3 Lessons for Fundraisers From “Die Hard”

This article contains spoilers for the movie “Die Hard.” 

Depending on who you ask (me), “Die Hard” is the best Christmas movie of all time. If you haven’t seen it, I suggest that you stop what you’re doing and make that happen ASAP. 

Now that I’ve either made you my best friend or alienated you forever with that statement, let’s get into the lessons I believe all fundraisers can take from this movie

1. You can build relationships without meeting in person. 

Fundraising is all about building relationships. However, building relationships while following social distancing guidelines in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenge for many of us. 

John McClane and Sergeant Al Powell do a great job of showing how to build a relationship without meeting in person! Even after only communicating via radio, when they do meet in person, they hug as if they’re old friends. They’ve forged a bond.

We can do the same thing with our donors. And we don’t need walkie-talkies to do so—we can use tools like Zoom to meet with donors virtually. 

If you haven’t done so already, think about how you can meet with donors virtually and then share your mission and impact stories with them. This will help you build authentic relationships with the people who share your vision for the work your nonprofit does.

2. Putting energy into the right relationships pays off. 

Our time is limited. There may not be a literal ticking time bomb like there was in Nakatomi Plaza, but fundraisers often work under intense pressure to meet tight deadlines. 

With that in mind, it’s important that we think strategically about which donors we spend our time stewarding. Some donors are just not going to be the right fit—and that’s OK! 

It’s kind of like how there were a lot of approaches that law enforcement could take in order to save the hostages that Hans Gruber had captured. John McClane focused on building relationships and investing his time in people and strategies that aligned with goals; he didn’t waste his precious time on people who were never going to see things his way. You should do the same. 

3. Keep the community you serve in mind when fundraising. 

Hans Gruber was in it for the money. Sounds like fundraisers, right? 

Don’t worry: I’m not going to villainize you! After all, we all know that fundraising is about more than just raising funds. 

The biggest problem John McClane set out to solve wasn’t really about the money. He was more concerned with protecting the people who were in danger that night

This is perhaps the biggest lesson of all for those of us working as fundraisers. While “fund” is right there in our job title, our work isn’t ultimately about the money. It’s about changing—and sometimes saving—lives.

Raising money is just a tactic to make that happen, not the reason we do what we do. And that’s something important to remember at any time of year.

When you’re burned out or struggling to see the big picture, think about the community you’re serving. Remind yourself of the impact your nonprofit is having. Focus on the people instead of the funds. It’ll serve you well and motivate you to keep going

Even if you don’t love “Die Hard” as much as I do, I hope these lessons are helpful. I have as much faith in you as I do in John McClane. So keep up the great work!

Nonprofit Sustainability

Sarah Willey
Sarah Willey, MA, CFRE, SMS is an experienced fundraising professional with a passion for learning, teaching, and building community. She works as a coach and consultant with nonprofits across the US and Canada to build sustainable individual giving programs and write great communications. A lifelong learner, she holds a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Washington University in St. Louis as well as the CFRE certification and a social media strategist (SMS) certification from the National Institute for Social Media, and is now pursuing a Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Missouri - St. Louis and expects to complete her dissertation in 2023. Sarah can be reached at [email protected]