Jose Saramago and Fund Raising
By Walter Hansen

In one of his final novels Jose Saramago posits, as he did in “Blindness,” a sudden, unsettling dramatic change in the lives of the people in an “unnamed” country.  Suddenly people stop dying no matter how sick, old or infirmed.  Undertakers, hospitals, nursing homes, and the Church are faced with philosophical questions and practical challenges.  Families caught up in this dramatic change begin to take their sick and elderly across the border where they will die whether or not they might have chosen the journey.  Even the Mafia finds a way to make money by serving as expeditors of the process.

One day the director of the State Television network fins a violet envelope on his desk.  It is from “death” — she always signs with a small “d.”  The letter explains that upsetting nature has been cruel.  So, to offer a hand of friendship, from now on everyone will receive a one week written notice of the day of reckoning.  In an amazing plot twist one of the letters returns to death’s desk.  A Cellist was slated for death in a week.  Death resends the letter and it once again returns.  So, death visits his apartment to check out the address and see the man who has cheated on her.  From here on you will be on a great ride.  Death leaves her room, takes on human form, and meets the Cellist.

I can assure you that you will never forget this book!

What does any of this have to do with fund raising and our current economic conditions?

The recent downturn in the markets is for some as stunning as the end of death.  It was sudden, unsettling, and has caused dramatic changes in the financial situation of donors and brings into question the existence of some not-for-profits.  Others will be using the “pink” not “violet” letter to layoff staff, re-think plans, slash budgets, and if they are smart, think creatively about the future.

  1. Wall Street will not be sending you a letter telling you when the economy will be a week away from a dramatic turn around.  You are on your own!
  2. You need to be like death — a Communicator.  Yes, you need to communicate with your donors.  They need to know you did not get a “violet” letter even if you have made some necessary changes.  They need to know you have plans for the future.  They need to know they are essential to those plans.
  3. You need to get out of your “room” and visit your friends and supporters.  Call and ask to see them.  Tell them you are not soliciting, but want to involve them in your thinking about the current state of your organization.  Get their ideas, suggestions, and even criticisms.  Let them become involved in the moment.
  4. The Cellist beat death.  In the novel you will see just how.  You need to beat the economic downturn.  He did it by nothing less than dialogue, not getting trapped in death’s carefully crafted plot, and caution.  You need to do the same.
  5. The novel ends with a remarkable plot twist that while upbeat posits new and even more pressing questions.  Right now you should be addressing the current downturn and, more importantly, planning for how you will emerge from it stronger, more flexible, and positioned for a future changed for years by these past months.

Finally, you must not sit back and accept what you think is inevitable.  It has always been said that death and taxes are inevitable.  You should be like Saramago.  Taxes will never stop.  Death took a holiday.  Get out ahead of the curve and make sure you do not get a violet letter.  COMMUNICATE — VISIT — THINK CREATIVELY — PLAN — RESIST THE TEMPTATION TO ALLOW ALL THIS TO WEAKEN YOU — DEVELOP YOUR OWN PLOT TWIST.