Making the perfect fundraising ask: Lessons from Obi-Wan, Gandalf, and Morpheus

Universal challenge

           Let’s go to the movies! And when we go, what will we see? If it’s a blockbuster, we’ll often see a similar underlying story. It’s called the hero’s journey. 

           The hero’s journey is a universal story. It’s found across cultures, lands, and times. This universal journey is launched with a challenge. That challenge is the “call to adventure.” The prospective hero must choose:

·      Stay in his small, self-focused, ordinary world, or

·      Go on a costly adventure to impact the larger world. 

           The journey won’t be easy. It will require sacrifice. But there is a hope of victory. Along the way, a guiding sage will help the hero. This sage will introduce the hero to friends, allies, and magical instruments. 

           Ultimately, the hero will prevail. He will return victorious, bringing a gift to enhance his original world.  Through the journey, his original identity will become a new, enhanced identity. Externally, he will be honored. Internally, he will be transformed. 

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About the author

Russell James, J.D., Ph.D., CFP

After more than a quarter century spent as a planned giving fundraiser, an estate planning attorney in private practice, a major gifts fundraiser/college president, and now as a university professor researching charitable giving and fundraising, my focus is to make and share words, pictures, and discoveries that help others to encourage generosity.

My research has been cited in outlets such as The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, U.S. News & World Reports, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg News, ABC News, USA Today, and The Chronicle of Philanthropy. My research methodologies include econometric analysis of large datasets, functional magnetic resonance imaging (neuroimaging), skin conductance response, and online and in-person experiments.

My teaching includes classroom and online graduate instruction, webinars, seminars, educational videos, and keynote presentations at national conferences for fundraisers, financial planners, and estate planners.

My publications have appeared in more than forty different academic journals including Cognitive Neuroscience, Environment & Behavior, Applied Economics, Applied Economics Letters, American Journal of Economics & Sociology, Social Indicators Research, American Review of Public Administration, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, Nonprofit Management and Leadership, International Journal of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Management, Voluntas-International Journal of Voluntary & Nonprofit Organizations, Journal of Financial Counseling & Planning, Financial Services Review, Journal of Personal Finance, Journal for Financial Planning, Journal of Financial Therapy, Ageing & Society, Educational Gerontology, International Journal of Consumer Studies, Journal of Consumer Affairs, Review of Religious Research, The Geneva Papers on Risk & Insurance, Estate Planning & Community Property Law Journal, and UC-Davis Law Review.