How personal opinions destroy fundraising effectiveness

Seth Godin asked a question I wish would be widely asked within nonprofit organizations: Is everyone entitled to their opinion?

In the consensus-heavy world of nonprofits, a lot of people’s opinions are sought and valued. This is probably one of the most destructive forces in our industry.

As Seth notes, not everyone’s opinion is valuable:

If you’re working in Accounts Payable and you hate the company’s new logo, the people who created it should and must ignore your opinion. It just doesn’t matter to anyone but you.

I know you don’t like cilantro, but whether or not you like it is not extensible to the population at large.

Some people’s opinions are positively deadly.

I once worked with an organization that asked everyone to weigh in on their fundraising. One of the most vocal and opinionated people was the receptionist. She had no particular insight or knowledge about fundraising or their donors. In fact, she was profoundly ignorant and consistently wrong in her strongly held opinions. But she kept getting asked, and she always had something to say.

Through the changes she forced on their fundraising, this receptionist probably cost her employer several thousands dollars a week in lost revenue. In fact, if you added the lost revenue to her salary, she was probably pulling down a good seven figures annually. That’s an expensive receptionist.

Just because someone works in your organization and is dedicated, valuable, admirable, or nice doesn’t meant they have one useful or helpful thing to say about fundraising. Just because someone holds strong opinions about fundraising doesn’t mean they know what they’re talking about. And hardly anyone’s personal likes and dislikes should translate into guidance for what’s the right way to do anything.

Listen to those who can back their opinions with knowledge and experience. Find a different way to value and respect everyone else. The purpose of fundraising is to raise funds, not to be a creative outlet for your staff.


Comments

10 responses to “How personal opinions destroy fundraising effectiveness”

  1. Jeff – This is great advice!
    Of course we, as nonprofits, want to create a team environment in the office, but we’ve segmented our roles and responsibilities for a reason!
    Let those who have a knack for directing first impressions, direct those impressions. Let those who have case-management skills, manage, inspire, and encourage the clients we serve. And let those who have experience in fundraising lead the team in creating systems of storytelling that invite people into the work that we love!

  2. Jeff – This is great advice!
    Of course we, as nonprofits, want to create a team environment in the office, but we’ve segmented our roles and responsibilities for a reason!
    Let those who have a knack for directing first impressions, direct those impressions. Let those who have case-management skills, manage, inspire, and encourage the clients we serve. And let those who have experience in fundraising lead the team in creating systems of storytelling that invite people into the work that we love!

  3. Thanks a lot for the post Jeff. It’s definitely a thought-provoking piece. I agree that some are more qualified to weigh in or lead certain initiatives, but I’m struggling with the distinction between listening to an opinion and following each opinion giver’s advice.
    It seems to me that creating an environment where opinions can be freely shared can be very beneficial, even if it is not within someone’s job description to do so. However, the decision to follow an opinion should be weighed and considered given the facts of the situation. Sure, some are more qualified. But some of the most innovative and unique ideas can come from those that aren’t mired in the day to day of a given initiative and can view it with fresh eyes.
    Again, thanks for sharing this post. Very thought-provoking for me.

  4. Thanks a lot for the post Jeff. It’s definitely a thought-provoking piece. I agree that some are more qualified to weigh in or lead certain initiatives, but I’m struggling with the distinction between listening to an opinion and following each opinion giver’s advice.
    It seems to me that creating an environment where opinions can be freely shared can be very beneficial, even if it is not within someone’s job description to do so. However, the decision to follow an opinion should be weighed and considered given the facts of the situation. Sure, some are more qualified. But some of the most innovative and unique ideas can come from those that aren’t mired in the day to day of a given initiative and can view it with fresh eyes.
    Again, thanks for sharing this post. Very thought-provoking for me.

  5. Amen. Used to work for someone whose motto was “opinion above knowledge”. It was sort of a joke, but… not really. It prompted me to blog on the subject, noting that to improve our fundraising and marketing communications we need to get inside the hearts and minds of our constituents..http://clairification.blogspot.com/2011/10/opinion-above-knowledge-common_24.html
    I might add, however, that sometime a receptionist could have a more informed take on what our constituents care about than perhaps those in executive management. We often get trapped in old ways of thinking, especially if we’ve been around awhile.
    Here’s what we know:
    (1) People outside our organization DON’T think about it like we, our boss or our board do;
    (2) We care more about our organization than our constituents do, and assume everyone else cares the same way we do;
    (3) Advice acquired from random consultants and pundits is not the same as knowledge acquired from our 99%;
    (4) Knowledge sourced directly from our constituents, via social media, is the best way to get a direct, real time, up-to-date read on what our community cares about and values
    (5)We may be doomed to continue to put one bad foot in front of the next if we continue down the road of unsubstantiated opinion (anecdotes don’t count) above knowledge.

  6. Amen. Used to work for someone whose motto was “opinion above knowledge”. It was sort of a joke, but… not really. It prompted me to blog on the subject, noting that to improve our fundraising and marketing communications we need to get inside the hearts and minds of our constituents..http://clairification.blogspot.com/2011/10/opinion-above-knowledge-common_24.html
    I might add, however, that sometime a receptionist could have a more informed take on what our constituents care about than perhaps those in executive management. We often get trapped in old ways of thinking, especially if we’ve been around awhile.
    Here’s what we know:
    (1) People outside our organization DON’T think about it like we, our boss or our board do;
    (2) We care more about our organization than our constituents do, and assume everyone else cares the same way we do;
    (3) Advice acquired from random consultants and pundits is not the same as knowledge acquired from our 99%;
    (4) Knowledge sourced directly from our constituents, via social media, is the best way to get a direct, real time, up-to-date read on what our community cares about and values
    (5)We may be doomed to continue to put one bad foot in front of the next if we continue down the road of unsubstantiated opinion (anecdotes don’t count) above knowledge.

  7. One of our clients used to ask their gardener what he thought of creative work. He used to preface all comments with “I don’t give to charity but…”
    It was presented to us as a challenge. If we crack him, we can crack everyone.
    We never cracked him. Even when we did what he wanted.
    We don’t work with them any longer.

  8. One of our clients used to ask their gardener what he thought of creative work. He used to preface all comments with “I don’t give to charity but…”
    It was presented to us as a challenge. If we crack him, we can crack everyone.
    We never cracked him. Even when we did what he wanted.
    We don’t work with them any longer.

  9. I find the original argument in this thread to lack substance. Aside from the fact that no information was given as to how said receptionist cost the organization “thousands of dollars”, or how that figure was estimated, the argument provides a fundamental contradiction. IF “…the people who created it should and must ignore your opinion. It just doesn’t matter to anyone but you.” is true, THEN the following is not true: “Some people’s opinions are positively deadly.” And vice versa. I appreciate your argument, and understand how it could work, but without supporting evidence your post is also just another opinion.

  10. I find the original argument in this thread to lack substance. Aside from the fact that no information was given as to how said receptionist cost the organization “thousands of dollars”, or how that figure was estimated, the argument provides a fundamental contradiction. IF “…the people who created it should and must ignore your opinion. It just doesn’t matter to anyone but you.” is true, THEN the following is not true: “Some people’s opinions are positively deadly.” And vice versa. I appreciate your argument, and understand how it could work, but without supporting evidence your post is also just another opinion.

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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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