The false path to fundraising innovation and success

Here’s a real-life cautionary tale from the Passionate Giving blog: How To Love “The Same Old Thing” in Major Gifts.

I hope you’ll go read the post for the details, but here’s the outline: Richard made a big mistake. He hired some super-cool consultants to do a fundraising project. The super-cool consultants didn’t know anything about fundraising, but they were confident, and they promised the moon and stars. More important, they promised that this project would not be the same old same-old. Unlike all the other fundraising projects, this one would be cool and exciting. Breakthrough. Different.

Of course, as always happens in cases like this, it didn’t work. The super-cool consultants didn’t know what they were doing, and their ignorance proved disastrous. They ducked out, leaving Richard and his organization holding the bag.

Richard thought a lot about this painful incident, and eventually came to some insight about it:

I later discovered … that my core motivation in making the decision was to lift myself up vs. actually getting anything accomplished. I used the organization’s money and goodwill to shore up a very damaged self-image. And in the process I caused harm to the organization and myself.

How often do we make decisions like that? To use our budgets and missions to make ourselves look and feel good?

Failure often comes from our need for glory that we perceive will come when we do something different and exciting.

The glory that matters — doing your job right — isn’t so exciting. As Richard put it:

There is no silver bullet. None. Nowhere. Stop looking for one. There is no grand strategy, innovative scheme, wonderful approach or something yet undiscovered that will make you successful. You will NOT discover it because it isn’t there.

Success in fundraising comes from diligently pursuing the stuff that works. Watching the numbers. Not making errors. Caring about donors.

When you do that, not only do you raise more money and waste less time, but exciting innovations actually do happen. They aren’t pulse-pounding flashes of excitement like you want, but you realize one day that what you’re doing now is light-years beyond what you were doing a few years ago.

And you’ve been raising more money all along the way. I’d rather tell me grandkids about that than that I made lots of ego-driven mistakes that hurt my cause. Wouldn’t you?


Comments

2 responses to “The false path to fundraising innovation and success”

  1. I love this post, and the original article. As a fundraising consultant myself, let me first say we are not all evil (said in sinister megalomaniacal voice).
    Lately I’ve been having some interesting discussions with potential clients in which I am essentially convincing them they don’t need our firm — they need instead to polish their case for support and ask more specifically and directly for gifts. It is a strange dynamic.
    The thing is, you should run screaming from anyone who tells you that increased fundraising performance will be easy, or free, or the result of some new technology/collateral/framework/whitepaper/conference. In my experience increased fundraising comes from solid cases for support backed up by demonstrable impact, both of which are personally conveyed by passionate and informed advocates.
    I would add one friendly amendment, which is I do think there is a silver bullet: IMPACT. Actually showing you can make a difference is the magic powder (and no, the amount of money you raise is not the same thing as impact). But it is elusive indeed. What change are you creating with the funds entrusted to you by your donors?

  2. I love this post, and the original article. As a fundraising consultant myself, let me first say we are not all evil (said in sinister megalomaniacal voice).
    Lately I’ve been having some interesting discussions with potential clients in which I am essentially convincing them they don’t need our firm — they need instead to polish their case for support and ask more specifically and directly for gifts. It is a strange dynamic.
    The thing is, you should run screaming from anyone who tells you that increased fundraising performance will be easy, or free, or the result of some new technology/collateral/framework/whitepaper/conference. In my experience increased fundraising comes from solid cases for support backed up by demonstrable impact, both of which are personally conveyed by passionate and informed advocates.
    I would add one friendly amendment, which is I do think there is a silver bullet: IMPACT. Actually showing you can make a difference is the magic powder (and no, the amount of money you raise is not the same thing as impact). But it is elusive indeed. What change are you creating with the funds entrusted to you by your donors?

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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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