Well, I’ve realised it’s because of my father. Ten minutes in his company and you’d realise where I get it from.
Both my parents were born in Hungary, you see. And my father in particular peppers conversation with his translations of colourful Hungarian proverbs at most opportunities.
So here are some favourites, all of which are applicable to the charity sector:
You cannot shoot a sparrow with a cannon!
Ágyúval nem lehet verebet lőni
How often do we invent overblown solutions to incidental issues?
This is the Hungarian version of the English saying involving a sledgehammer and a nut, but I think the Hungarians say it better, especially because the sparrow is quite likely to avoid the cannon ball. We need to be leaner, more agile, and think more strategically. Let’s focus on finding the right tools to solve our most important problems.
He wants to be a spoon in every soup!
Minden lében kanál
This expression colourfully describes someone who likes to get involved in everything. Know anybody like that?
We need to guard against our tendency to involve ourselves in too many different projects. It’s so tempting, particularly for smaller charities, to engage in every type of fundraising activity they come across. We need to guard against this, because we are unlikely to do any of them well. We need to be more strategic. Let’s choose the soup we want for a particular meal and relish it!
‘You have a big head!’ says the owl to the sparrow.
Bagoly mondja verébnek, hogy nagyfejű
I much prefer this expression to the English pots and kettles equivalent, which I’ve never really understood. Why would they necessarily be black, anyway?
And do we have a tendency in the charity sector to be able to focus more clearly on the problems and issues facing other charities, while not being able to recognise our own? Let’s remember the owl and the sparrow, and be less hypocritical.
What happens when you crack a whip? It only makes a cracking noise when the ‘wave’ reaches the tip, doesn’t it?
Sometimes, I think, we are guilty of assessing the viability of our campaigns too soon, and so we don’t get a proper picture of what has happened. And how often do we impatiently ask for money too soon, either blowing our opportunity, or receiving a much smaller donation than might have been possible?
Let’s think of the whip crack, and get the timing right.
You can’t sit on two horses with one backside
Nem lehet egy seggel két lovon lovagolni!
This is my favourite. My father uses it regularly, usually to berate me for hedging my bets in conversation, and not being as clear as he’d like. Sitting on two horses is a handy metaphor for trying to do two different things at the same time (and failing at both).
And I think there is great relevance to charities in this. How often do we, too, hedge our bets, and confuse our supporters with more than one proposition? We put Christmas card leaflets in with appeal letters. We confuse newsletters and thank yous with requests for further support. Let’s remember to go on one horse on each journey, because we only have one backside.
So there you have it. Hungarian wisdom does have relevance to us in charities.