In 1986, American philosopher James Carse introduced the concept of two types of games – finite games and infinite games. Finite games have a winner and loser. Infinite games have no finish line and the goal is to keep the game going as long as possible. More than 33 years later, Simon Sinek gave voice to this philosophy in his leadership touchstone, The Infinite Game.
Even if you haven’t read the book (though I highly recommend that you do), the tenets of it will likely feel like second nature to those of us in fundraising: we over me, progress over perfection and the importance of always keeping an eye on the big picture. To break it down in our industry’s nomenclature, meeting a fundraising goal is a finite thing; building a movement is infinite.
I’ve learned this over and over again throughout my career journey, in big, exciting successes, and quiet, everyday lessons. The secret of my career, in its many iterations, has been relationships. Through relationships, we can learn what isn’t taught academically.
Relationships provide the vivid colour to our sector. Only through building a relationship can we learn why someone is passionate about a cause. We can learn what their values are, what motivates them, and what mark they want to make. Fundraising, particularly in the healthcare sector, is complex. Luckily, I have had exceptional mentors to help me along the way.
Mike Farrell, principal of Philanthropy Coach & Counsel, and former CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation, was an early career mentor to me. Under Mike’s tutelage, I was given a masterclass in major gift fundraising in my first five years in the sector. He gave me the wisdom of decades of his experience working with volunteers and donors. Mike’s acumen, along with other mentors, have helped me write the playbook that I abide by, that help guide me and the teams I have built and led.
I’ve also found inspiring, incredible mentorship in donors. Who better to teach us than the very people and organizations we’re here to serve? Donors and volunteers can teach us from the inside out. Whether someone is donating money or time, we have much to learn from them. This is at the heart of relationships: be open to learning—not just what someone can teach you this week, but lessons you will need in five, 10 or 15 years later in your career.
I’ve also made it a priority to share my learnings. While soaking up every bit of knowledge I can, I also share—a lot—with my donors and volunteers. I want them to be just as all-in on the cause, project and organization as I am, and that doesn’t come with gatekeeping information: it comes with sharing openly, frequently and enthusiastically.
Getting to really know the people behind philanthropic gifts (be it money or time) is the most rewarding part of my work. I get a glimpse into who they are, what they want for their families, and in very special cases, the mark they want to make on the next generation. Their gift becomes a chapter in the family’s book. I get the privilege of seeing this in legacy gifts where families are creating multigenerational plans that reflect their family’s value. Watching children and grandchildren help bring a person’s vision to life, and helping them make it their own, is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever had the honour of supporting. When a passionate donor says, “I want to help change the world in this way,” we as fundraisers are there to help make that happen, to connect them to the mission. How magical is that?
It is only by building deep and meaningful relationships that we can do this work, to truly understand someone’s ‘why.’
This is the Infinite Game at work in fundraising. Every time I invest in a relationship in a real and meaningful way, I deepen that relationship, knowing that it is always changing and evolving. One can’t play the Infinite Game without having a growth mindset, that is open to curiosity, experimentation and, yes, occasionally, failure.
I’ve led with curiosity across my entire career. Before I pivoted to fundraising, I was in communications – a discourse built on staying curious. I’m always looking for inspiration and new ways of approaching my work. That means knowing that my relationships will far outlast one particular gift, or one campaign. For me, staying curious also means continually evolving my skillset, as a professional, as a leader, and as a mom (my hardest job). Owning this mindset also helps me keep a wider lens on my career.
I hope you own it, too.
Megan Tregunno, CFRE is Vice President, Philanthropy at CAMH Foundation. With a career focused on advancing equity through philanthropy, she spent the last decade in an academic healthcare environment. Megan held numerous executive roles with Women’s College Hospital Foundation, including leading both the major gifts and marketing and communications teams. Most notably, she led the campaign operations to build Canada’s first and only fully outpatient, academic research hospital focused on revolutionizing healthcare for women and pursuing health equity for all. In her most recent role as Vice President, Chief Advancement Officer, Megan inspired a team of major gift fundraisers, board and community volunteers, while helping the Foundation to establish its expertise in engaging women in philanthropy, double its annual revenues year after year and establish best-in-class strategic partnerships.
Megan was named an inaugural “Top 40 Under 40” recipient with the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.
She’s an active member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) and previously led the Education and Marketing & Communications portfolios on the Board of Directors for AFP (Golden Horseshoe Chapter). She is also an instructor with AFP’s Fundamentals of Fundraising program and is a sought after fundraising speaker by organizations such as the Association for Healthcare Philanthropy.