What happens when you “dumb down” your fundraising

You hear variations of this all the time: everything and everyone is getting dumber and dumber.

A recent example came from longtime Broadway actress Patti Lupone who lamented in public that Broadway plays have dumbed down to reach the audience. (You can read about it here.)

That’s not news, I know. But there’s something important for all of us if we think about what a veteran lamenting the state of things these days. Because we all do it.

And it may be more damaging than we think, as noted by Marketing the Arts to Death, at Patti LuPone’s “Dumbing Down” Comments Insulting:

And it’s not just Patti. Arts professionals everywhere regularly insult the people who pay their salaries by lamenting the ‘dumbing down’ of audiences, criticizing their shortened attention spans, and complaining about having to produce ‘popular’ entertainment to get people to buy tickets. Seldom do these folks venture outside their artsy bubbles long enough to immerse themselves in the lives and cultures of the distracted dummies they so casually disparage.

Fundraisers often struggle with the sense that they have to “dumb down” what their organization does because donors “don’t get it.”

I get it. But it’s a destructive attitude.

Here’s why: You can’t hide your disdain. It’s like a bad smell that you can’t cover up. If you think your donors are dumb or inferior, you’ll show it. Maybe with poor word choices. Maybe with inappropriate offers. Maybe in weak or non-existent thanking.

Few donors will consciously feel insulted or talked down at. But they’ll feel something. And they’ll look for better places to give. Sure, there are always other fish in the sea — replacement donors for the ones you lose. But the sea can get fished-out quicker than you think.

It’s always true that your donors know less about your cause than you do. They aren’t being paid to spend every day thinking about it. Their attitudes aren’t as tuned-in as yours. But that doesn’t keep them from believing, and caring. And giving.

All it does is challenge you to meet them where they are. To be relevant to them. To connect with them. There’s a divide you have to cross, and it isn’t easy.

There’s a phenomenon that happens with teachers. As the years go by, you get a sense that every year the students get worse.

It can cause teachers to despair, to give up hope, to leave the profession. Or to be increasingly bitter and ineffective teachers.

But it’s an illusion. Students aren’t getting worse; you’re getting better. Every year, you have more knowledge, more depth, more practical and philosophical connection with your teaching topic. But every year, you get a whole new crop of students who know little about it. So every year, the gap between the teacher and their students is a bit wider.

It’s the same with fundraisers. We’re paying attention. We know more this year than we did last year. We’ve wrestled with the complexities. We’ve dealt with the controversies.

But the donors aren’t on the same journey. They’re like that new crop of students, who frustratingly haven’t made the progress we’ve made.

The great teachers get that. They turn it to their advantage, and they don’t blame students for being “worse” all the time.

Same with great fundraisers. They reach out to the donors where they are — not where we wish they were. They use their increasing knowledge to be better at reaching out. They don’t worry about the knowledge gap that’s growing between themselves and donors.

If you feel like you’re “dumbing down” your fundraising, you’re doing it wrong.

Think of it instead as growing better at reaching across a gap with kindness and hope in your heart and improving ability to make your complexity understandable to other.

That’s what fundraising can be.


Comments

2 responses to “What happens when you “dumb down” your fundraising”

  1. Oh, Jeff. I felt this one. Thank you for so clearly articulating something that has been bothering me for some time. It’s not just Broadway and fundraising – it’s a pervasive antagonism towards others. THOSE people are the problem. THOSE people are so dumb. If only THOSE people would change.
    Those people are us. You and me.

  2. Oh, Jeff. I felt this one. Thank you for so clearly articulating something that has been bothering me for some time. It’s not just Broadway and fundraising – it’s a pervasive antagonism towards others. THOSE people are the problem. THOSE people are so dumb. If only THOSE people would change.
    Those people are us. You and me.

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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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