Are You Just Plain Lazy?
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I recently had an experience that at once baffled and frustrated me. Jennifer is the staffer responsible for donor relations at a mid-size community charity. A couple of weeks ago, she took me up on my standing offer for readers to connect for a brief consult.
Jennifer began our conversation by describing a fundraising program that, although fully functioning, is showing the early warning signs of real trouble. Stagnant gift size and a declining—albeit slowly—donor-renewal rate. Her concern was palpable.
At an appropriate pause, I asked her what she thought the issues were. Her response was simple: “Our donors simply aren’t giving enough. They don’t understand the urgency of the work we’re doing.”
Not to put too fine a point on it, I asked Jennifer—the donor-relations staffer—how she enjoyed working with donors and getting to know them. “I don’t have donor contact,” she said.
I tried very hard not to laugh out loud over the phone. I think I succeeded in quashing my guffaw.
Composing myself, I responded, “So, how do you know what your donors are thinking and what their concerns are?”
“I just know. I know what drives rich people,” she was quick to say. “And besides, I’m very, very busy with my administrative duties. I also do database management.”
I’ll spare you the rest. At least Jennifer was honest. I’ll give her that.
A little further in the conversation, I said, “I think I know what is holding you back in your fundraising.”
She was all-ears.
I decided to go for broke and said, “You’re just lazy.”
Breaking the deafening silence, I added. “You see there are all sorts of laziness.”
I went on to explain that it wasn’t that I thought she wasn’t working hard enough. She’s putting in a lot of time.
Her brand of laziness is avoiding the people right in front her—donors. The people whose investments provide her paycheck. The people whose continued loyalty and support is critical to the continued existence of her organization.
Doing so might require she rethink her well-honed assumptions and prejudices.
Not to pick on Jennifer—there are several other kinds of laziness I see a lot in nonprofit organizations.
Such as defaulting to the “rules”—whatever they are—and the deadly complacency of “we’ve always done it this way.”
One of my favorites is, “We’re different here.” I can hardly express how ridiculous this sounds coming out of the mouths of reasonably educated people.
Perhaps the most insidious form of laziness I’ve seen is the unwillingness to be comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty. I see this a lot with boards that are perfectly willing to cede their responsibilities to whatever the current trend is.
They just want to be off the hook for the outcomes.
Principle 8 of The Eight Principles™ is "Invest, Integrate & Evaluate™." It’s the principle of making the hard choices and sticking with them.
You know the nonprofit organizations that seem to raise money hand over fist without apparent effort? Their leadership realized a long time ago that investing in strategic choices and sticking with them over time pays—and pays handsomely.
I extend my best wishes to Jennifer and thank her for reaching out.
Let me hear from you. Please share your situation and the challenges you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me, and I’ll arrange a brief consult providing you with practical guidance. I’ll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
Success is waiting. Go out and achieve it.
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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