Are you dumbing down your fundraising?

It’s common for nonprofits to be frustrated that they have to “dumb down” how they talk about their work. Like any profession, we put a lot of effort, experience, and knowledge into doing the work we do.

And any time you have to explain all that to someone who hasn’t climbed that learning curve — whether it’s your mother or your donors — you clearly see how far their knowledge is from yours.

And if you’ve been involved in fundraising (or talking to mom) for more than a few minutes, you’ve probably noticed that dragging someone up your learning curve ranges from incredibly difficult to futile. Learning is hard work. Teaching is even harder.

The solution is to simplify. Make your complexity easy to understand.

Which can be frustrating. You feel like you’re leaving important things out. You feel like they aren’t getting the whole picture.

Which is why simplifying is often called dumbing down.

Big mistake.

The attitude behind calling clear communication “dumbing down” is arrogant, elitist, and leads to ineffective fundraising. And ineffective fundraising careers.

We aren’t alone in the “dumbing down” challenge. Scientists face it too. Probably more than we do.

Which is what this article in The Brilliant (a magazine for scientists) is about: Scientists, please stop saying ‘dumbing down’. It says the term “dumbing down” should be discouraged by scientists “to the point of extinction”:

The use of this term perpetuates an outdated view in the STEM sector that making complex information more accessible is inherently bad. With the pressing urgency of climate change, we need global engagement and the general public pushing our politicians for fast and lasting change.

So next time someone around you uses the expression “dumbing down”, challenge them to rethink their own biases and to engage with people who aren’t mirrors of themselves.

Like many scientists, we are in the business of changing the world. And we can’t do it alone. We need to bring others along so they can be part of the mission.

If you think of simplifying your work so non-experts as “dumbing down,” your attitude will infect your communication. Your frustration and sneering contempt for your “dumb” donors will prevent making a meaningful connection with allies you need. Because you’ll be missing the whole point of talking about your work outside your organization.

Talking to people who aren’t just like you requires an act of the intellect and the heart. To enter their world, to be relevant to them.

It takes a big heart. It takes an inclusive spirit. And it’s not easy to do.

It’s not “dumbing down” — it’s “smarting up.”


Comments

Leave a Reply

What this blog is about

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.

Blog policies

Subscribe

Get new posts by email:

About the blogger

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.


Archives

Blogroll

Categories


Search the blog

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.

Recent Comments

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.

Blog Roll

someone’s blog