A 5-step formula for coming up with amazing fundraising ideas

Book Review: A Technique for Producing Ideas by James Webb Young

Ideasbook

Fundraisers need ideas. Lots of them.

Ideas for turning your organization’s work into thrilling fundraising offers. Ideas for standing out in crowded mailboxes and inboxes. Ideas for doing more with less.

Successful fundraisers have many ways of discovering and refining ideas.

In super-abbreviated form, here’s a classic, in a little book originally published in 1940 by legendary advertising copywriter James Webb Young:

  1. Gather raw material. Learn everything you can about your topic.
  2. Work over the material in your mind. Think hard about what you’ve learned; really concentrate on what you’ve discovered. But don’t attempt to finalize any ideas you get at this point.
  3. Drop the problem completely. Do something unrelated: listen to music, go for a walk, read a novel. This pushes your search into your unconscious mind, where it can really grow.
  4. An idea will come to you. As if from nowhere, you’ll get an idea. It may seem like magic.
  5. Shaping and develop your idea to practical usefulness. At this point you realize just how raw your amazing new idea is. This is where you connect that raw spark with what you know about fundraising.

It’s not the only way to discover ideas, but it’s a good one that I can vouch for.

Webb has another observation that really helps. It’s about the reading habits of the best idea-people:

Every really good creative person in advertising whom I have ever know has always had two noticeable characteristics. First, there was no subject under the sun in which he could not easily get interested…. Second, he was an extensive browser in all sorts of fields of information.

That is, be generally curious. Don’t read only about your cause or only about fundraising. Learn about interesting stuff, no matter what it’s about. The less related to your needs, the richer and better. Read “useless” things. They’ll enrich your mind and make your fundraising better!

This book is tiny. You can read the whole thing in a sitting. It will pay off quickly!

Available at Amazon.


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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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