4 Steps to Avoid Fundraising Insanity
In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of two approaches to fundraising practice. I’ll call them the schools of data-nique and incantations.
That’s studying data and learning magic. Both make promises they can’t deliver.
Although data analysis certainly has its uses, when most organizations haven’t even mastered the basics of human interaction (that is reaching out to their investors) endless splicing and regression analyses aren’t going to make much of a difference—if any.
Endless white papers flood the Internet with the latest mathematical "solution" to raising money. If being successful is about mastering differential equations and learning code, then most fundraisers are out of luck.
Magic, on the other hand, never works except in fiction or within the confines of a Hollywood script. The siren appeal never dims, however. Recognized fundraising consultants hawk their wares with phrases, such as "nine steps to major gift magic" and "trick your board into raising money." Ugh!
So, how should you practice fundraising? I call it the "four steps." That’s not be confused with the John Buchan espionage novel, "The Thirty-Nine Steps" of Hitchcock-movie fame. (Any other film fans out there?)
The first step is to know the principles. These are the fundamental truisms of fundraising. No amount of wishful thinking, faux diets or pseudo analysis will alter these. Gravity would still be there even if Isaac Newton hadn’t "invented" it. These will never change—ever.
I’ve put a name on these fundraising principles. I call them The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising®. I didn’t invent them.
Mathematicians and philosophers call these "axioms" and a priori laws. Simply stated, everything else depends upon these. Knowing them and applying them is essential for success.
If you don’t know these principles—and work with them—you’ll continually push against them. You’ll always be bracing against the wind and wondering why it’s so hard.
This is where far too many good folks get stuck. They just accept this state of affairs as the "way it is." For them, fundraising is hard and just a little bit scary. Fundraising is the onerous chore, the necessary evil.
Fundraising, in its essence, is a joyful undertaking—for both askers and givers.
At the extreme are those who become so frustrated they blame the donors! We’ve all heard it. "Donors aren't generous." "Donors are too demanding—too directive in their giving."
There’s even a book with the thesis that there should be some sort of self-appointed "board," which directs and compels donors to give to the "worthy" causes. Presumably, the "worthy" causes are those determined by the all-knowing beneficent members of the watchdog board.
This sort of thinking stands logic on its head while belying a total lack of understanding of what motivates people to give in the first place.
The sad truth is many fundraisers simply accept the ongoing struggle and settle for mediocrity even as they seek the end of the rainbow. What a pity.
Second, fundraising practice needs to make rational sense. This is where magic gets us every time. It’s the continual search for the bag of tricks. Some fundraising talking heads spend their entire careers peddling these placebos. And they make a ton of money doing so, all the while proclaiming their services to the "nonprofit" community.
Yes, there is an "art" to fundraising. This art is built upon a firm understanding of human nature, which is amazingly consistent across time and culture. It is the skilled nuance, which comes from emotional maturity and experience. It’s not magic or the secret handshake available by webinar or conference session.
Emotional maturity—and the personal judgment that comes with it—can be encouraged through experience. It can’t be taught or imparted.
This is where the mechanics and data enthusiasts in fundraising falter.
It is ironic that Silicon Valley tech companies, whose very business is built upon technological know-how, routinely screen and hire new employees using a battery of emotional maturity and aptitude tests over technical credentials.
The drive to credentialing will never compensate for a lack of personal maturity and aptitude in a profession that is fundamentally people-to-people.
Third, the words we fundraisers use need to be straightforward and broadly understood. It is the nature of professions to develop their own in-group jargon. Fundraisers are no exception.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Such jargon provides a quick shorthand. And that’s OK. There’s a darker reason, though. By creating an in-house language or code, membership in the secret society is preserved and our perceived importance is raised.
Pseudo-scientific and intellectual double-speak abound. Oh, and the acronyms! Think I’m kidding? Look at the session titles in the program of your typical fundraising conference. Would any reasonably educated person outside of fundraising understand these? Case closed.
Fundraising, as a practice, isn’t complicated. It’s amazingly straightforward. Simply stated, it’s the coming together of two parties with differing resources that want to accomplish a defined goal through shared values.
We love to overcomplicate things, don’t we?
Fourth, we need to tell our stories through the pictures we paint. The word pictures, that is. Metaphors are essential in the practice of fundraising. We deal with the intangible: the values, hopes and dreams of those who invest in our causes and missions. This despite our profession’s preoccupation with money.
The next time you approach a donor, employ a colorful and descriptive metaphor that he or she will understand. You may be amazed with the response. By the way, this works whether you’re communicating face-to-face or through written communications—right down to a text message.
You see, fundraising isn’t complicated. It’s four steps. First, know the principles. Second, make sure it makes sense—human sense, that is. Third, keep it simple. Fourth, connect the dots for others. That’s it!
To your fundraising success!
Larry believes in the power of relationships and the power of philanthropy to create a better place and transform lives.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles. His mission is to give nonprofits and philanthropists alike the opportunity to achieve their shared visions. With more than 25 years of experience in charitable fundraising and philanthropy, Larry knows that financial sustainability and scalability is possible for any nonprofit organization or charitable cause and is dependent on neither size nor resources but instead with the commitment to create a shared vision.
Larry is the author of the award-wining book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising." He is the Association of Fundraising Professionals' 2010 Outstanding Development Executive and has ranked in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the United States by the Wall Street Business Network.
Larry is the creator of the revolutionary online fundraising training platform, The Oracle League.
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