They won’t know it when they see it

As a fundraiser, you may have been told by someone who has authority over your work to try again; it’s not right: I’ll know it when I see it.

Maybe you’ve even said it.

You need to know: someone who thinks they’ll know what they’re looking for when they see it won’t. Neither will you. Creativity and innovation don’t work that way.

I’ll know it when I see it is a cop-out — a way to kick the can down the road — used when someone isn’t able to give specific or useful direction.

But more than that, it’s an illusion created by the fact that we see finished, proven projects all the time; we know what they look like — so we think we know good when we see it, right?

Wrong. All you know is what other work looks like. That’s the wrong yardstick for as-to-be-created work.

The best you can do to improve something new is apply the wisdom, principles, and experience you have — brought together by your own creative spark.

The one thing I can guarantee you about your next big success — it won’t look just like something you’ve seen before.

Here are the ingredients for the real successes — the ones you haven’t seen before, the ones that break through:

  • High expectations.
  • Crystal-clear goals.
  • Lots of experience.
  • Passion and commitment.
  • Willingness to take risks.
  • Top-notch skills.
  • A little bit of magic.

These things aren’t foolproof. Anything, no matter how brilliant, can fail. But if you go deeper than I’ll know it when I see it, you’ll have access to real innovation and spectacular successes.


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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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