‘I’ve Written the Perfect Fundraising Appeal, But My Boss Won’t Let Me Use It!'
What is your biggest fundraising challenge?
For many fundraisers, the answer is “fundraising by committee.”
In fact, when I asked my readers to share their greatest challenges in creating their organizations’ fundraising appeals, their answers were telling.
One CEO wrote:
I write an appeal, which is then taken to two committees and then the board. Each group edits the letter, adding things for the reader to do and, in the end, confusing enough of them that they take no action. I tell the various members that we can’t ask our donors to choose among four different options, but they think that more is better.
A director of development wrote:
Our CEO insists I write my newsletters and direct mail pieces to only highlight our great kids' programs. When I try to explain that it’s less about sharing how great we are and more about connecting to the donors, he cuts me off. I tell a lot of great stories, but he hates it when I put in donor-specific requests.
In my direct mail fundraising course, one participant wrote:
We write something here, and it gets edited and proofed to death.
And a fundraising manager, who had just shared a story that brought me to tears, wrote:
You asked what people struggle with when preparing a direct mail campaign. For me, there is a chance I won’t be able to use this story. I tried to use it for our annual appeal and was overruled on its suitability. I am going to have another go because I believe it is absolutely stunning, and to also have that photograph—well, let’s just say that I believe it is fundraising gold!
Imagine having a plumber come into your home to repair your leaky faucet. Would you instruct him on which tool to use? Are you telling your mechanic how to fix your car?
I’ve got my own tale of the end result of working with a micromanaging boss. Several years ago, I was sailing blissfully through my first job in nonprofit development after leaving the cushy offices of a private family foundation.
It was ideal in that I had autonomy as long as I got results—and I got results!
In less than two short years, I had increased foundation grant funding by more than 90 percent, developed a regular column in our weekly community newspaper, single-handedly learned Dreamweaver and got our website up and running, spearheaded the founding of a nonprofit roundtable with the local Chamber of Commerce, launched a local health initiative, held several successful community events, and established relationships with the Rotary and area businesses.
Even better? Our organization’s once disastrous individual giving program had grown by huge leaps and bounds.
All bases covered.
The icing on the cake was I loved my co-workers, I loved our volunteers and I loved my work. It was all perfect.
So, what happened? Why did I leave the ideal job?
For almost two years, I had experienced virtual autonomy with an executive director who was thrilled to defer the fundraising aspect of the organization to someone who knew what she was doing. The board members asked questions, and were thoughtful and attentive during meetings—but they didn’t interfere. What’s more, they dutifully put in appearances at events and helped when asked.
And then it happened.
A new executive director arrived on the scene.
Someone who didn’t take kindly to the postscripts in my annual appeal letters or the handwritten notes scribbled into the margins. Someone who didn’t understand the concept of persuasive copy. Someone who insisted on eliminating contractions, along with any type of writing that she termed “salesy.” A lady who questioned (and eliminated) the extra costs of segmenting and personalizing our mailings—insisting, instead, on one “Dear Friend” letter for all.
This despite the, frankly, awesome results.
I can handle constructive criticism. What I can’t handle is someone who is clueless telling me how to do my job.
Since I already had picked up a few consulting clients, I packed my bags.
Unfortunately, this executive director’s “thinking” is not unique. I have seen it in too many organizations that are entrenched in the old school, “monkey-see, monkey-do” approach that seems even more common in nonprofits. Monkey-see, monkey-do is a way of maintaining status quo, blending with other organizations in the industry and not making any waves.
Think about it—why try something bold and different and risk ridicule? All you have to do is stay in line with what everybody else is doing and you’ll be safe.
What’s that you say? What about results?
Well, not everyone is driven by results. (Even though they may claim they are. Actions speak louder than words!)
I can hear you now: “Not want results? But of course I want results!”
But do you really?
Or are you more concerned about the possibility of your organization’s image being tarnished by something a board member might consider undignified?
In Tom Ahern’s words:
The head of fundraising (the director of development, or advancement, or whatever you choose to call the position) should have sole and final approval on every donor communication, whether it’s an appeal, a newsletter, the donor portion of the website, the annual report to donors, emailed solicitations, fundraising event invitations, etc.
Micromanaging destroys fundraising results. End of story.
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.