An OB-GYN taught me this about fundraising

Talking to an OB-GYN is usually not something I look forward to. It typically involves stirrups and some forced conversation in an uncomfortable position.

But last week was different. During a storytelling training Mark and I led in San Antonio, an OB-GYN reminded me of one of the essential ingredients to fundraising — and building relationships in general — vulnerability.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy engaged Sea Change to train their field staff and grantees to spot and tell great fundraising stories. We were in San Antonio training doctors, social workers, and some individuals from faith-based groups — all who are passionate about preventing teen pregnancy.

The OB-GYN from the get go said she was driven by logic and reason. She’s a doctor after all. But she was game to flex her emotional muscles — she knew this was important for fundraising.

After the training and group work, she nervously read her story aloud. It blew me away.

Her words pulsed with a clash of expertise and vulnerability in the face of the challenges inherent to helping teenage girls with nowhere else to turn. It’s not often that a doctor shows vulnerability. They are paid for their knowledge and skill. But in this context, the juxtaposition of expertise and humanity connected me deeply to this woman — her hopes, her dreams, her challenges. I saw myself in her.

Non profits often think they have to be the experts too. Vulnerability will show cracks. It could make our audiences think we are unworthy of their donations, support and actions.  But it’s important to remember that vulnerability is a key element in creating deep relationships. By showing more intimate information about ourselves, we gradually increase trust and loyalty.

Social scientists have found that showing vulnerability is important in building friendships. And I would argue that showing vulnerability — in appropriate moments — is important in building fundraising relationships too.

Thank you, doc, for your courage. And thank you for reminding me that even fancy degree-holders are human too.