Mindfulness Presence Spirituality In Fundraising

November 6, 2006       Marla Nobles      

What happens when you combine an Ivy League-bred discipline, the process of a musical genre, and traditional martial arts?     

On the grounds that the practice of fundraising is as much a strategic process as it is a spiritual one, Mitchell A. Gordon, founder and president of Circle of Humanity, pulled from an assortment of disciplines when laying the foundation for the art of negotiations between fundraisers and potential donors. That foundation included not just the works of leading negotiators; it spanned Harvard Business School’s Harvard Negotiation Insight Initiative (HNII), techniques of jazz improvisation, and aikijujutsu, a martial art used in conflict resolution.     

While speaking at the 2006 Blackbaud Conference for Nonprofits, held in Charleston, S.C., during the session entitled Getting to Giving – The Tools of Negotiation in Development, Gordon defined negotiation as the art of “letting the other guy get your way,” borrowing a phrase coined by Harvard Business School Professor and master negotiator James K. Sebenius.     

“First there was the theory of principled negotiation, which is said to separate the people from the problem,” said Gordon, who referenced Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving in, published in 1983. “But what if the people are the problem?,” continued Gordon, who said he then turned to Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.     

Gordon also tapped into his background: A longtime martial arts enthusiast, he knows the values of aikido and aikijujutsu (“absorb the attack, not resist.”). Gordon is also a professional jazz musician, and has served as a panelist at the Harvard Program on Negotiation (PON) conference on Improv and Negotiation, and has helped bring the values of jazz improv to litigation — and now to fundraising.     

The five key considerations to getting to giving, said Gordon, are the context of the discussion, preparation (“you can never prepare enough for negotiation.”), conflict, and the negotiation itself, both principled (explanation to come) and positional (the two negotiators start at different positions in a bargaining range and compromise toward the middle).     

Another important consideration is the difference between intention and impact. “What you intend is not necessarily the impact,” said Gordon, who gave the example of the email medium, through which messages often are misconstrued. “Intentions matter. But other people’s intentions are invisible to us, so we make up attributions about their intentions based on the impact on us,” said Gordon. “We often assume the worst.”

Gordon then offered the four basic points of conflict resolution: separate the people from the problem; focus on interests, not positions; invent options for mutual gain; and insist on using objective criteria. Applied to fundraising, those four are modified: help the people see the problem – and find solutions; focus on donors’ interests; invent options for meeting donors’ interests and the most effective methods of giving (mutual gain); and keep donors involved, informed and interested.     

The five core emotional interests at work in relationships include autonomy, affiliation, appreciation, status and role. To best appeal to these interests, Gordon delved deeper into the notion of principled negotiation, a cooperative and ethical approach to negotiation.     

Gordon described the seven key elements of principled negotiation as “value neutral labels that identify and describe the components of all negotiation.” These include:

— Interests – The needs, concerns, goals, hopes and fears that motivate us to     negotiate. — Options – All of the possible ways in which the interests of the parties may be met     by agreement. — Criteria – What we use to legitimize our perspective (our interests and/or options). — Alternatives – All of the possible ways that we can meet our individual interests by     ourselves or with a third party without requiring the agreement of our counterpart. — Commitments – Oral or written confirmation about what a party will or won’t do. — Communication – Exchange of thoughts, messages or information. — Relationship – The state of connection between two or more parties.


“You must engage with what donors or prospects are really thinking and feeling, not just with what they’re saying,” said Gordon, who likened a conversation to a glacier. “What really happened is the tip of the ice berg,” said Gordon. Hidden beneath the sea are feelings (what do we do with the strong feelings we have?) and identity (what does this say about me?).     

Finally, said Gordon, “You have to help (donors) come over to your ‘ladder’ and you also have to climb or, in other words, understand theirs.”