Everyone has one. How do you get past it?
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Everyone has one. How do you get past it?
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Good thoughts on why both nonprofits and consultants like me need an outside perspective.
A quick poll...
In under 400 words.
Somebody shared this article in one of the fundraising LinkedIn groups in which I participate. The authors lead with this story that I suspect all of you can relate to:
According to military folklore, shortly before World War II the US and British armies conducted a joint exercise and came to a strange realization: The American artillery team fired just a little bit faster than the British squad every time. They analyzed the process and found that just before the British would fire, several soldiers would step back and pause for a second. They would wait until the gun fired, and then rejoin their team to reload.
No one was certain why this hitch was part of the process. When asked, the soldiers simply explained, “That’s how we were trained to do it.” The military asked several experts to get to the bottom of the slowdown. But no one could figure it out until a veteran from the Second Boer War finally provided the answer. He watched the process, thought about it for a minute, and then explained: “I know what they’re doing,” he said. “They’re holding the horses.”
Because back when teams of horses pulled the guns to the battlefield, if no one stepped back to hold the horses’ reins, the animals would bolt at the sound of the shot. Amazingly—decades after horses were no longer involved—the practice carried on.
Having set up this powerful metaphor, the authors go on to ask questions about what orthodoxies philanthropic foundations are really just "holding the horses." And they're good questions. But they could just as easily be applied to the organizations those foundations fund.
Try spending half an hour mentally reviewing how your organization operates. What areas might be "holding the horses," and how would you know whether they really are (or whether they make sense but need to be tweaked)?
Sometimes we find an outside perspective is helpful for seeing these kinds of areas accurately--please feel free to get in touch if my team can help with that.
Have you ever tried this?
The Fundraising Effectiveness Project (FEP) has released the findings from their latest survey. I found the results on the blog of the awesome folks at Bloomerang, so kudos to them. The 2014 report summarizes data from 3,576 survey respondents, covering year-to-year fundraising results for 2012-2013. A few things to notice:
At the Nonprofit Marketing Guide, Claire Meyerhoff has a great piece on the scary people who are frightening your donors away. Spoiler: it might be you.
Claire describes some "gory scenes." Here are two that especially made me bang my head against the table because I've seen them too many times:
The ED happens to be the bad guy in both these examples, but a more useful takeaway is to make sure you have good communications people on your team, and make sure you listen to them.
I'd add this: the goal is to get communications people who understand fundraising--still better, lose those distinctions and combined those old-school departments into a single constituent relations team that uses everything in the book to manage donor attraction and relations (social, email, snail, ads, events, conversations, etc.).
Off-topic side note: when you hire a photographer for events, beg and plead for him/her to get candids. If you can get a photographer who specializes in photojournalism, so much the better. Those shots of people "lined up like smiling soldiers" almost never end up getting used by a competent communications director.
If you're like most nonprofits, you haven't asked your donors for ideas recently. If ever. Maybe a major donor in conversation if you know him really well. But if you think about asking your whole list--well, either you worry about the deluge of criticism, or you figure you know your business better than they do.
And yet, as Anna Pikovsky Auerbach writes in the Stanford Social Innovation Review:
A few years ago, a Harvard Business Review article explained that customers want a shared purpose with corporations, not be bystanders. They want to feel like they are important, are a part of something, and have influence. In fact, customers are now integral to product development and innovation, and crowd-sourcing has become a commonplace method of gathering solutions, ideas, and funding. For example, one way that LEGO innovates is through its LEGO Ideas portal, which allows enthusiasts to submit ideas and share feedback, accelerating the company’s product-innovation cycle.
One of my clients has a very loyal core donor base that the client has done a great job keeping engaged socially. That means the donors know each other and interact with each other (generally they met through the organization). I've noticed that when I spend time with them, especially in twos and threes, ideas tend to get generated. But how many of those work their way up so the decision makers hear about them?
Are there things you've done in this arena that you recommend to others? Consider sharing them in the comments or tweeting them to @BrianBrownSF.