Two Kinds of Perfect
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Eric is the development officer for a youth-related charity in the Southeast. Eric, his executive-director boss and I had a very productive 30-minute phone call a couple of weeks ago.
Eric wants to be perfect. So does his boss.
Wouldn’t we all?
They didn’t literally say it, but I can assure you that’s what they were thinking.
Eric quickly reviewed his development plan for the year. His boss, Susan, told me of the pride she takes in improving her youth programming every year—and how great it already is.
As I listened, I couldn’t help but think that they were speaking primarily to themselves.
Eric’s plan is good enough, but he keeps tweaking it and is only tepidly implementing it. Susan is working on her program delivery for the year and watching details carefully.
I asked what they do with their failures.
Failures? “We don’t have failures,” they said.
My response: “That very statement is a failure.”
There are two “perfect” fallacies operating here.
First, there’s the “I want to be perfect so I avoid jumping full-in” fallacy. Strange as it may seem there are many fundraisers who have this sense of “perfection.”
But fundraisers are can-do folks, you say. Yes, they are. But when it comes to changing the game and continually executing to find out what works, the “we always have done it this way” monster seems to be ever lurking.
Principle 8 of The Eight Principles™ is "Invest, Integrate & Evaluate." Fundraising is dynamic. It’s never static. You’re either moving forward or falling behind. Even thinking “we’ve always done it this way” is ever an acceptable path of action is the kiss of death.
Wonder why so many programs struggle or never break upward? Look no further than the reluctance to refine and risk.
The second sort of perfection is the “we always do it right here” trap. You know the situation. If we show our imperfection, our less-than-perfect outreach or even our outright program failures, our donors will leave in droves.
People who invest in you want brutal honesty. Notice I said, “invest.” I’m not including the fair-weather responder who decided to make your auction this year because he or she had nothing better to do.
Investors want to be your partners, not enablers. There was a time when you could skate on this point and simply show a pleasant face with a reasonable outcome.
With Millennials coming upon the scene, giving the good, bad and the ugly is not an option. That is, if you expect them to stay around. Say what you want, but they are the future of philanthropy.
I saw a humanitarian nonprofit begin to share the progress of all its projects—good, not so good and outright failures—to its investors in real time and watched its fundraising hit the roof. Six-fold at last counting.
Bottom line—investors want to invest in an organization that takes reasonable risks and is always seeking to improve. Period.
In fairness to both Eric and Susan, nonprofit execs often find themselves hamstrung by weak, ineffectual boards. Such was the case here.
Principle 3 of The Eight Principles™ is "Leadership Leads™." Without decisive, supportive leadership, any organization drifts or simply becomes irrelevant.
Our time went by too fast. We’ve made arrangements to circle back in a couple of months.
Their focus? Letting the board know perfection has to go! That should make for an interesting story.
Perhaps I’ll feature their outcome in a future column, so stay tuned.
I extend my best wishes to Eric and Susan and thank them for their honesty—and openness.
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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