Fundraising lessons from “Gilligan’s Island”

Gilligan
When I was a kid, I loved one of the dumbest TV shows ever created: Gilligan’s Island.

In case you don’t know the premise of the show, there wasn’t much to it: a boat with a group of suspiciously varied archetypal passengers was wrecked on an uninhabited island. Every program involved their attempts to get off the island. Most episodes, they almost made it — but something would go wrong.

With such a diversity of people you’d think they’d have what it took to get them off the island.

Those wacky castaways were a lot like us fundraisers. We think some magic ingredient is going to take us where we want to go…

  • Having tons of money like Mr. and Mrs. Howell is helpful, but it doesn’t get you off the island.
  • Being famous like Ginger is a real asset, but it doesn’t get you off the island.
  • Being smart like the Professor is great, but it doesn’t get you off the island.
  • Being super nice like Mary Ann is a very good thing, but it doesn’t get you off the island.
  • Having leadership skills like the Captain comes in handy, but it doesn’t get you off the island.
  • Even being a lovable goofball, the star of the show, doesn’t get you there. You’re still stuck on the island.

For the Gilligan’s Island folks, all that great stuff just added up to a series of wacky failures. One big fatally flawed scheme after another that kept them on the island.

Here’s how you get off the island:

  • Show up every day.
  • Use all your tools and all your gifts.
  • Have lots of small ideas (ten small successes can get you off the island).
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Be willing to pay for help.

Do all that, and you’ll find that your great qualities or magic ingredients will produce exciting results from time to time.

The real progress — it always happens in incremental, un-wacky ways. Not as entertaining as the misadventures on Gilligan’s Island, but I think you can live with that.

(This post first appeared on April 14, 2011.)


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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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