Raise More Money: Don’t Try to Avoid Looking Foolish
A dependable revenue stream that grows — ah, paradise!
Have a fundraising challenge you want to crack? Weary of doing the same old, same old yet hoping for different outcomes? Do you want the over-the-top results that come from superior strategy?
Email me with your particular problem, and I'll arrange a quick consultation offering you a practical solution you can implement. I may even use your situation to share with my readers. Names are changed, of course!
I had the privilege of speaking with the board chair of a children's food charity last week who is, in his words, "almost at the end of my rope." His frustration was palpable as he relayed the events that have played out over the past several months at the worthy organization to which he devotes so much of his time.
Bill, who has chaired the board of this organization for over six years — and who is a substantial donor — is strongly considering opting out of both.
As I listened, I couldn't help but replay in my own mind similar situations we've all been a part of from time to time.
With a track record of reasonable success, the organization's staff leadership and even some board members have lately developed an obsessive desire to avoid looking foolish by ever making a mistake as they reach out to prospective donors. After all, their "reputation" is now at stake with every step going forward. This overarching anxiety has brought the fundraising outreach to a virtual standstill.
It began several months ago with the updating of their website. Getting the design, the message and the feel just perfect to represent their uniqueness quickly became the goals. Nine months, several thousand dollars and numerous change-orders later, there is yet a new website in place nor have any new mailings been approved. There has actually been discussion of taking the current one down until the "perfect" one is up. Mailings are still going out but almost reluctantly.
Bill wants to know how he can get this organization out of "perfection paralysis" and moving forward.
Make no mistake — volunteers' most valuable commodity is there time. When they're at the point of exasperation, as Bill is, those who have options — the volunteers you want — often exercise them and bolt. What you're left with are the seat warmers whose principal virtues are inaction and avoidance.
It is a fundamental arrogance when we (and that includes me!) believe that our situations are unique in the world and that our responses to cure what ails us are without flaw — or need to be.
Check the definitions of "unique" and "perfect." The first is: "like none other," "alone," "only," and the second is: "without flaw." In the world of human affairs, these terms just don't apply.
My solution is simple. The well-meaning organization's leadership must get over itself. Period.
OK, so that's sounds easy. How do you do it without alienating everyone in the room?
Bill's got a plan moving forward, and I'll share it with you later.
More than anything else, donors want realism. That's right. They don't believe you when you promise perfection.
Oh yes, such a claim will generate buzz. It will probably drive up your social media numbers. Is that what you want — a fleeting and noncommittal notice by others?
Decide whether you want a growing bottom line or bragging rights for hordes of followers as you hurdle toward extinction. Not that you can't have both, but don't conflate the two.
If you want to build a fundraising revenue stream that is virtually impervious to economic headwinds and navigates the unexpected loss of a single revenue source with nary a notice, then believe me when I say that donors are far more interested in you being real and human with them than in glossy, world-changing claims all the while selling them a discounted gift basket at your next event.
Being human means realizing when good enough is good enough.
In communicating with your donors, whether it be a website or mailing — electronic or physical — focus on the relationships.
Risk a little. Risk looking foolish. Make your investors smile. They'll love you for it. When you ask them to step up their support, they'll sense the human connection and respond.
As to Bill's plan — I told him that this is one of those occasions when you need an outside jolt to the system. I've used this myself. It works.
I told Bill to engage the services of the boldest, most direct fundraising expert he could find. Bring that person in to a combined meeting, and let him or her do his work by bringing unvarnished honesty to the situation.
The independence of the fundraising prophet gives him or her the greatest chance for success.
There may be some blood on the floor. A few wounded egos are a lot better than children going hungry. Think about it.
We're only human.
I've asked Bill to get back and give me an update. I extend my heartfelt thanks to Bill for sharing.
Let me hear from you concerning your particular situation and the challenges you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me (info@TheEightPrinciples.com), and I'll arrange a brief consult providing you with a practical solution. 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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