Did the Grinch Steal Your Fundraising?
In the classic children’s story by Dr. Seuss, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” the narrator tells us that the most likely reason the Grinch hated Christmas was that “his heart was two sizes too small”.
Maybe that’s how you feel about some of the people who seem determined to “steal” fundraising by making it next to impossible to succeed. Reason hasn’t worked, statistics have been ignored. Even whining failed to make a case for what you know is smart fundraising. So at this time of year especially, when pressure is on to end the year strong and meet goals, you may be feeling less peace on earth and more frustration with the grinches who clearly hate fundraising.
So what is a big-hearted fundraiser to do?
Hard as it is, try to think like your critics. What is it they don’t like? Is what they are complaining about the real issue, or is there something else that is the crux of the problem? I, at least, have a tendency to think I’ve heard the concern and so I go into defensive mode — or try to fix what I decided is the problem, leaving my critic even more critical.
If the Grinch stated his or her case via email, he would begin with a reply that is polite but noncommittal. For example, depending on the issue, it may be appropriate to say:
Thank you for taking the time to let me know of your concerns. I’ll certainly keep them in mind as we make future decisions. Of course, the goal is always to communicate in a way that is most effective and reflects positively on our organization. I’ll be glad to share results of this particular effort with you if you’d like.
If you are in a face-to-face situation, ask questions to really understand the concerns. Probe to discover if the complaint is a personal preference or based on something more widespread. Invest the time to explain what you know works in fundraising because you have proven it, or that it’s been consistently shown to be true throughout the industry. Don’t become a fountain gushing with percentages and spreadsheets, but do talk about “best practices”. For example:
You know, I agree that it would be wonderful to have a younger donor base. But we’ve found — and frankly, this is true for most nonprofit organizations — that the bulk of support comes from older donors simply because they have more disposable income. We’re continuing to invest in younger donors for our future health, but we know we can’t do that at the expense of the donors who are making our work possible today.
If the Grinch is demanding that you do more with less (and you really are running a lean program), my best advice is to read “A Graphic Re-visioning of Nonprofit Overhead” by Curtis Klotz. He writes:
Our funders, supporters and investors all want us to succeed. They are partners in accomplishing our mission work. But like us, they may need help re-imagining the role strong infrastructure plays in amplifying program effectiveness.
He provides easy-to-grasp diagrams that take our thinking from the pie chart to new images, to help make the case that investing in our infrastructure is "savvy, prudent, and absolutely necessary".
There are no easy ways to keep the grinches from stealing our fundraising; this old dog has survived her share of frustrations from them. But to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, perhaps our goal is to help the Grinch realize that “’Maybe fundraising ... isn’t really all bad. Maybe fundraising … perhaps … makes our donors feel glad.’”
Pamela Barden is an independent fundraising consultant focused on direct response. You can read more of her fundraising columns here.