November 06, 2014

What Fundraisers Can Learn From Tom Menino, Boston’s ‘Urban Mechanic’

The death last week of Tom Menino, Boston's longest-serving mayor, is a reminder on the special qualities that can make a politician beloved—and how those same qualities can make us better fundraisers. As we think about the ways we will move through the next eight and a half weeks, focused on getting the most from this critical year-end fundraising period, these lessons are worth noting.

It’s been said that more than half of Boston’s residents at one time or another had personally met the mayor. Tommy, as he liked to be called, was everywhere. He attended every possible event, ribbon cutting, and other public gathering and often started his day by visiting more than one coffee shop, talking to the people of Boston. He was warm and genuine and wanted to hear directly from his constituents about what he could do to improve their lives in Boston.

So, too, should we as fundraisers be “out and about” in our communities.

Our job is to build long-lasting relationships with our donors. Relationships flourish when you meet people face-to-face in their neighborhoods, sharing a cup of coffee. So go out and attend that Rotary Club breakfast. Invite three people this week to a site visit. Have lunch with a board member. Drop by to say hello to a corporate partner. Be out every day. It’s not always about asking for a gift; it’s about asking people how we can work together to make life better for the constituents we serve.

For Mr. Menino, details mattered. As The Boston Globe reported last week, “No cog in the vast machinery of city government was too small to escape his attention.” He left to others “the lofty rhetoric … and took a decidedly ground-level view of the city … earning himself a nickname for his intense focus on the nuts and bolts of everyday life: the urban mechanic.”

We, too, must be careful and devoted “mechanics” of our development work. When you write your emails or draft fundraising letters or conceive of that grant proposal, are you tending to all the details?  Have you proofed carefully?  Have you remembered to thank all of those who made an opportunity possible? Have you been careful to include the correct budget? Little mistakes and oversights create doubt in our supporters’ minds that we are worthy of their hard-earned gifts.

Among Mr. Menino’s main priorities, according to his official biography, were “providing every child with a quality education; lowering the crime rate; and promoting a healthy lifestyle for all city residents.” He loved kids, cared deeply about education, and was especially committed to finding summer work for youths.

Determination, work ethic, and an unyielding dedication to serving others were the hallmarks of Mayor Tom Menino.

Rest in peace, Mr. Mayor. May your lessons of hard work and devotion to things larger than yourself inspire us fundraisers to pursue our year-end work one person at a time, with passion and a renewed sense of vigor.

Marie Longo is chief development officer at Playworks, in Boston.