Norman Gildin Shares Lessons From Years in Fundraising


One of the best ways to learn how to fundraise is through experience! 

Norman Gildin is an experienced fundraiser guided by principles of strategic planning that have been the hallmarks of his success. His background encompasses the four major types of fundraising – annual campaigns, building fund and capital campaigns planned giving and endowment fund giving. He joins us today to share his fundraising advice and his book Learn from My experiences.

Our Favourite Quotes 

(05:48) The two words that the book starts off with are common sense. That is a very integral piece of being, whether you're in this business or another business. If you're in customer relations, common sense is what should prevail. It's nice to have degrees, it's nice to have certificates, it's nice to have the sheep skin up on the wall. But what is crucial is having that common sense and understanding how to deal with things that are not overly complicated.

(18:25) I coined the term called the RDC doctrine. RDC is an acronym that stands for respect, dignity, and consideration. And every effort should be made to resolve conflicts through, as you said before, mediation. There's team networking for conflict resolutions. There's one on one, heart to heart discussions. But all of these should be permeated with respect and dignity and consideration. 

(23:36) You need to be constantly in touch with your donors. Let them know that you're around, make sure that they understand the importance that they play, the role that they're playing in the organization. And it's not about you. And unfortunately, a lot of fundraisers make it about them. It's not about them.

Top 3 Takeaways 

  1. Fundraising doesn't need to be complicated. Often times it involves going back to the basics of being empathetic and considerate towards others. Remembering to say thank you, being able to read a room and having patience are all qualities needed by successful fundraisers. 
  2. Fundraising means understanding human relationships. As a fundraiser you need to wear many hats. Somedays you may feel like a psychologist, a social worker or a mediator for your nonprofit and that can be challenging. People are complex, and as a fundraiser you need to learn how to navigate through tough situations while also building a foundation of trust with donors. 
  3. Building trust means holding yourself accountable. Always say what you're going to do, follow up frequently and listen to your donor's perspective. If you want to know something, ask! And try to be as personal as possible.


Today we talk fundraising with Norman Gildon. Hello and welcome to German's fundraising superheroes podcast.

I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente, and as an innovator in nonprofit technology, our team at Driven is determined to help you make the most most out of your fundraising. We specialize in donor, volunteer and memory management, so make sure to give us a visit at if you would like to learn more.

If you ask any professional fundraiser out there how they learned how to be successful in the nonprofit industry, they're going to tell you. It is often through experience that you get the best lessons. Norman Gildin is the author of learn from my Experiences, a book he created to help new or old fundraisers really fine tune their skills and be successful with their work. Norman Gildon is an experienced fundraiser guided by the principles of strategic planning that have been the hallmarks of his success. His background encompasses the four major types of fundraising annual campaigns, building fund, and capital campaigns, as well as plan giving and endowment fund giving. He joins us today to share his fundraising advice and talk about his book learn from my experiences. I'm very excited to have him on the show. So thank you, Norman, for joining us today.

Thank you so much for having me. I so appreciate it, really.

So your book, learned from my experiences shares essays from lessons you've learned after almost four decades in the industry.

You're really aging me.

You look good, though. Can you kind of describe how you chose which stories to focus on in your book?

Absolutely. That's an excellent question, by the way. So in fundraising, there are four pillars, okay. Those pillars, under which each of those pillars, there are subsets of many different types of fundraising. So the four pillars are annual campaigns or annual giving capital campaigns. The third one is endowment fund giving, and the fourth is plan giving. So when I prepared this book, I made sure that I would cover all of those entities because folks who are interested in not just one, but in all four or some of the four, that's what I geared it up for. The type of stories, the scope of stories is wide and far ranging. And what I tried to do there's 67 chapters mind you, and that doesn't even include the introduction and the forward and the epilogue. So it's like 70 sections that deal with these four pillars of fundraising. And what I wanted to do is make sure that they were anecdotal not like fundraising textbook 101 where people would be bored to tedious tears. You want stories that people can relate to and that's really the essence of the book. So I'll give you a couple of examples just so you know where we're headed.

So your parents my parents taught us always to remember to say thank you. There's a chapter called always remember to say thank you. And unfortunately, some folks, as they grow older, tend to forget that this is a very important value that we should maintain, whether we're fundraisers or not, always to remember to say thank you to people for the good that they do, especially for the donations. There's a chapter called When Humor Isn't Funny. There are times I remember going to a funeral, by the way, and I had a friend of mine who did the eulogy and he had everybody in stitches through the funeral. I so envy him because that is an amazing talent and the skill to be able to do. But there are times when humor is not funny. And I'm not talking about just at funerals. I'm talking about there are times when you're a public speaker and you get up and talk to an audience and you have to be very careful about who's in the audience. And I address that in that chapter. I also have a section of the five chapters that just deal with the Pandemic, and there are lessons that we can learn from the pandemic for fundraising.

And I think that's something that a lot of people, the contemporary fundraiser, should be very skilled in. When things go wrong, people love to hear stories about victories and triumphs and great things that happen, but the things that also go wrong, and they like to hear those stories too. People like to dwell on the negative sometimes. But I felt it was important for people to hear about, and again, all in anecdotal form, about some of those stories that tell people, hey, everything is not always the way you plan it. And you've got to know when things go awry, how to handle those situations. You have to know when to cancel or postpone an event, and also to learn about different streams of revenue that a fundraiser should understand. It's not just the event. For example, if you're doing an event in a gala, it's not just the gala itself that will make the money, but there are sponsorships and there are add ons of different kinds, whether it's gala or Chinese auction or a bike tour or anything of that sort. The main lessons that I wanted to get across in the book and it starts off this way, they're the two words that I really emphasize over and over again.

The two words that the book starts off with are common sense. That is a very integral piece of being, whether you're in this business or another business. If you're in customer relations, common sense is what should prevail. It's nice to have degrees, it's nice to have certificates, it's nice to have the sheep skin up on the wall. But what is crucial is having that common sense and understanding how to deal with things that are not overly complicated. And it's also important to have a moral compass. And so in the book I talk about the ethical fundraiser, and sprinkled throughout the book are aspects of ethics that everyone who's in development who is in fundraising should be familiar with and also best practices. People should know that when you try to do an event, it's not based on just tradition. We always did it this way, but look at it with fresh pairs of eyes and see how you can do it in terms of a best practice that others might be doing.

Ethics and morals come into play so much with fundraising, and I find a lot of those are built through years of just being in the field and understanding how things work and also really getting a grip on the experiences of the people that your organization is serving. You yourself are formally licensed nursing home administrator, and I love to hear a little bit on how that experience affected how you fundraise.

So we're going to go back in time. We're going to get into our time machine right now and hit the accelerator button that they used in Back to the Future and go back in time to understand, because that's a really good question. How does one go from being a licensed nursing home administrator into the fundraising field? And it's a really fascinating turn of events that occurred that brought me into the field. So my Masters is in healthcare administration, and it's actually with a major in the administration of long term care facilities. I received that degree from George Washington University School of Government and Business Administration. And interestingly enough, they had something called an administrative residency. Okay, so just like medical schools have medical residents who go through hospitals and learn the ins and outs of the field of medicine, I, as an administrator, went through an administrative residency, basically going through a facility in Falls Church, Virginia, called the Fairfax Hospital as part of an association. And you go through every department housekeeping, nursing, dietary, every single department so that you can get a hands on experience in how to deal with these different departments once you go into administration.

And I was introduced by my preceptor. His name was Mr. Rupe, and he introduced me to the foundation office. And I met with the chief development officer at the time who explained how the hospital raised money for their cat scanners, for the biomedical laboratory, for the neonatal unit and so forth. And it really intrigued me. And by the way, their biomedical laboratory we're going back a lot of decades now, was really technologically very advanced. They had things there that were real eye openers. The important thing was the money that the foundation office raised was used for the improvement of services for patients. So that was a real first strong introduction. Even though I was in a nursing home, I was in a hospital nonetheless, it was a very strong introduction to fundraising. I subsequently, after I left Fairfax Hospital and they wanted me to stay there, I could have stayed there and had my career at Fairfax Hospital, but I wanted to go into long term care at the nursing home administration. So I was recruited to the Jewish Home for the Elderly of Fairfield County. It was at that time just 120 bed facility, which eventually we had a capital campaign and raised enough money to get it to 240 beds.

And subsequently they increased it to 360. But the executive director, who was a mentor of mine, not a tour mentor, but a real mentor, lived and breathed fundraising, and he assigned me to the Women's Auxiliary. The Women's Auxiliary was a group of women who raise money on behalf of the facility. And they were considered that facility. The gem of Fairfield County. And the Women's Auxiliary had three major events during the course of a year. Before I tell you about those events, one of the things that I found when I came in there was there were 1000 members of the Women's Auxiliary, lifetime members, annual members, and they had three events. One was a luncheon for 800 women in a very posh and chic type of setting in Stanford, Connecticut, usually. And I was responsible for the administrative undertaking to get that lunch underway with the members of the Women's Auxiliary. In addition, they had a mid summer raffle and dance and buffet which took place, believe it or not, in the nursing home. And it was a knockout event. I mean, the food that they served was really knockout. Residents who lived there were able to participate and enjoy it, and it raised a ton of money.

And then the third event was a gala held at a country club. It was the annual gala or annual gala ball that took place at one of the country clubs. And that raised a lot of money as well. So I was getting confused with the whole fundraising experience working with the Women's Auxiliary. I'll give you one more example and then anything else you want to ask me. We'll move on to the next question. But I also was the chief development officer, executive director at Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Foundation in Brooklyn, New York. And believe it or not, I started off as the administrator of the 529 bed skilled nursing facility. And then after a year, they hired someone for a capital campaign. They needed to raise $16 million for capital campaign. They hired someone who was there for three months. Unfortunately, they had to let him go. He just wasn't capable for the job. So yours truly volunteered to become the chief development officer. Originally was the director of development. And I was able to raise, because of my previous experience, hence the book "Learned From My Experiences". I was able to raise the $16 million for the capital campaign, which we needed to raise money for this building that we were putting together.

And I had another mentor there. His name was Eli Feldman, and he was an entrepreneur. He was not really so taken with nursing home administration, but he was a business entrepreneur. And I learned so many things from him in terms of how you can make money doing a nonprofit event. And one of them was our golf event. We started doing golf events and honestly, it was amazing how much money we raised, hundreds of thousands of dollars at that time for our golf events. So this kind of gives you a little bit of the transitioning that took place from nursing home administration to being a full time fundraiser. And I should point out that the functions of an administrator or to plan, to organize the direct, to staff, to budget and so forth, those are very important qualities to have if you're in fundraising.

Yeah, fundraisers have to wear so many hats because I feel like not only do you have to have the hard skills of fundraising, but you also have to be a people person and you have to be really intuitive and you have to be able to be a great active listener. So there's all these kind of social skills that you just really learn from trying and failing and from other people paired with these hard fundraising skills. It can be challenging.

It can definitely be challenging. And I wrote a story about are you a fundraiser or a social worker? And honestly, you do have to wear that social worker hat sometimes a psychologist hat, not just a social worker hat. And it's a very critical part of doing your job. Absolutely.

Speaking of that chapter in that blog post, your wife taught you a really valuable lesson when she was party planning on how to kind of like mediate between two different parties. And that was a great lesson in not only how she was able to kind of in this situation, it was a wedding and she brought the two families literally together, but having to take two different ideas or two different people within organization who are conflicting, something that they're really passionate about, and kind of find that resolution and find a medium. So how did you learn the skill? Was it something that came naturally over time? Is it something that people can learn or is it kind of just innate?

That's an excellent question. My wife and I have to give her a lot of credit, has a profound understanding of human relationships, and she was able, as you said before, to get these two families who weren't talking to each other. That wedding was going down the tubes, and she was able to really convince both sides why it was so important for them to understand where the future was going to bring, that they're going to be children and grandchildren and so forth. Then this is going to pass, whatever it is, for the details of a wedding that will pass in time, but you'll have so many other happy occasions to share and celebrate in the future. You raised a very good point. Is it a skill that's learned or is it innate? And this is what we call the age old nature versus nurture debate. And there was a psychologist by the name of Francis Galton who was actually a cousin to Charles Darwin, who came up with this terminology in the 1860s, nature versus nurture. So the question is, is it genetic? Is it hereditary, or is it learned? My feeling is that this is something that is a little of both, that you have to have a little bit of the inherent, what I call the genetic code for this.

And people have to who are in this industry have to learn. In addition to having the genetic code about working with people and understanding interpersonal relationships. There are some people. Let's be very candid about it and I hate to be blunt. Who are not built for this. And I hate to. Again. Be blunt. They should look for another profession if they don't know how to work in that kind of environment. So, yes, you need to wear the social worker or psychologist hat. Sometimes it's connected like bones in the body. You have to be connected both with your psychology as well as with what you've learned over time. And this is, to me, a very critical part of being a fundraiser that you know when to wear one hat versus the other.

Yeah. Knowing I feel like having that knowledge of when to distinguish between the two definitely takes experience. I think it's one thing to understand what you should be doing in the situation, but to know when you can step in or back off is a whole other thing in itself.

Well, there are times when you have to back off or walk away from the situation, but you don't want to burn your bridges. That's a fundamental principle. I coined the term called the RDC doctrine. RDC is an acronym that stands for respect, dignity, and consideration. And every effort should be made to resolve conflicts through, as you said before, mediation. There's team networking for conflict resolutions. There's one on one, heart to heart discussions. But all of these should be permeated with respect and dignity and consideration. That means you really have to respect the other party. They hopefully respect you. You have to give them the self esteem that's necessary, the dignity that's necessary for them to feel good about themselves and consideration, be very considerate of their feelings, their opinions. Sometimes we lose sight of that, and we have our own feelings and opinions, and we feel that those should supersede those of others. And I think if you're especially in this industry and I keep on saying it's a customer service industry, you always want to give people that respect, that consideration, obviously, the dignity that they have. There are cases where I got involve
I interceded with donors who had that blood between them. We had a situation where they were supposed to be seated together at a gala, and suddenly we learned that they hate each other. They used to be the best of friends and they hate each other and they always wanted to be seated together. So we ended up seating them. It was a rectangular table. I remember at a gala, one sat at one side, the other one sat at the other side and we put VIPs next to them so neither one was affronted by not being in the same vicinity. I remember a case with a very generous board member who was ready to walk away from the organization. But we did what was necessary to hold her hand and make her feel good, get the president to call on her at meetings, invite her to off the board type of events that took place which she had not been invited to. So that was important. And I remember also case with my own staff where their chemistry somehow didn't mesh. And you have to know when there's sometimes when you're doing an event and it's a very intense period and it's very hard to sit down right then and there and try to resolve matters.

So you kind of have to work with them in a very gentle, respectful way with dignity and consideration. And then after the event, you sit down and basically you work things out in a very amiable way.

Yes, sometimes things just need to step back and you need to assess everything before acting. I agree. Not a place to do that.

You get very intense during certain intense periods and I get it. I understand that. We have to understand that.

I'd love to hear a little bit more about the motivation behind giving. As somebody with so much experience, do you find that when connecting with donors specifically, there is one trick that works, or is it more about kind of feeling out the person and taking steps to have a relationship beyond their donation?

So when you're dealing with donors, there are two things you have to gain. You have to gain their confidence and their trust. And unless you gain their confidence and trust and hopefully they have the confidence and trust in the organization, but you're now dealing with them. So those are important. If you can't overcome that, then you're really not going to go anywhere with your donor. I consider some very valuable skills in dealing with donors and building trust. First things first, follow up. If you say you're going to do something, then do it because donors expect if you're going to say that you're going to have a commemoration, let's say, ready for them by a certain time, make sure that that commemoration is ready by that time. So timeliness of your follow up is also crucial. It's not just that you are doing the follow up and likewise it's important to understand that credibility is based on what you say you're going to do. If you don't follow up and you don't do what you say you're going to do, your credibility is lost and they will not trust you. And that's important, I think. Secondly, good communication, good communication to me is whether it's in writing, whether it's verbally, there are different forms of good communication.

But you need to be constantly in touch with your donors. Let them know that you're around, make sure that they understand the importance that they play, the role that they're playing in the organization. And it's not about you. And unfortunately, a lot of fundraisers make it about them. It's not about them. If you went into this because you think it's a glory type of work, forget it. This is not glory type of work. You really have to do things in a way that will make sure that you cement a relationship because of them, not because of you. Again, it's a credibility issue. You mentioned a third skill that I think is important, you mentioned it before, and that is being an active listener. Find yourself getting into monologues with people instead of it being a dialogue and being an active listener and listening to what the other person has to say goes back to that doctrine I mentioned before. Consideration, consider their feelings, their opinions, their hopes, their aspirations, their plans, and see how that integrates with what the nonprofit is doing. I also feel when it comes to trust that you don't build specious campaigns.

There are some organizations, regrettably, who create campaigns like building programs where money is collected and nothing is built. You're not going to gain anyone's trust by doing anything of that sort or the money that's collected doesn't come close in terms of the cost of the program that we're talking about, meaning that it doesn't quite cost as much as you might think. But the fundraiser has collected an abundance of money and where is that money going? Hopefully not going into the bottomless pit, into the abyss. I want to just go back to that idea of good communication that we talked about before. There's so many different ways to be a good communicator. Obviously the personal approach, one on one. I always ask my donors, what do you prefer to have in terms of communication? Do you want me to text you? Do you want me to email you letters? By the way, there's something to be said for handwritten notes or a handwritten letter to a donor. It's unexpected today because everything comes out of a computer and a printer and all you see maybe sometimes is a signature, sometimes you don't even see that. If it's in an email, who knows?

Anyway, to send a letter of thanks and appreciation, it goes back to that chapter dealing with always remember to say thank you phone calls. Some donors want to be called on some sort of semi regular or regular basis. Listen, whatever works. Pony express, carrier pigeon. You got to find out from the donor what they want, not what you want. We may be living in an age of texts and emails and WhatsApp and other kinds of media that we use to communicate facebook, social media and so forth. But always follow the RDC doctrine with all your communications with donors. Respect, dignity, and certainly make sure that they are given consideration for their feelings.

So important. It all comes down to the basics, right? I feel like sometimes it gets over complicated.

Remember the first two words of the book? Common sense.

Exactly. I feel like that is the perfect place to end a conversation. But before we log off today, I'd love to give you some space to let our viewers know where they can get access to your book and all your other resources.

So, good question and I appreciate that. So you can go to my website, www. I don't know if that's even necessary anymore to mention the three W's, but anyway, Norman Gildin. N-O-R-M-A-N-G-I-L-D-I-N. It's Gildin, as in inverse out. So it's NormanGildin. One word, dot com. And on that website you'll learn a lot about me. You'll see the blogs that I've been posting, you'll see other really neat stuff that's been put on there. My social media, you can connect with all of my social media. So that would be the best way to reach out. And certainly you can go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble online and you can order the book there as well.

I want to give a big thank you to Norman for joining us on the podcast and sharing his knowledge with us. I have linked his website in the description box that is the best place for you to get in contact with him, as well as a link to purchase his book. Learn from my experiences.

It's a really easy read, a lot of great content in there and I highly recommend it if you're looking to just fine tune your fundraising skills. And if you want to learn more about driven and all of us at Fundraising Superheroes, you can visit There you can listen to past podcast episodes and access other content like our blog and downloadable resources. Thank you so much for listening to the podcast and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.

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By Trust Driven on

Podcast Oct 12, 2022, 12:00 AM

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