Wanted: More Curiosity
Curiosity has arguably been the catalyst for virtually every significant discovery and innovation known to man. Curiosity led one man to a new world. It was the motivation behind another man’s decision to fly a kite during an electrical storm. And it was a curiosity for typefaces that resulted in one of the most innovative companies in the world today—Apple.
Yet, throughout the history of mankind, curious people have been stigmatized as being undisciplined, difficult and disruptive, and even a barrier to normalcy.
How can something so powerful and so vital to arguably everything be frowned upon by so many people? More concerning, is it possible that such stereotypes are actually doing great harm to our industry by discouraging curiosity?
According to a Harris Poll of U.S. workers, the answer is yes. The poll found that less than one in four people described themselves as being curious at work, while two-thirds reported facing barriers to asking more questions. Amazingly, only 10 percent of those surveyed felt as if their employer was “extremely encouraging” of curiosity.
Is it possible that, despite the thirst for new revenue growth and all the rhetoric about the need for more fundraising innovation, nonprofits have less passion and tolerance for curiosity-fueled innovation? Are organizations, whether because of their structures, processes and/or tolerance for risk, limiting inquisitive thinking or the exploration of new thoughts and ideas?
An industry void of curiosity risks falling into a state of complacency with the status quo, a state where ruts become commonplace and people become increasingly comfortable with familiarity and routine. The fact is, for the fundraising industry to sustain revenue growth, we must not only tolerate curiosity, but encourage and reward it—both corporately and individually.
There is a critical need for more innovators and early adopters, just as there is a need for more fast followers of newfound opportunities. This requires that we cast aside any predispositions we may have that curiosity is somehow bad and commit to creating environment that rewards healthy curiosity.
The future of our industry hinges not on what we already know, but rather on the ability to ask the important questions for which there are currently no answers. We must become less comfortable with the known and thrive on our insecurities of the unknown.
Looking around the industry today, you see pockets of curiosity-fueled innovation. It’s the force behind donor-centricity, multichannel, cross-program integration and affinity-based engagements. Curiosity is fueling exploration into how digital media can be used more effectively and broadly in fundraising—not as a replacement for direct mail, but rather how an integrated solution can more effectively and efficiently increase new donor acquisition, mid-level donor engagements and the recruitment of monthly sustainers.
Walt Disney once said, “We can’t afford to look backwards for long, because we need to keep moving forward, opening new doors and trying new things along the way. We need to let our curiosity lead us down new paths.”
Greg Fox is vice president of nonprofit vertical strategy at Merkle. He joined the company in 2000 to establish a data-driven, strategic fundraising agency group. Fox is a 30-year veteran of direct response fundraising, with expertise in developing innovative fundraising marketing strategies and solutions. He has helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars for many of the largest and most respected fundraising brands in America, and while he has broad-based fundraising experience, he is highly regarded as a leader in the national health-charity sector. Prior to joining Merkle, Fox was a founding partner in TheraCom, a leading provider of full-service specialty pharmacy solutions and marketing strategies that served the healthcare and charitable industries. He also served as vice president of direct response fundraising at the National Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, where he started his career and created the organization’s first national direct response program. Fox is an industry thought-leader, frequent speaker at industry conferences and an active participant in the DMA nonprofit federation. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va.