Do you have enough crazy ideas?

I had a crazy idea.

Crazy ideas are our best and our worst moments.

It was back when I worked at a large national fundraising agency. I’d recently made the move from copywriter to creative director, which means I had frontline role in new business pitches.

And we were pitching a doozy.

It was a large organization. Extremely large and well known. You’ve heard of them, I promise. It was the largest organization we’d ever pursued, by a long shot, part of what we hoped would be a shift from the medium-size nonprofit market to the high end of the market (in size). This was a big deal for us.

And I had an idea.

We’d discovered that they were dramatically over-spending their budget in one area of donor acquisition. And it just happened that area was a specialty of their agency. (Yeah, big shock, right?)

Walden_Thoreau

So to make the point that you shouldn’t make decisions based on what you want to do, we decided to start our pitch meeting with me talking about how excellent the book Walden by Henry David Thoreau is. I would talk about it for a full five minutes, and then I’d hand out copies to everyone in the room.

Then another member of our pitch team would finally challenge me, saying that just because I loved this book doesn’t mean it’s a great choice for everyone… And then we’d pivot to our actual pitch, which was about how we’d have a data-driven approach to decision making that would maximize their revenue, etc., etc.

Here’s the believe-it-or-not part: We actually did this.

And here’s the even more believe-it-or-not part: We won the account!

Looking back, I can’t fathom why my more-experienced colleagues let my idea actually happen. I also can’t fathom how it didn’t scuttle our pitch, which was solid without the Walden bit. But we did it, and it worked (or at least it didn’t shoot us down.)

Which tells us a few things about crazy ideas:

  • It’s good to have crazy ideas. I have a feeling my Walden idea did more to help us understand and focus on the client’s challenge than it did to persuade them.
  • Sometimes it’s good to actually try them out Better in a testing situation than a one-try, win-or-go-home one like this one!
  • It’s hard to tell a good crazy idea from a bad one They all look good, at least for a while.
  • Always try to have a few crazy ideas They can lead to your best work, even if they aren’t so great themselves!

And if you get the chance, read Walden. It really is a wonderful book.


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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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About the blogger

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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