How to destroy a nonprofit organization

Some good, clean fun over at The Agitator, in a post called Let’s Burn Some Donors that asks readers to some up with a plan that will bankrupt a nonprofit they don’t like — but do it in a way that people won’t suspect that’s what they’re up to.

And boy did the ideas come up!

Here are just a few — from the post, from reader comments (plus a few of my own):

  • Stop donor acquisition. It costs money.
  • Pour money into branding.
  • Once someone reaches a certain gift threshold, stop mailing them!
  • Ban channels you don’t like, such as telemarketing, face-to-face or door-to-door fundraising, videos …
  • Get the youngest person in your office to do your design.
  • Make sure your board members review and okay all fundraising messages.
  • Always have multiple calls to action.
  • Don’t thank donors for giving.
  • Don’t send letters longer than one page.
  • Never promote planned gifts — talking about death is so distasteful.
  • Never, ever report back to donors on how their dollars were used. None of their business!

Okay, you probably get the joke: These are things that get proposed — and done — all the time!

By people who we presume to be friends of the organization. Executive directors. Board members. Consultants.

That’s our problem.

Dumb, destructive, silly actions are taken seriously every day in our industry.

Why?

It’s not because it’s impossible to find out what does and doesn’t work. If you want to learn without spending any money, there are hundreds of blogs and free webinars anyone can partake of any time.

If you have a little money, there are books. Conferences. Smart coaches and consultants. Not hiding, not ruinously expensive. Ready for you to put to work right away.

And there are smart professionals who may be ready to join your organization immediately — probably because they work at dumbs organization and are tired of watching them self-destruct!

The problem is a kind of arrogant ignorance. I don’t need to learn anything about fundraising, because my hunches, guesses, and personal preferences are good enough!

Until that changes, we’re going to see otherwise worthy organizations going down in flames. Or limping along ineffectively. Either way, not fully accomplishing their mission — and not really serving their donors.

What can you do about it?

  • Learn as much as you can.
  • Lead your leaders about how it really works.
  • Become a leader who does it right.
  • Don’t work at organizations that refuse to do it right!

If we all do what we can for smart, effective fundraising, we really can change the world!


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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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