It’s called “The Grass is Greener Syndrome”. Everything else always looks better. Anything old is always boring. If it isn’t new, innovative and cutting edge, then it can’t possibly work.
I suppose it’s the human condition – we constantly compare what we do to others and try to define ourselves by how new, how cutting edge and how different we are vs. how effective we are.
If it’s familiar and tried and true then it must be old and outdated. If it’s flashy and high profile then it must be good. Bigger is better. The bigger the number, the more costly the car or house, the higher the salary, the more power a person has – it’s ALL far better.
Believe me, I know what this is all about.
Early in my career I was in a Director of Development job. I was young and new to fundraising. When my boss told me we really needed to grow the organization I went out to the marketplace to interview non-profit direct marketing agencies that could come alongside us and help us get to our growth objective.
These were some of the best DM agencies in the country. And I studied them all very carefully, including the proposals they had sent me. My conclusion? Same old – same old. They were the classic, boring strategies and approaches to donor acquisition and cultivation. I had seen them all before. They were tiring and boring. Certainly there must be a better way!?
So, I came up with what I thought was a brilliant idea. I began looking for a commercial (not a non-profit) direct marketing agency that was considered the best in the United States. I found one in New York City. And I went to see them to explain who we were and what we wanted to do.
They told me they did not have any non-profit fundraising experience but “direct marketing was direct marketing” so not to worry, they would bring their considerable and impressive experience and track record to bear on our situation.
It was quite a ride. We had writers, producers, strategists, media planners – goodness, it was something. It was also impressive.
And it was a total disaster!
Some good was done, but over a million dollars later it became really clear that the new, innovative and wonderfully cutting edge solution I had brought into the organization was a total failure. And it started me down a very painful path of ultimately losing my job.
Now as I look back, this “whack in the head” was one of the best things that ever happened to me because it taught me a very important lesson – one that I want to pass on to you.
The lesson – simply put – was this: Don’t ever search for a replacement to a tried and true formula for doing anything. Instead, USE the formula or approach and innovate within it.
Had I hired an agency that was doing “what really works” well and tried new things within that context, I would have been further ahead.
Here’s the other lesson that parallels this one – call it the other side of the same coin: Be sure that your search for a solution is truly a desire to be effective vs. a desire to self-express.
This is subtle.
In the case of my hiring the hot-shot New York City boys, what I later discovered, through some management coaching and personal counseling, was that my core motivation in making the decision was to lift myself up vs. actually getting anything accomplished.
I used the organization’s money and goodwill to shore up a very damaged self-image. And in the process I caused harm to the organization and myself. Stupid.
After I was ushered out of that job, I worked in commercial new ventures and acquisitions for a company based in Chicago.
Still smarting from the whipping I received through my earlier experience, but having learned the lesson, I sought out some of the best new ventures and acquisitions people in the country. I sat at their feet and learned how they did what they did in their Fortune 100 companies. And I copied what they did. In other words, I did the same old, same old thing. And it was successful.
So what does all this have to do with major gifts? Well, there are a few simple points:
- Effective major gift work is, at its essence, serving the interests and passions of a donor. This may sound formulaic – it may sound basic and boring. But, just do this and do it well and you will be wildly successful.
- You must stay focused on a select group of donors who are current givers to the organization. This means that all that snazzy attraction to all the other things you could be doing with all the other “high potential” donors either on your list or in the community – must be disciplined and controlled so you can stay focused on the good donors who have proven they want to be with you.
- Donors need to know they are making a difference so you had better be about telling them they are, in great detail and with great frequency. None of this sleight of hand stuff where you think you can just say general stuff or, if something is not going right, you can just ignore it. Nope. These important relationships demand authenticity, integrity and care.
- There is no silver bullet. None. Nowhere. Stop looking for one. There is no grand strategy, innovative scheme, wonderful approach or something yet undiscovered that will make you successful. You will NOT discover it because it isn’t there. So, stop looking.
Does this sound pretty basic and same old – same old? Yes it does! And it is. Which is why Jeff and I keep repeating this over and over again. Stay with the basics and you will find yourself experiencing success.