’t just mine. They were the stories of the people in the room too. Who amongst us hasn’t experienced the joy of a birth? The incredible loss that comes with death? The shame and loneliness that comes from being made a victim?

These feelings and experiences are universal. They connect us. They make us real and loveable to each other.

I’m convinced that the charitable gift starts in our emotions. Our heart tells us we must give – and then our brain kicks in and decides how much to give and when to do it.

So please, don’t let your organization’s materials just talk about your latest strategic plan, fundraising goals of programming needs. Tell your stories. Why does the chair of your board invest her free time to your cause? Why has your executive director dedicated himself to your mission for the last 12 years? Why have your loyal donors left you gifts in their wills?

Your donors want to hear these stories. They want to love you – and they want you to love them back.

So, be brave. Be vulnerable. Be truly human.