I can hear you already, “Ballroom dancing?! What does ballroom dancing have to do with fundraising?”

First, as a life coach, I help people define success in all areas of their life, not just their jobs. So naturally, while you’re reading tips on this blog, I’m hoping they will impact your other relationships. Doing something that doesn’t seem directly related to your profession expands your horizons and frame of reference.

But ballroom dancing does have some fascinating lessons.

  • Somebody has to Lead

    Most of us live in countries obsessed with egalitarianism. The good message of “we all have infinite potential” quickly gets interpreted as “none of us is special.” Leading in that environment can be tough.

    Ballroom dancing forces one partner (usually the man) to lead without apology. Being in a place of expected leadership helps you be more assumptive in your relationships on and off the ballroom dance floor.

  • Somebody has to Follow

    If leading is hard in our cultures, following can be challenging too. Most of us resist following. We want to object, to drag our heels, to show we can’t be pushed around.

    Not so on the dance floor. The role of the non-leading partner is to follow the leader. And do it with grace, style, and panache. Even when the leader is wrong.

    And in any relationship, including fundraising, we find it’s just as important to know how to follow as it is how to lead. Some even say you’re not a safe leader until you know how to be a strong follower.

  • Communicate Without Talking

    I’ve heard people say that up to 90% of communication is nonverbal. Isn’t it odd that most fundraising training focuses on writing and speaking?

    Watch an experienced ballroom dancing couple and you’ll see loads of communication but very few words. They communicate through the position of their hands, arms, and body. It’s a beautiful sight to behold.

    Communicating without talking is a skill we desperately need. Fundraising really should be more about listening, not just to the donor’s words but to their other cues as well.

  • Listening to the music in the background

    All that the steps a ballroom dancing couple needs to take are regulated by the music in the background. But there’s so much that pushes that music to the background:

    • mentally counting steps (“1-2-3, 1-2-3”),
    • focusing on arm position,
    • remembering to lead with your body not your words,
    • remembering to follow gracefully, keeping off each other’s feet

    But no matter how far in the background it is, the music still controls the dance. If you’re not in rhythm with the music, you’ll keep running into each other and others on the dance floor.

    So too with fundraising, there’s invariably a rhythm, a tempo, a beat to the relationship. It may be set by the organization’s needs or by the donor’s schedule or goals. Wherever it comes from, the skilled fundraiser is able to hear it without letting it get drowned out by everything else pressing on her.

Another thing about good ballroom dancing classes: you have to switch dancing partners very regularly. This feels really weird at first, but after you’ve danced with everyone else in the room, you learn to appreciate your partner so much more! So too with out donors. We can easily get into a rut of only visiting the same donors. Switching it up helps us be more effective, and take the regulars less for granted.

Ballroom dancing is just one example of how something totally unrelated to your work can powerfully inform it.

And if you get lessons, you won’t be embarrassed dancing with your love at the next wedding you attend! 🙂

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