Love: The Heart of Fundraising

About three years ago my life was crumbling.  My marriage was over, I was trapped in a job I didn’t love, was working insane hours for a very difficult person and it was taking everything I had to hold it all together – for me and for my two kids.  I was laying up in bed at night crying my eyes out and praying for some glimmer of hope or sign to point me in a new direction.  My bucket wasn’t just empty, it had holes it in that seemed beyond repair.

I really couldn’t understand how everything I had worked so hard for seemed to be falling apart – I felt like a complete and utter failure; was my life over?  I was invited by a friend to sit in on her Board retreat to observe the facilitator.  I was mildly receptive to the invitation. I figured I had nothing better to do; I was feeling very cynical, and basically just went in on autopilot ready to be as critical and harsh as possible. I was closed.  As I sat there, I watched a very skilled fellow professional fundraiser talk about this work and what it means. I was challenged in a way that was unfamiliar.  And I was pissed.  I was being asked to think about my story of self, about why I do this work, what it means to me and how it feels – I was NOT being taught the finer details of Board governance, or how to make the perfect ask.  I was being asked to take money OUT of the center of the equation/conversation and think about how giving is an act of love; and how the work of fundraising is, in fact, about facilitating the movement of resources, yes, but more importantly, it is about love.

Why do I do this work?  Love!?  Yeah right I thought.

Fast forward to six months later and I found myself sitting alone in my house – (kids are at their Dad’s) and I am surfing the web…I find the Course on Exponential Fundraising at the Harvard Kennedy School, taught by that same facilitator, and with a full glass of Pinot Noir, I go ahead and apply online.  Now, I’m a Chico State graduate and the idea that Harvard would look twice at me was laughable at best.  I hit submit.

By this time I was seriously contemplating leaving the nonprofit sector altogether – opening a deli sounded like a good idea.  I make a great sandwich.  The idea that I would be accepted into a Harvard program seemed ridiculous.  Well, the joke was on me.  I got in!

So I came to Cambridge in September 2017 with a relatively open mind, but my heart was still, well, closed.  I found myself in the company of 40 other professionals from all over the world, with different perspectives, struggles and stories…all of my insecurities came out, “Am I smart enough?  Do I have anything of value to say or offer this group?  If I’m quiet maybe no one will know I don’t belong here.”  Yikes!

Our teacher was insisting upon total vulnerability and authenticity..never mind intellect.  She wanted our hearts in the room.  I couldn’t run, and I couldn’t hide.  Ugh.  For 4 days we talked about fundraising, systems entrepreneurship, about adaptive leadership and all of the other Harvard things you can imagine.  AND we also talked a lot about love, and about how to show yourself to another person and about how to tell your story to connect to another.    THAT she said, is what makes things happen – when people connect in real ways, love happens, and then resources move – that she offered, is the heart of fundraising.


Today I completed the program and my second and final week in Cambridge after a full year of distance learning.   I am changed forever.  I have a completely new framework to approach work I DO love in new and unexpected ways.  Why do I do this work?  It IS because of LOVE!   Who knew?!  As I head to the airport soon to go home, I am energized, excited and I am ready to keep trying to change the world, and that work starts with me.  My heart is finally open.  I thought my world was crumbling three years ago, and maybe it was, but now it seems it was just my time to re-imagine my work (and my life) and start again.  THANK GOD!

As we concluded the program today we were asked to write our own version of the Hippocratic oath…in the spirit of transparency and accountability…here’s mine.  What’s yours?

My Oath
Sterrin Bird
May 10, 2018
Harvard Kennedy School of Government

I believe that we are all doing the best we can.  I believe we are all works in progress.

I will strive to really see others and let myself be seen.

I will come from a place of acceptance and invitation in all of my interactions – starting by accepting myself.

I will remember my experiences, my pain, my joy and my challenges – I will hold them and own them as uniquely mine.  Knowing that everyone has stories; I will share my stories freely and with implicit trust (and humor) to make space for others to do the same.

I will create connections – share my connections and share my resources and knowledge with others without reservation.

I will not be ashamed to say “no, I don’t know, or I don’t know how” and I will be willing to reach out and ask for help, perspective and support when I need it.

I will try to remember that I am enough, there is enough and that if I come from a place of gratitude and acceptance of myself and others that I am inviting LOVE to expand around me.

I will remember that issues divide us and values unite us and work in all of my interactions to find shared values.

I will share the truth of my lived experience with my children and help them learn to live their truth and tell their stories so that they can live in a place of gratitude, connection and in community with others.

I promise I will never give up.

By | 2018-05-10T17:22:41+00:00 May 10th, 2018|Uncategorized|13 Comments


  1. Chiara May 10, 2018 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    Love is from the infinite, and will remain until eternity.
    The seeker of love escapes the chains of birth and death.
    Tomorrow, when resurrection comes,
    The heart that is not in love will fail the test.

    From Thief of Sleep
    by Shahram Shiva

  2. Katie Somple May 10, 2018 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    Lovely foundation, Sterrin.

  3. Todd Young May 10, 2018 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Such grace! You are a gem.

  4. Sarah Kelly May 10, 2018 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    Sterrin, this was so amazing to read. It was so honest and open and inspiring. I love your oath, and need to write my own. Congrats and thank you!

  5. nicole ariola May 10, 2018 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    this is amazing, Sterin.
    we need to catch up, I am transitioning to non-profit now, Utilizing my skills to make money for more tha just me and for things i Love.. Just this week I created a mini education game plan. super excited, especially, after reading this. Totally inspired. THANK YOU.

  6. Chris H May 10, 2018 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    Inspiring. Congratulations to you, T & M! Onward on your exciting journey. Cant wait to hear what’s next.

  7. Sherri Shaner May 10, 2018 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    I am going through some similar searching and this post really resonated with me. Thank you for sharing.

  8. Joan May 11, 2018 at 7:19 am - Reply

    Thanks for such an inspiring reflection, Sterrin!

  9. Mary Chigos May 11, 2018 at 8:08 am - Reply

    Beautiful Sterrin! Thank you for sharing such a profound experience. I would love to hear more face to face! So proud of you! You are a gift to your children🎉

  10. Catharine Williams May 11, 2018 at 9:18 am - Reply

    I applaud your vulnerability and your willingness to go to new places . It is only through that kind of exploration that we move FORWARD… in love … in life. Spread your message everywhere , it’s beautiful and inspiring !

  11. Lynda Tolley May 11, 2018 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Happy Mothers Day Sterrin! You inspire those that you touch. Truly empowering to be a mom which is the epitome of real impact in our world. Thanks for sharing!

  12. Mary Gooch May 12, 2018 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    I really liked it mommy it looks great!!!!!!!!!I LOVE ❤️ YOU SOOOOO MUCH 🤗

  13. Allison May 13, 2018 at 1:49 pm - Reply

    This is so beautiful. May you stay this open. Who knows what might come on in? xox

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