Grow With the Flow
“It’s important to genuinely watch something in order to see what works and what doesn’t,” Ross says in the context of both consulting and managing. “You can learn to adapt good fundraising ideas and discard the bad ones.”
Ross says he learned the value of curiosity from Guy Stringer, former director of Oxfam Great Britain, an international organization that helps improve living conditions for the poor. He once saw Stringer give a speech in which he described observing the wife of a political prisoner in Nepal who would walk every day to the prison to check on her husband’s condition. The prisoner wasn’t allowed to have visitors, but he would signal his wife that he was still alive and well by flying a kite from a prison window.
“Guy was working to have prisoners of conscience freed,” Ross explains. “He didn’t talk about the suppression of free speech or about thousands of people being locked up. He talked about this one guy and his wife having a tender relationship.”
Stringer’s curiosity led him to focus on the individual case that most effectively conveyed the plight of political prisoners to potential donors. In doing so, he also was able to drum up belief in his cause, another quality Ross argues is essential to an effective fundraising campaign.
Which is not to say that all successful campaigns must serve humanitarian ends and depend on socially conscious donors. Ross the idealist thinks of fundraising as a tool for advancing “useful and purposeful” causes such as winning freedom for innocents. But Ross the pragmatist realizes that effective fundraisers can persuade people to believe in almost any cause, from the noble to the frivolous.
Don’t overrate reason
“Donors don’t sit down and ask themselves what are the most rational ways they can give away their money,” he says. “If they did that, we could make a list of goals and start with ending world poverty.”