That time I wrote a letter to Oprah

Picture me almost 15 years ago, fresh out of university with a degree in women’s studies and a job as the first and only fundraiser for a small women’s shelter.

I was excited (still am), ambitious (still am), and hardworking (still am). I immersed myself in fundraising; attending conferences, workshops and anything else that was low-cost and would help me learn fundraising best practices. I was like a sponge (still am).

I would take all these ideas, my energy and my enthusiasm back to the shelter and no one would get it. You see, they all wanted me to do well, but they didn’t understand fundraising.

For the most part, they let me just do my thing (which is amazing when your staff are ambitious, but dangerous if they’re not). However, sometimes I felt major road blocks. Our fundraising was getting hijacked by management or board members who were well intentioned, but misinformed or misguided.

When we launched a capital campaign for the shelter, the management and board insisted that I write a letter to Oprah, asking for millions of dollars to help the abused women and their children who stay at our shelter.

Can you guess what happened?

This current was too strong for me to swim against, so I wrote the letter.

Can you guess what happened?


We didn’t even get a reply.

Are you surprised?

I see this all the time – and it’s one of the reasons why I created The Good Partnership – people think that just because someone HAS money, they should be giving it to their nonprofit.

But that’s not how it works.

Many small nonprofits are living with this same misconception: that if the big world and the big philanthropists in it only knew about the great work you do, the money would come pouring in.

If this sounds like you, get ready, because I am about to liberate you from this myth. It’s about relationships

What they didn’t understand at the shelter, and what so many small nonprofits fail to understand, is that fundraising is about mobilizing the people who love what you do: the people who are touched by your work and are passionate about it. People rarely give to organizations they don’t know or don’t have a personal relationship with.

Can you guess what made our campaign successful?

It didn’t take a gift from Oprah to reach our goal. Can you guess how I ended up raising the capital we needed for our new building?

By mobilizing our past supporters and existing relationships.

Fundraising in a small organization is a big learning curve for people, especially if there aren’t many low-cost or free resources. It’s so hard to understand how to adapt best practices and make them work and it’s even harder to stand up for those best practices when everyone around you doesn’t believe it will work.

Working at the shelter was a great privilege. As I began to get results, I was given greater autonomy to try out my ideas and we got results. In fact, our fundraising revenues increased on average 22% EACH YEAR. Pretty amazing! All without Oprah.

The Gold Standard

I left the shelter after about 4 years (years which I loved and am forever grateful for) and continued to work in small nonprofits. All that changed about nine years after I left the shelter, when I became the Director of Development at Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto (UofT), the largest fundraising institution in Canada.

UofT could not have been more different from my first job at the shelter. At UofT, there was structure and resources behind everything. They brought in consultants to teach everyone how to be the most effective fundraisers they could be. I realized that I was learning the “Gold Standard”.

How do you apply the Gold Standard in a small shop?

I loved learning all these amazing best practices, but I couldn’t help but think so many of them would just not work in a small shop. Or, not without some adjustment. It just didn’t translate.

When I left UofT to begin consulting, my mission was clear. I wanted to make great fundraising achievable for small organizations, to take the gold standards and translate them to the realities of small organizations.

Operation Major Gifts (OMG fundraising!)

How can you benefit from my learnings? From my experience bridging the “gold standard” with the realities and constraints of small shops?

On March 20 I’m kicking off a FREE 5 day challenge: Operation Major Gifts. In just 5 days (with about 45 minutes a day) you will have a framework and plan for a major gifts program at your small nonprofit.

You’ll even have a list of donors to meet with.

Don’t worry about what your fundraising program looks like today. Start from wherever you are right now. I will guide you every step of the way and am here to help you be successful.

Mark your calendar for March 20 and sign up now. I promise you you’re going to enjoy learning how to mobilize the people who love what you do to make the world a better place!

  • Twitter
  • Facebook Basic Black
  • Black Instagram Icon

The Good Partnership, 401 Richmond St West, suite 353, Toronto, ON M5V 3A8

437-886-6047 |