I had a wonderful opportunity to see the painting Whistler’s Mother, on temporary exhibit at The Art Institute of Chicago last week.
What a surprise!
I had always envisioned the painting as small, stark and flat.
I. Was. Wrong.
It is a large impressionistic painting full of depth and texture. You can see how big it is from the snapshot I took. But, no photograph will ever convey its richness.
It’s not even called Whistler’s Mother. James McNeill Whistler painted it while he and his mother, Anna, were living in Paris in 1987 (along with the likes of Degas, Monet, and Cassatt) and he named it Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1.
It got me thinking about how easily our imaginations can lead us astray.
How second and third party accounts – including photographs, statistics, and written summaries – can be so totally unreliable. How our own biases and mental filing systems can just simply get things wrong.
It made the case for me – once again – for why it’s so important to meet our donors in person, whenever we possibly can.
How many times have I held a perception of a prospect that was blown out of the water when I actually met them? Too many to count.
That’s the joy of individual fundraising. Getting to know people, allowing them to speak for themselves, and creating partnerships grounded in real understanding.
There is simply no substitute for laying eyes on something — or somebody — ourselves, rather than relying on other sources.
No matter your role in the development function, get yourself out there and meet your donors in person. Ask them what they care about. Get to know their personalities. Listen to what they have to say.
You’ll probably raise more money. Just as importantly, you and your donors will have fun!