Watch out for the false disrupters in fundraising

The CD arrived on my front porch and I eagerly tore open the packaging. (Yes, I still listen to music on CDs, at least sometimes!)

It was a new album I was excited to hear (more on that in a bit). I pushed it into the CD player and sat back to enjoy it while going through the “liner notes” in the CD case (remember liner notes?). Right away I came to an essay from a music critic about the recording. It started like this:

Most revolutions fizzle and their forgotten, weak coups disband scarcely before the smoke from the initial blast clears. [This Music], however, will prove itself more dynamic than such lethargic attempts at change as it eloquently questions the rigidities of the musical genre categorization and speaks for itself with irresistible tones of innovation and intensity that allow for no rebuttal from the musical status quo.

You get the idea. Beside being really awful writing, it takes a stance that’s common these days: Everything is broken, outdated, and lame. And only I have the answer!

It’s not just “this is excellent,” or “here’s a good idea,” or “we can do better.” It’s a sort of worship of the Disrupter — the one who reconfigures the established way things are done.

On LinkedIn, thousands of people list their job title as “Disrupter.” Which strikes me as backward thinking: Someone who causes disruption does so not because they’re a Disrupter, but because they came up with something amazing. Disruption is an outcome. Not a goal.

I understand the draw for fundraising. When you look out at the fundraising that’s being done, it’s easy to think everything about fundraising is broken, outdated, and lame. On its face, that’s pretty much true.

But that’s not because nobody has figured out what to do. We actually know a whole lot about how to do amazing fundraising. And most of the innovation and improvements that happens comes in increments, not massive leaps.

So here’s how I think about the situation:

  • A lot of fundraising is bad. Unbelievably bad. I estimate that something like 80% of what’s out there is ineffective.
  • Most of the badness comes from three main sources: Outdated practices that are still being considered best practices, ignorance, and failure to keep up with changes in donor behavior. (There’s a fourth source that’s less common, but important: Outright corruption — typically collusion between printers and nonprofit mailers.)
  • But there’s also a meaningful body of best practices in fundraising that — when followed — almost guarantee success. Many fundraisers are doing it brilliantly.
  • Changing from bad fundraising to good or even great is not all that difficult. There are many people who can help you do that.
  • Bad information is still being pushed as good.
  • But the good stuff is readily available. You just have to apply some discernment and mindfulness to your search for it.
  • The self-conscious “disrupters” in fundraising are often not good sources of the best material. Many are snake-oil peddlers you should stay away from!

Now about the music I told you about at the beginning. It’s really captivating stuff. Check it out.


Comments

2 responses to “Watch out for the false disrupters in fundraising”

  1. Jeff, anyone suggesting that their ideas are disruptive for fundraising hasn’t done their homework – disruptive innovation occurs in mature industries, and it creates jobs and new customers – neither of which we’re seeing much of lately. We’re going to have to do a little more growing up before we’re entitled to disruption.

  2. Jeff, anyone suggesting that their ideas are disruptive for fundraising hasn’t done their homework – disruptive innovation occurs in mature industries, and it creates jobs and new customers – neither of which we’re seeing much of lately. We’re going to have to do a little more growing up before we’re entitled to disruption.

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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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