Development professionals navigate many challenges that can sometimes drain enthusiasm. When we get bogged down by internal metrics, it’s possible to lose sight of the satisfaction we get out of connecting donor passions to the great work being done by our organization.

An interview with Gail Rudolph, President of the Sequoia Hospital Foundation, provides insight not only into successful asks, but finding the joy in the work we do.

Concentrate on the donor. All donors have a story, and there’s a reason that they’re giving. If you approach this job like you’re a sales person, you’re going to lose the joy you actually get in this job. If you can get to know your donor and get to know their stories, you’re going to be successful because you’re going to be able to match their passions to philanthropic opportunities; the joy and satisfaction I think you’re going to get out of it will be beyond anything that you would ever get in a paycheck.

We are in the business of connecting the passions of donors. I call myself a dream catcher because I’m matching the dreams of donors with the dreams of physicians, and helping make the dream come true.

It’s also important to remember that donors want to be part of something big.

I say dream big. When you’re talking with donors, you have an idea of what you’re going to ask, but in reality, even with excellent research, you might have no idea what the donor has in mind. Dream big. People want to be part of something big.

We get so focused on funding healthcare capital projects or a piece of equipment that we forget that what we’re really talking about is a dream of bringing healthcare to our community. That could be in many, many different forms other than just a piece of equipment.

Sometimes donors will get stopped in their dream because a development professional throws out a number for only one project that they’re charged with raising money for.

Many times, the donors have a bigger dream. I think that many times we stifle the dream that the donor might have, or the vision that they might have because we don’t listen and we don’t wait for them to develop the vision or explore it.

One of the most valuable lessons a development professional can learn is the importance of listening.

Listen, listen, listen, listen.

So many times, I think, we as professionals go in with this idea that we know exactly what they’re interested in and why they’re interested in it, and what amount they’re going to give, because we’ve done the wealth screening. So many times, if you just sit and listen, they will not only tell you what they’re interested in, they’ll tell you what their gift is and many, many times it’s been much larger than the amount I would have ever asked for.

If your development work becomes too much about meeting organizational goals, pause to re-focus on your donor’s needs. Focusing on the donor empowers you not only to uncover passions that lead to significant giving, but to uncover the joy of development work with the feeling that you’re making a significant difference.

I’ll never forget the time we made the first scholarship from a significant gift of a donor who was passionate about making an impact. He called me up and he said, “Gail, you forgot to tell me.” I was thinking in my head, what did I forget? We had signed the gift, we did all the legal work. Did I make a mistake? Did I forget to tell him something? He said, “You forgot to tell me how wonderful it was going to feel to help someone else.”

I just remember the excitement in his voice, and it takes me back to the fact that every time it gets aggravating or you get bogged down with having to make a goal, you have to remember that it’s about the donors. And when you get back to that joy that they can feel, then the numbers seem to happen. And it adds meaning to the work you do, as well.