9 Things I Wish I Had Figured Out Sooner
Here are some things about fundraising I've discovered along the way that I really wish I'd known earlier.
1. It's ready, aim, fire — in that order
Some people call working without planning ahead a "bias for action." I used to think that. I thought "ready, fire, aim" was a cool way to work. Then I noticed something. Just about every time you fire before you aim, you miss your target. You have to keep trying, over and over, until by dumb luck you hit it — and by that time you're so tired and demoralized from repeated failure that your work is bad. As often as not, you just run out of ammunition and end up never getting the job done at all.
So here's what I've learned: For every project you do, make the first step planning. Really figure it out. Then put it in writing, and get everyone with a voice in the project to agree to the plan before work starts.
This isn't easy, because it requires concentration and some abstract thinking. But "I'll know it when I see it" is a lazy, sloppy way to work. It usually sucks all the life, energy and effectiveness out of a project. And it takes a lot longer.
2. Focus groups can make you stupid
I love observing focus groups. Sitting in that room behind the big one-way window, eating snacks, trying not to laugh too loud. It's great fun. And I love the things people say. It can be very enlightening.
There's just one big problem with focus groups. You find out what people say, not what they do in real life. You hear their opinions, spoken out loud in a social setting. That's not an accurate predictor of how they (or anyone) is going to respond in the marketplace. So if your focus groups loved your new brand or your exciting concept, that doesn't mean it's going sell in direct mail, e-mail or anywhere else. If you make major decisions solely on the input from focus groups, you are making serious mistakes that are likely to cost you big. It's the same with survey research. Use focus groups to generate ideas and get a sense for the ways people talk about your issues. If you want information you can really count on, test your ideas in real-life response situations.