How Creative Expression Can Kill Practical Thinking

I love watching America’s Got Talent.  There’s some crazy stuff that happens on that show.  And there’s some really amazing talent as well.

Several weeks ago I was watching the show and this rock/rap group was on stage with a very creative, energizing original song.  It was awesome.  I loved it.

But the judges didn’t.

One judge said,  “Look, this is a contest.  It’s about winning.  And through winning you get a platform for your music.  You need to do music that the public knows so they can relate to it and see your talent. Now is not the time to self-express.  Now is the time to win. Next time, do something we all know.”

Well, the other night the group was on again.  And what did they do?  Another original song!  It was good.  But the following night, when the votes came in, the group was kicked out of the competition.  The judge said, “So, why didn’t you follow my advice and do some music the public knows?”

The leader of the group said, essentially, “We are who we are and that’s who we’re gonna be.  And if the public doesn’t like it, then that’s the way it is!”  So, I guess it was more important for these folks to self-express than it was to win a million dollars or, at least, stay on the show and keep the publicity platform they had been given!

This truly amazes me.  It is a classic conflict between creative self-expression and being practical.  And I have seen this happen many times in major gifts.  Here’s what it looks like:

  • An MGO spends a great deal of time working on a media project for a donor because it interests the MGO to do it.  Nevermind that MGO’s use of time and focus has nothing to do with matching the donor’s interests to a need in the organization so that it will result in a gift.
  • An MGO spends a great deal of time with VIP’s in the community – people who have never given, and who are not on his caseload.  The reason he spends so much time on this?  “Well,” he says, “these people have a lot of influence and THAT is good for the organization.”  The truth is that this MGO just loves to be close to VIP’s.  This really has nothing to do with donors OR donations.
  • An MGO spends a great deal of time with the authority figures in the organization to “get to know them well so I can translate their vision to my donors”.  This, in small doses, might be OK, but often it is just the high the MGO gets from being close to authority – that is all that is going on.
  • An MGO goes to this city and that city to visit donors, but when you look at the quality of the donors in those cities, in the context of the MGO’s caseload, they have substantially less potential than donors in other cities.  The truth is the MGO is just loves being in the cities she has picked vs. doing real donor work.
  • An  MGO organizes an event for his donors and invites other people as well. The event program content majors on things the MGO likes to do – he really likes to be on stage and “what better thing to do for our donors than to expose them to what we do in creative ways?”  Oh boy!

And it goes on and on this way.  The central theme in all the examples above is a choice the MGO is making to self-express or self-gratify rather than really spend the time serving the donors and the organization.  It looks and smells like major gift work, but really, all of it is simply a feel-good platform for the MGO.

Jeff and I see this happening all the time.  And that is why MGO’s who behave this way are eventually “kicked off the show”.

Here’s how to protect yourself from the self-expression impulses you may have resident in your being:

  1. As you start every work day, ask yourself the following question:  “Will everything I am planning to do today lead to a donor on my caseload finding fulfillment for his passion and interest in the organization?”  If not, you are on the wrong track.
  2. Then ask a related question:  “Will something I am planning to do today lead a donor to be thankful she gave us a gift recently?”  If not, you are on the wrong track.
  3. Then ask one final question:  “Will everything I am planning to do today lead a donor on my caseload to give a gift?”  If not, you are on the wrong track.

I think if you discipline your activity toward these three objectives it will help you steer away from doing stuff that seems right, but really is more about you and your interests than it is about the donor.

Remember, ALL of your work as a Major Gift Officer is about:

  • Helping a donor fulfill his passion and interest in the organization.
  • Retaining a donor because she feels so good about the experience of giving to you.
  • Helping a donor give to your organization.

If what you are doing is not about these three things, you are probably off in some other room of the house and it will not go well for you.

So, is there room in major gifts for ANY creative expression?  Of course there is!  And we have written about how MGO’s have done that in the past, either through the proposals they have written or a creative approach to or treatment of a donor.  You just have to make sure you express these creative thoughts within the context of the three objectives above, not OUTside of them.



About Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry

Jeff Schreifels and Richard Perry have over 55 years of experience fundraising for non-profits. Richard Perry was co-owner of Domain Group until 2005. Jeff Schreifels was a Senior Strategist for Domain Group for 12 years. They came together a few years ago to start Veritus Group, a full-service major gift fundraising agency. Veritus Group has a unique, data-driven approach unlike any agency focused on major gifts. Jeff and Richard are passionate about their work, passionate about life and hopes this blog will provide you with insights and tangible benefits for you and your work. Thank you for reading!
This entry was posted in Donor-Centered, Major Gift Officers, Non-Profits, Philanthopy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s