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6 Reasons Fundraisers Should Be Like Gandalf, Not Frodo

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The Problem With Frodo

OK, before you start commenting or emailing me about how great Frodo is, let me say that you are right! I love Frodo! I wish I could be more like him. But he’s not the character after which you want to model your fundraising career.

Frodo loves to relax in the Shire. He wants to watch fireworks, feast, and tell tall tales. He likes to admire the beauty of Sam’s work in the garden and enjoy the long summer evenings with a bit of ale and pipeweed.

Frodo is the hero of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but Frodo is a reluctant hero. The task of returning the One Ring to the fires of Morder is a task Frodo accepts only under duress. Frodo’s problem (in terms of accomplishing the mission) is his complacency. At the beginning, he doesn’t see the reason why he should bear the Ring.

In fact, this is the point of Tolkien’s Trilogy. Those who want to bear the Ring will quickly become corrupted by its power. Those who sought to use it for good will eventually turn to evil.

The Ring, if it is to be destroyed, must be carried by someone who loathes power and is naturally suspicious of anything overly adventurous.

Frodo is a most unlikely hero — and that’s the point Tolkien is trying to make. Often in life, it’s the unlikely and overlooked creatures who are the heroes. But as Tolkien weaves the tapestry of the history of Middle Earth, he also tells the tale of the supporting heroes — those who facilitated Frodo’s journey.

Chief among these heroes is Gandalf.

Fundraise Like Gandolf

Without Gandalf, Frodo would have been overtaken by the Nazgul on his journey to Mordor.   Gandalf is a bold and fierce leader who makes the right moves at the right time to give Frodo the best chance of success.

Our task as fundraisers and leaders is much like Gandalf’s. We aren’t the ring bearers, but we facilitate the journey of our organizations. We must be bold and fierce in our fundraising and leadership and make the right moves at the right time to accomplish the mission.

As we consider the character of Gandalf the Grey (and later the White), we can learn at least six important lessons about fundraising and leadership.

1. Gather the Group. Gandalf knows the mission of destroying the Ring requires a group with diverse gifts. He strategically gathers the right people at the right time to achieve the mission. Fundraisers must do the same. Your task is to gather a diverse group of influencers and people of affluence to accomplish the mission. Get them in the same room talking about the mission. Let them make decisions and own the process. Let them argue a bit. In their wisdom, they will decide the path to success.

2. Create Urgency. Without Gandalf, Frodo would stay in the Shire, content to live out his days with friends and food. Gandalf makes clear that complacency is not an option if the Ring is to be returned to the fires that forged it. Here is the key: Gandalf doesn’t coerce Frodo to carry the ring; Frodo chooses the journey freely. Instead, Gandalf creates urgency around the mission and Frodo realizes that even the Shire was not safe from Sauron’s reach. You too must create urgency around your organization’s mission. You are the one who pushes people forward. There will be those who are complacent or who choose to look the other way. Yet, you know that with each passing hour, more children and families are in need of your organization’s life changing and saving work in the area of health, education, food security, or the arts. If people are going to be motivated to support the mission, you must create urgency.

3. Know Your Role. In his wisdom, Gandalf knows he cannot be the Ring Bearer. He is a great leader and facilitator — but not the one to carry the Ring. If you are to facilitate your organization’s mission, you too must know your role. You are a connector, a liaison, a listener, a storyteller, an asker, one who follows through, and the Chief Thank You Officer. Your role is not to deliver the programs or account for expenditures or create graphics. You organization will only achieve it’s mission if you know you wisely know your role and execute your part of the mission flawlessly (or nearly so).

4. Be a Great Teacher. Gandalf is a great teacher. He knows the history of Middle Earth better than anyone, save Elrond. Part of Gandalf’s role is to tell the story and help others see the reasons of the importance of the mission. You must do the same. While listening is more important than talking, you need to tell your organization’s story concisely and in a compelling manner. Without being verbose, become a great teacher of your organization’s history and ongoing mission.

5. Be Willing to Make Sacrifices. Gandalf battles Saruman. He rides Shadowfax hundreds of miles to clear the way for Frodo and keep abreast of Sauron’s movements. Gandalf also stands in the way of the Balrog and declares, “You shall not pass!” in order to save the Fellowship. This stand costs him his life, but then he is transformed into Gandalf the White.  He is willing to sacrifice for the mission, even to the point of death.  While I’m not suggesting you should die for your organization, you will need to make sacrifices in order to facilitate the mission.  You will also need to be a leading giver, according to your capacity, to set the example for your co-workers.  You may need to sacrifice your desk, your office, and pointless meetings on the altar of achieving your mission.

6. Lead the Army Into Battle. This may be the part of Gandalf’s DNA least appealing to you. In “The Return of the King”, Gandalf (arrayed in white after his transformation), leads the army of men, dwarves, and elves into the valley to defeat Sauron’s legions. He puts himself in the front of the army to achieve results. What are the opportunities for you to lead your organization into an uncertain, but necessary situation? Is it a key political battle in your community? A capital campaign? A new area of mission that some see as unnecessary? A program to help refugees settle in your city? Whatever the battle, lead the army like Gandalf.

Make the Most of Your Time

You may not be a wizard or have any special powers. But you are integral to your organization’s ability to achieve its mission. Use your time to focus only on that which achieves the mission. Be of good cheer and be encouraged because you are changing lives!

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.
― Gandalf, J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

What are some lessons you have learned from Gandolf (or Frodo)? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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