I’m no stranger to disappointment, either in my personal or professional life. Most recently, the much anticipated baseball postseason ended prematurely for my Philadelphia Phillies. I was saddened. Judging from the faces of the players, the postseason elimination was even more painful for them.
The Phillies failure to go to the World Series got me thinking of my own failures and the challenges we all face in the development profession or even serving as a volunteer for a nonprofit organization. Two of the greatest challenges that we all face are dealing effectively with failure and rejection.
Interestingly, these are the same challenges faced by sales professionals. So, what can a salesman teach a fundraiser about failure and rejection? If that salesman is the legendary Tom Hopkins, the answer is plenty.
Hopkins made his first million dollars in sales by the age of 27. He accomplished this by making the subject of selling his hobby and by studying every aspect of the sale in incredible detail. Today, he is known internationally as a master sales trainer and the author of several bestselling books on the art of sales. You can learn more about him by visiting his website: http://tomhopkins.com.
Hopkins teaches five important axioms for dealing with failure:
1) “I never see failure as failure, but only as a learning experience.”
You can look upon failure or rejection and simply choose to wallow in your defeat by feeling sorry for yourself. Or, you can learn from the experience. While you will never be a winner every time, you can improve your performance by learning from your experience and understanding what works and what does not.
Regarding his struggle to invent a long-lasting light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He eventually invented the light bulb that changed the world.
2) “I never see failure as failure, but only as the feedback I need to change course in my direction.”
Failure or rejection can only slow us down if we allow them to. Instead, if we view failure or rejection as feedback, we can pivot off of it to our next action step which just might lead to a positive response from that prospect or another.
For example, I once observed a fundraiser ask a prospect for a significant donation. The prospect lived in one of the wealthiest communities in America. The prospect responded, “I’m sorry. I can’t help you out right now. Cash is tight. You see, my wife is having the gardener completely re-landscape the backyard.” The fundraiser’s heart could have sunk. He could have ended the conversation cordially and moved on. Instead, the fundraiser considered what the prospect said as useful information rather than as a rejection. Specifically, the fundraiser heard “I can’t help you right now” and that the family has a gardener. So, the fundraiser asked, “If things are tight right now, would you be able to make a gift of that size next month?” The donor cheerfully replied, “If you can wait until next month, that would be great. We’ll be done with the landscaping by then so I’ll have the cash. Are you sure that’s not a problem for you?” The fundraiser closed the gift.
3) “I never see failure as failure, but only as an opportunity to improve my sense of humor.”
When faced with challenges, my mother was fond of saying, “If I didn’t laugh, I would cry.” In 1883, the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox wrote, “Laugh, and the world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.” Here’s what Dwight D. Eisenhower had to say about humor: “A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done.”
The point is that we often tend to take ourselves a bit too seriously. While we engage in serious work, we need to develop the ability to laugh at ourselves and the situations we sometimes find ourselves in. It sure beats the alternative.
4) “I never see failure as failure, but only as an opportunity to practice my techniques and perfect my performance.”
Every time we’re in front of a prospect, every time we draft a direct mail appeal, every time we write a grant proposal, every time we do our day-to-day work is an opportunity to practice, to hone our skills. So, even if a given effort ends in failure, it was not a complete failure because we at least had the chance to practice.
When I started out marketing my services way back in the long, long ago, I went to the Midwest to practice meeting with development officers. I knew that if I messed up, prospects in my home market would never find out. It was a good idea, too. I was terrible. No, make that TERRIBLE. Fortunately, I learned quickly from my mistakes and came back to the East Coast ready to develop local relationships that got my direct mail/telephone fundraising firm off the ground.
5) “I never see failure as failure, but only as the game I must play to win!”
Just like the folks who sell lottery tickets say, “You can’t win unless you play.” And, playing the game means you’ll sometimes lose. Just ask the Phillies. But, unless you play the game, you’ll never be able to secure important donations for your organization or land valuable clients for your firm. Fundraising is a process. Every “no” simply brings you that much closer to a “yes.”
Hopkins sums up his approach to a healthy sales attitude with what he calls “The Champion Creed”:
I am not judged by the number of times I fail, but by the number of times I succeed. And the number of times I succeed is in direct proportion to the number of times I can fail and keep trying.”
Development and sales are certainly not identical professions. But, they do have a great deal in common. And, we can certainly learn from each other.
I hope you’ll be a true champion for your organization. And, though you may disagree with this sentiment, I hope the Phillies will be a champion for Philadelphia next season.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?