Because I live in Japan I feel duty-bound to read as much Ogawa, Murakami, and Ishiguro to help me understand this magical, infuriating, weird, and wonderful country.
So, after three false starts I finished Norwegian Wood (all it took was two flights and two young children plugged into two iPad films).
Norwegian Wood (named after the Beatle’s song) is a beautifully told, simple tale of love, loss and life set in Tokyo during the late sixties. It has a little bit of everything, even fundraising.
Murakami’s mastery of words extends to perfectly capturing the simplicity of the most common donor motivation.
Before I go on, a spoiler alert for the next paragraph. And, an apology to the Murakami purists out there — my reading of Japanese is enough to navigate local supermarkets, road signs and a small percentage of my mail here in Okinawa, but nowhere near enough to handle the original text (nor was I determined enough to locate the original translation by Alfred Birnbaum).
In the passage below, towards the end of the story, the main protagonist, Toru Watanabe, is mourning the death of his elusive love Naoko. He drops out of university and travels around Japan for a month. He is found hungry and exhausted on a beach by a kind young fisherman, who feeds him sushi and sake, and gives him ¥5,000 (worth around £120 in today’s money).
The young fisherman had found Watanabe, fed him and wanted to help him.
With these few words he describes one of the most common donor motivations that flavours, to some extent, every donation:
“It’s not money,” he said, “it’s my feelings. Don’t think about it too much, just take it.”
As fundraisers with pressures to maximise income it’s easy to overthink donations — their implications, their meanings and what comes next.
But often, there is no next. Donations can be “just feelings” a natural act of kindness arising from a shared moment, unlikely to reoccur.
Sometimes it’s best not to think about donations too much. It’s enough to say “thank you” and use the money to buy a train ticket home.
So how can this help in real fundraising life? A recent example from close to home.
My sister runs a small social enterprise called Little Box of Books — it’s a children’s book subscription service that focuses on diverse characters and storylines, so that ALL children can see themselves in the stories they read, regardless of their ability, gender, race or family background.
She has found herself at the crossroads of two of the world’s biggest current issues — parents seeking entertainment for their children during the COVID lockdown and the Black Lives Matter movement.
It only took her a year to get around to reading my book (not that I'm bitter) and she then used the Fundraising Radicals to design and deliver a successful (and stressful, as always) crowdfunding appeal, called Change the Story, which aimed to help diversify the bookshelves of 10,000 schools across the UK.
Her crowdfunding campaign reached its funding target of £55,000. It was taken over the finish line by an unexpected £8,900 anonymous donation.
The individual donor is a good friend of Lynsey's and was nervous about how to thank them — what should she say and how might this change their friendship?
I sent her the Murakami quotation above, told her to be herself, be honest, be grateful and just say thank you.
This idea — that the donation was simply the financial expression of feelings from a friend, that it was a single moment of generosity — helped to take the pressure off the conversation.
Like Watanabe, she thanked her friend and accepted it.