Do It The Easy Way—and Go Straight to Success!

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 10, 2018 9:35:26 AM

Have you ever heard a police officer, a school teacher (any kind of teacher) or a ball coach say to a person, “You can do it the easy way, or you can do it the hard way: Which do you choose?   We have all heard it, and unfortunately, we have not always heeded the call or listened to the underlying message.  I know I did not as a child.

When we were children, my sister Isabel lived to do it the right way, the easy way, the way that parents and teachers suggested would work best.  And, she won their praise for so doing, along with ‘A’s’ on her report card.  But, me, I had to do my own way—anyway except perhaps the way that was suggested—the easy way. I had to question everything, especially authority and I had to learn everything the hard way.   It is a steep climb up fool’s hill—I can tell you that!

Instead of simply studying a little each night like my sister, I would put it off, and then I needed to stay up all night to cram for an exam if I was going to avoid a complete disaster.  I would slip by with a ‘C’ or a ‘D’ and my sister Isabel would have an ‘A.’   Then came algebra and geometry, and rather than just accepting the formulas and inserting the right numbers in the puzzle to get the right answers, I would ask myself why is this the distance formula, and who is this Pythagoras anyway?  That didn’t work out too well either.

Somewhere about my third year in college, a light went on in my head and I realized that it didn’t always have to be a struggle.  If I would just do what successful students (my older sister) did I might just make an ‘A.’   Amazing stuff!   Well I applied that formula and never made anything other than an ‘A’ again, and I began to like doing things in the right way, because it is much easier, and you get a better outcome.

I have found that the same is true in business.  If you apply yourself, and read and study and consult with the most successful people in your field, sure enough, you can be successful too.  I have been blessed with many good mentors.  One of the best is my 94 year old grandmother, Winnie Phillips who preceded me in this business of fundraising and development.   She was initially the Alumni Director at Erskine College, before she became a fundraising consultant running campaigns all over the United States.  She became one of the most sought after campaign directors at her firm.

I remember her telling me a story one time.  She went to talk to the leadership of the Episcopal Church in a large western state, to discuss resurrecting a campaign that was stalled.  They had requested “that woman from SC” because they knew of her reputation for success.  She went with the company president, who introduced her and they had a nice lunch.  Then the Bishop of the Diocese said, “Mrs. Phillips, when are you going to start?”  To this Grannie responded, “Well hold on a minute.  I don’t know if I am coming out here or not.”  There was a quiet that befell the room.  Then, she said, “I have one question to ask you.”  He said, “What is it?”  She said, “If I come out here to help you fix this campaign, and get you on the right track, are you going to do exactly what I say?”  To this, he replied, “Yes Ma’am, I guess we will.”  So Grannie said, in that case, I will do it”—and she did!

This business of consulting is fun, if people listen and actually use your advice and counsel.  It becomes much less so, when they do not.  It was my grandmother who taught me not to work with people who ignore your advice and strategy.  “They are difficult to deal with, they ruin their own opportunities and then they want to point fingers at everyone other than themselves,” she would say.  So, if you want some good advice, from both me and my Grannie Winnie, do it the easy way and employ the best fundraising counsel you can get.  Then do exactly what they suggest that you do—because the results will be excellent, and it is much more fun and fulfilling for everyone.

Here is one piece of advice that I will give you, and which we give to all of our clients universally.  It applies to development and fundraising and it applies to sales as well.  It is simply this:  When you meet with a potential donor, volunteer, or board member—or anyone you are courting—never end that meeting without having the next step planned, choreographed and thought through—and make sure you make them aware of the next step.  Have dates and times picked out so that you can choose one and settle on the next meeting time and place.  In this way, you are never sitting in your office, waiting and wondering…”should I call them again,” or “I wonder why I have not heard back from them yet,” or worse yet, you call and find out that they are on a cruise for three weeks, so it may be another month before you can see them (if they remember you).  This is important work you are doing—business—and business meetings are set formally and in advance.

Don’t ever let it end with, “we’ll be in touch soon,” or some other open ended message.   This is especially true with a prospective donor from whom you are soliciting support—because they don’t know the next step, and you are trying to create a sense of urgency and clarity.  My grandmother asked the Bishop if she would be in control, because she knew that as long as she was, and they heeded her advice, they would all be successful.  When you are soliciting a gift, you are leading the process for the prospect, just like the maestro on the platform, leading the musicians to respond with the baton.  If you fail to retain clarity and control of the process, you are like the conductor who simply drops the baton.

Don’t drop the baton!  Do set a date, time and place for a follow up meeting so that you can hear the beautiful music that is “I really want to help you with this gift of $100,000.”  Good luck!


David G. Phillips is President/CEO of Custom Development Solutions (CDS).  David has personally run campaigns which have raised over $750 million for nonprofits all over the world.  He has built a team of professionals at CDS that have raised over $2.5 billion the world over.  He has written, taught and lectured extensively on major gifts fundraising and capital campaigns.  David and his family live in Charleston, SC.  You may contact him at: or 800-761-3833.  Learn more at:

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: Campaign Feasibility and Planning Studies, capital campaigns, Capital Campaigns, CDS, Custom Development Solutions, development, fundraising, Fundraising Principles, General Articles, Professional Skill Building, strategic planning

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