The Heavy Lifts of Fundraising

Seemingly random events earlier in our lives actually serve as omens for what we will encounter the rest of our lives. For me, it was piano moving.

My first well-paying job was as a furniture mover. Before I was in the Army and before I went to college, I was a Teamster.

Any workforce skill you develop will soon be known by family and friends in need of that skill. So, not only did I move furniture during the week, I often helped family and friends move or move pieces of furniture on the weekends and holidays. Indeed, word of my furniture moving skill spread and led to more and more requests from long-lost relatives and all sorts of people claiming to be my friends who I didn’t quite remember that way. Before long, I was getting calls from second cousins twice removed and someone who knew someone who said hello to me when I was in junior high.

In one such instance, I entered a house and met three men in questionable shape standing by a piano. One of the men said, “Here he is. He’s a professional mover.” Then he looked at me, nodded at the piano, and said, “Okay, so what’s the trick?”

“Well,” I said, “We’re going to have to pick it up.” They all looked so disappointed, so deeply disappointed.

I showed them how to use their legs to lift and how to tilt the piano to get through the doorway. I took the lower position when we moved the piano up the ramp and into the truck so I could let most of the weight fall back on me. I showed them how to pad and wrap the piano and secure it against the side of the truck. I showed them how to use a pad to drag the piano to keep the lifting to a minimum – but there’s no way to move a piano without heavy lifting and careful lifting. It’s a precious instrument that needs to be moved with care.

This was the omen that prepared me for fundraising and consulting. People hired me with the hope I would alleviate them of hard work. In fact, I was there to show them how to do the hardest work in the smartest way. What I brought to the equation was strength built of repeated heavy lifting and the experience of knowing how and when to lift.

I’m afraid I disappointed and continue to disappoint those in questionable shape who hope for push-button solutions or those who thought I would alleviate them of heavy lifting.

I’m grateful for the heavy lifting. I’m glad there weren’t easier solutions. Heavy lifting made me stronger and my strength continues to open doors and lead me to worthy partners, to opportunities to serve great purposes and to make differences.

Leaders and organizations who accept and embrace heavy lifting will learn the same.

The Heavy Lifts of Fundraising
  • Committing to building and sustaining relationships over decades
  • Seeing that the long work is not more money but a stronger community of shared purpose
  • Clarifying where money will make a difference
  • Living up to your promises and seeing your commitments through
  • Constantly working the circuit, listening to current and prospective donors, searching for a broader coalition
  • Acknowledging and correcting mistakes
  • Crossing deserts in search of the occasional oasis
  • Realizing that you never arrive, you never have a pat hand
  • Striving to give more to the future than you inherited from the past


Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020. 

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