The Experts Aren't Always Right: On Trusting Your Instincts, Donors
Life turns on a dime.
I was reminded of that one beautiful summer day, some 20 years ago. I’m not usually a fan of sticky August weather, but this particular day was exceptional. So I walked the 10 blocks to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. It was weeks from my first child’s due date. I’d only just left my job and was enjoying a delightful pregnancy as my husband and I prepared for our daughter’s birth.
I was scheduled for a routine ultrasound. Since moving to Philadelphia, I’d lost count of the number of ultrasounds I’d been subjected to. But I chalked it up to an over-anxious OB/GYN.
And it was a routine procedure. Until the first doctor came back with another physician to run another ultrasound. And then a third arrived with the first two.
“Your baby’s limbs are much too short for the body,” they informed me. Then, the three doctors got my physician on the phone.
“Why are you telling me this now—two weeks from my due date?” I asked.
“We think that you and your husband should see a pediatric specialist before the baby is born,” my doctor replied. “So you’ll be better able to handle it.”
And then there was the irony. In an “it could only happen to me” moment, Philadelphia had hosted the annual Little People of America Conference the preceding week. My husband and I had stopped by an ice cream shop to satisfy my sundae craving, only to find the restaurant filled to capacity with little people.
Now, four doctors were telling me that my baby was facing significant health challenges, and the ice cream shop outing felt like pure prophecy.
I had walked to my appointment, but I took a cab home. The sobering truth that all was not well had left me in a state of helpless disbelief.
Within hours, with the help of family, I had calmed down and embraced a feeling of peace and calm. Not long after hearing the news, I was able to have faith that all would be well.
And, at 7:00 a.m. the next day, my OB/GYN called us with the happy news: All three doctors had misread my ultrasound results.
I think about my experience a lot, and how hope and joy so quickly replaced my shock and despair. In a moment, life can change.
As a sector, as practitioners, we put a lot of stock in the sector’s leading "gurus" (man, I loathe that word). We regard them as safe, as infallible. We jump on every new report as if it were gospel. In the eight years that I’ve been in this space, I’ve witnessed the world of fundraising becoming more and more insular—almost clique-like within the confines of its sphere.
Now is that time of year when the Penelope Burk annual Donor Survey rears its head yet again. And yes, there are good recommendations (I’ll be highlighting them in an upcoming post). But you need to remember that the roughly 21,000 donors surveyed for the Burk report are not your donors.
Most importantly, you need to remember that what people say—in either focus groups or on surveys—rarely mirrors what they actually do.
Blow that up and hang it over your desk.
My point is not to disregard what the experts say. It’s to realize that experts can be wrong. My point, also, is that you need to trust your instincts. Follow your heart. Your intuition.
Your results are what matters.
Growing lifetime donor relationships matters. Building on success (and not doing the same thing over and over again) matters.
Recognize that there is not much that is new out there. Work your plan, and get trained in the basics that count.
Most importantly, understand your donors, their motivations and desires. That is where you’ll find your best education.
Your instincts are sound. You lead from love. You are a smart and savvy fighter for a better world.
Trust in this process.
Pamela Grow is the publisher of The Grow Report, the author of Simple Development Systems and the founder of Simple Development Systems: The Membership Program and Basics & More fundraising fundamentals e-courses. She has been helping small nonprofits raise dramatically more money for over 15 years, and was named one of the 50 Most Influential Fundraisers by Civil Society magazine, and one of the 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants by The Michael Chatman Giving Show.