When getting helps hurts your fundraising

Most people want to be helpful. That’s the good news.

The bad news is many people are so eager to be helpful, they’ll do their best, even when they don’t have much to offer.

If you asked a toddler to push your car up the street while you steer, most toddlers would happily jump in. But they just aren’t equipped to do what you need. And things would go quite wrong if they tried!

This is why getting fundraising advice from someone untrained in fundraising can lead you so far astray. Because as much as they intend to be helpful, they just aren’t able to help. They are intelligent, wonderful people. Quite likely expert in one or more areas…

But they don’t have any knowledge about fundraising — especially the many counterintuitive truths that lie like landmines all over our professional landscape.

Here’s a helpful advice from the Publication Coach Blog, at What to do when critiques become dangerous. It’s aimed at book authors, but it fits fundraisers very well:

Never make revisions based on advice from someone who doesn’t know your genre. Beware the Dunning-Kruger effect. (That’s where the most confident people are often the most ignorant on the subject.)

People often talk about the Dunning-Kruger effect like it’s the explanation for the nonsense your loudmouth political opponents keep spouting. Or even some kind of character defect.

It’s not. Everyone is subject to it, including you and me. And people you really like and respect and know to be helpful.

But when you don’t have a body of knowledge and you’re asked to give your opinion, any decent person will do their best to help. Even if it’s not at all helpful.

Sometimes asking a non-expert for their opinion is a courtesy. Or a political necessity. You just have to do it.

Taking their advice is on you.


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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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