10 Fundraising Lessons Hidden in Popular Romantic Movies

It’s a little-known fact that every film ever produced contains at least one lesson for fundraisers. They are not always easy to spot. (In fact, sometimes those lessons are really well hidden).

Anyway, as a Valentine’s Day “treat” from me to you, here are some of the fundraising quotes and lessons you might have missed from the most popular romantic movies of all time.

Got some suggestions for other films to include on this list? Tweet me (@davidburgessfr) or email me (david.burgess@apollofundraising.com) and I’ll add them!

When Harry Met Sally

Memorable fundraising quote: “Most women at one time or another have faked it”

Moral of the Story: Fundraisers need to be able to tell when someone is genuinely passionate about something and when they are faking it.

While it’s possible your story and ask will be so good you have them screaming out “Oh God, yes!” in the middle of the restaurant, it is more likely that the signals your potential supporter sends out will be a lot more subtle. This means fundraisers need to be able to “listen with all the senses” to pick up all of the messages your prospects are sending.

How does their voice change when they start talking about something that truly matters to them? What was it that made their eyes light up? What are they deliberately not saying?

As a fundraiser, it’s your job to be able to spot these signs and tell when someone is genuinely excited by your work.


Memorable Fundraising Quote: “It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you”

Moral of the Story: If someone loves you with all their heart they will want to help and support you – even after they have gone. They might not be able to take their money with them when they die but leaving a legacy ensures that their love for their favourite people and causes survives. (And leaving a Gift in your Will is an easier way of ensuring your love lives on than having to rely on Whoopi Goldberg to be your messenger).

Notting Hill

Memorable fundraising quote: “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her”

Moral of the Story: Fundraisers often have to build relationships with high-profile prospects. Even if they are not Hollywood A-listers it is not uncommon for fundraisers to feel nervous or intimidated by a potential supporter’s wealth or status. The danger is that they let their nerves get the better of them, making up all kinds of excuses about why they should hold off contacting them or trying to take the relationship forward.

However, like Hugh Grant’s character, fundraisers need to remember that, underneath the wealth, fame and status, these potential supporters are still human. Strip away the money and they have the same emotions, passions and desires as everyone else.

The Notebook

Memorable Fundraising Quotes: “The best love is the kind that awakens the soul; that makes us reach for more; that plants a fire in our hearts and brings peace to our minds.”

Moral of the Story: Just because you have sent your supporter lots of letters (or emails or newsletters…) doesn’t mean that they have read them. And even if they have been received, if your message doesn’t “awaken their soul” or “plant a fire in their hearts” they are probably not going to remember it.


Memorable Fundraising Quotes: “Begin each day as if it were on purpose”

Moral of the Story: While we would like to think that relationships form organically, in fundraising you can’t afford to be so impulsive. When building relationships with potential major donors you need to create a bespoke plan of touchpoints and interactions. These touchpoints should all be designed to help the potential donor know and feel all the things they need to know and feel before they can commit to your cause.

Having a plan also ensures that every contact you have with the potential supporter has a specific purpose, rather than allowing prospects to get caught in an endless pit of directionless cultivation.

Dirty Dancing

Memorable Fundraising Quotes: “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”

Moral of the Story: With many organisations struggling to recruit fundraisers they need to think more carefully about how they upskill their existing staff. For example, if you have talented junior members of your team, don’t keep them sat on the sidelines. Give them their own projects to lead on. Get them in front of supporters. Coach, mentor and support them, creating a safe environment for them to learn from their experiences.

If you give them a chance to show you what they can do the chances are you will see them fly.

(Thanks to Lucy Stone at Rhythmix for suggesting this quote!)

Sliding Doors

Memorable Fundraising Quotes: “I’m a [donor].We don’t say what we want! But we do reserve the right to be pissed off if we don’t get it. It’s the thing that makes us fascinating! And not a little bit scary.”

Moral of the Story: You can ask people what they want, what they like and how they think they will react but there is absolutely no guarantee that they will give you the right answer. This is particularly true when you ask people to give a rational answer about an emotional matter. (“No,  I don’t need you to send me a Thank You for this gift…”). Don’t just listen to what they say – watch how they actually behave.

Thanks to Caroline Harris for these suggestions:

Bridget Jones's Diary

Memorable Fundraising Quotes: “I like you very much. Just as you are.”

Moral of the Story: Our supporters love us for who we are. As fundraisers, we can’t lose sight of what it is about our work that compels people to support us. This means telling a story that is both passionate and authentic to our organisation.

While You Were Sleeping

Memorable Fundraising Quotes: “He would get these far-off looks in his eyes and he would say “Life doesn’t always turn out the way you plan.””

Moral of the Story: Someone can’t be engaged if they are sleeping. If your story is so boring that they’ve switched off it’s time to find a better story.

Thanks to John Holmes for this suggestion:

Love Actually

Memorable Fundraising Quotes: “If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around”

Moral of the Story: Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the grass is greener in someone else’s garden, and that your best prospects are the wealthy people on the other side of the fence. Look for people rich in passion and commitment for your cause – these are the people on who you can depend. These people already know how they feel. It is your job to help that feeling grow, and then inspire them to let their feelings show.

The good news is these people are all around you.

Alternative Moral of the Story: You don’t always get the gift you were expecting.

Happy Valentine's Day!