Conversation with Sid Mallory
Eddie Thompson: Thank you again for joining us on this podcast today! We have a real special treat. You surely know Sid Mallory. If you don’t, you need to know Sid. When you’re in this business long enough and you travel the country like we get to, we get to hear what others say about other consultants. And, I tell you what, we always get glowing praise when we talk about Sid Mallory. So, Sid, thanks for joining us today.
Sid Mallory: Thank you, Eddie. It’s a pleasure to be here. And, thank you for the kind words. I’ll return them to you, my friend, a lot of good comments about you!
Eddie: I could read his bio but it’d take more time than we’d like. You just need to know he’s the ultimate professional, he really knows what he’s doing. This series is talking to icons in our industry and Sid’s right on top of that list.
So, Sid I want to ask you two questions. The first question is what have you learned that’s really made a difference?
Sid: It’s interesting because as you know you and I suffer from the same disease. I am an accountant and I practiced accounting for 20 years never realizing that I’d ever be in fundraising. But, for 30 years now, I’ve been in this wonderful business. Over that 30-year period I’ve come to know that you have to put the time in with the donors. You have to make one-on-one calls and be out in the field. What we see now in our work with our clients around the country is many of the staff when you sit down and talk with them about what they do during the day or during the week or whatever, they’re busy. But we call it being too busy to be successful. Because they’re busy doing things that really have no relationship to fundraising as far as doing things that are touches or moves that move the process along.
Along with that, Eddie, I think one of the things that brings that on is that fundraisers (and, I would put you and I in that category), we are natural pleasers. When people ask us to do things, like the CEO comes to the executive director of the foundation or the director of development, whatever the title is, and says we need you to take on managing the volunteers or we need you to take on managing another area in the hospital. We tend to want to say yes because we’re natural pleasers. What we’ve got to come to understand is if we’re going to be in fundraising, we need to be held accountable for goals and raising the dollars that are needed in healthcare, and that means we’ve got to be out of the office making visits, calling on donors and doing the things that really move from identification and introduction all the way up to the ask and the close. It’s amazing to me to hear some of our wonderful fundraising clients across the country talk about how busy they are but yet when you drill down into it, they’re busy doing things that really don’t promote fundraising. Over the years the thing that I’ve learned is you can’t raise money sitting behind a desk.
Eddie: Isn’t that the truth? That is absolutely true.
Sid: I know a lot of people that have tried. The end result of that generally is the same.
Eddie: I think what happens too, Sid, is that maybe we don’t feel prepared or afraid of being rejected. There’s a lot of excuses we can offer but there are very few reasons. We need to be out seeing the folks, that’s where money is raised.
Sid: You know, it’s interesting, I had the pleasure for 14 years to be a part of the faculty at the Madison Institute at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. It’s AHP’s premier educational event and in the last few years I was in the major gifts track. I chaired that track for several years. There would be probably 40 to 50 major gift officers from around the country in the room. We would go around and talk about that subject that you just brought up. What are the barriers to that particular person going out and raising money? I think the fear of a “no” probably is number one.
And, number two, they don’t know what to do. I think training, having great organizations like yours and having AHP available to provide training, and the other thing is we would actually sit down and do role playing. I was always amazed at how you start out on Sunday with the class and you’ve got someone who you can tell obviously is timid and shy and you wonder how could they ever raise money. By the end of the week, when they’ve done some actual role playing and you put them in position, they really learned what they need to do. It’s amazing to see the transformation. I think again some folks in our profession are afraid to ask for help. Anybody listening to this I would really encourage that not be your view of this. I learn every day from wonderful clients, from people like Eddie Thompson. I learn something new every day about fundraising. If you need help, you need to ask for it.
Eddie: I did a speech to an international organization 3-4 years ago now and there were 2,700 fundraisers in the room, and I asked how many have ever been trained to solicit. Three raised their hands. We need ongoing refresher courses and getting them past that fear. My dad used to say that I never have the right to assume someone does not want to give, I have the obligation to ask them. I think that makes a difference.
Let me ask you one other question. This is kind of a naughty question, but I think it’s an important question. What mistake or mistakes have you made that you’ve learned from?
Sid: Boy, we don’t have time for all on my list! That’s a thought-provoking question. One of the things that took me a long time to learn is that donors give to meet their needs and not the needs of the organization.
Eddie: I hope people are listening to this! Restate that!
Sid: Again, donors give to meet their needs and not the needs of the organization. I can remember early on, and I’ve got to say I don’t do near as much solicitation now that I’ve gone to the dark side of being a consultant, but early on we all sort of make the mistake of we go in and we sit down with a prospect and the first thing we do is start regurgitating all of our needs to that prospect. We’re almost just throwing up on the person. “Here’s this and we need this and we need that.” We think that is the way to do this because that’s what our CEO told us where the highest priorities and get out there and raise a million dollars for this. It took me a while to really understand what that unfocused stare was looking back at me from some of the donor prospects. This was something that was of no interest.
I’ll give you a great example of this. I ran the fundraising for the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas for seven or eight years back in the late 90s, early 2000s. We dealt primarily in very large major gifts and I’m sure you’ve got folks listening to this that deal primarily in major gifts and I remember one specific instance. We did some research on a particular prospect and we thought we had really lined up a project that this particular prospect would really be interested in, not once realizing that not only was that not true, we weren’t even close. But, we really didn’t take the time to fully understand or listen to that prospect. We went in after literally months of preparation and made an ask of $25 Million to name a particular facility that we were putting in. We had all the right people in the room. We thought it was just magnificent. We went through everything and the donor prospect sat there and listened and watched us, didn’t say anything. I’m thinking to myself what’s going on here and didn’t ask any questions. So, we got to the end and the donor said, “Thank you. Come back to me when you fully understand what I’m interested in supporting.”
Eddie: Oh, wow!
Sid: I will never ever in my life forget that because it brought it full circle that we had not done our homework properly. We had not used the two things on our head that God gave us, which are the best tools of fundraising, which is our ears. We had never really bothered to understand where that donor’s interest, and we were so far off on that ask that donor had no interest in naming them. It’s just a real good lesson in listening. And again, if you want to do something that’s really challenging, and we used to do this at the Madison Institute in the major gifts track, we would have tables available and we would pair off in twos. The challenge was to look at your partner for three minutes and don’t say anything. You would be surprised how hard that is for some people – because again, we are natural pleasers. If the conversation stops or drops, our first instinct is to keep talking rather than let the donor be thoughtful, give their thoughts about what they feel.
That’s probably the biggest mistake that I made and it was a good learning experience. I can tell you that the last part of my career on the side of being the fundraiser, we did a lot of listening. I think that’s what had the success. Jerry Lindsay and Jerry Panas, God rest his soul, used to say “listen the gift,” you can listen the gift from start to finish. They are right! If we’re good listeners, the donor is going to take you right to where the donor is comfortable. That’s a good lesson for all of us to learn.
Eddie: And, we’ve all made that mistake, at least I have. I could tell the stories too. If you want to understand how to be successful in this industry, you need to listen to Sid.
Great comments, Sid. You’re a great professional and you’re somebody I look up to and admire. I really respect you. I appreciate you taking time to be with us today.
Sid: Eddie it’s my pleasure. Good luck to everyone that’s listening. I really enjoy these podcasts, so thank you for inviting me.
Eddie: So, this has been Sid Mallory. He’s a partner with Henderson Mallory Partners out of Austin, Texas, but he travels the country. Sid, we appreciate your time.
We wish you all the very best. We look forward to being with you again on the next podcast.
Sid: Thank you, Eddie.
Sid Mallory was the 2010 recipient of the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy’s Si Seymour Award.