What is your Decisive Moment?

Many people don’t know this about me, but I was a commercial advertising photographer in New York City early in my career  — well before my foray into the nonprofit world. I made a living taking photographs for national advertisements in collaboration with top advertising agencies and publishers.

It was a great time for sure, for myself and my family. I felt inspired during those years, being around amazing talent and literally working with some of the best Art Directors in history — and I continue to be inspired by one particular photographer — Henri Cartier-Bresson who was and continues to be, at least in my opinion, one of the best photographers to ever walk this earth.

He is simply the best there ever was. He inspired many photographers before me and many after me I am sure. He took photojournalism, and the art of photography itself, to a new level. But what he is most known for is what he coined The Decisive Moment. But rather than me explain what it is, let’s listen to how Henri Cartier-Bresson describes it in an interview with the Washington Post in 1957.

“Photography is not like painting,” Cartier-Bresson told theWashington Post in 1957. “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative,” he said. “Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

It’s that special fraction of a second that is so important. It’s that simple, fleeting moment that when captured makes the picture. The DNA of the photo, the personality of the photo is captured in that decisive moment. Look at Cartier-Bresson’s photography and you will understand that it’s that particular moment in time, not the moment before nor the moment after, that is the critical point in time that matters above all other moments. That moment never existed before and never will exist again. Period.

So what does this have to do with fundraising?? Well, let me assure you there is a correlation.

In fundraising, and in direct response marketing, we often say we need to provide the right message, at the right time, to the right audience, through the right medium. Could there be a more Decisive Moment for fundraisers? Well, for us fundraisers there really isn’t. We thrive on finding that special moment in time that will resonate with our constituents. The moment their heart lines up with our mission. The more we try to construct the magical moment the less likely it will occur. It is serendipity that wins the day more often than not.

So whether you are doing fundraising through direct mail or through the internet or through major gift solicitations, or perhaps all of the above — the magic happens when you actually line up all your efforts to that decisive moment in time that simply works….  you know those times – those times when the personal donor visit and “ask” went exceptionally well, or the direct mail and online appeals hit the homes and resonated with the donor in such a profound way that giving went through the roof, or when the major gift officer worked the moves management process exceptionally well and the results proved it.

Those are the moments we need to strive for.

No, its not easy to say the least. But As Henri Cartier-Bresson did, you must hone your skills and craft over time and develop a keen eye/intuition as he did, for what works at what moment in time. This is the art to the science in fundraising that can’t be overlooked.

See – you are an artist after-all!

Good luck!