Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Right Direction

"We're lost," Yogi Berra is reputed to have told the passengers in his car, "but we're making good time."

And so it is with many fund-raising organizations. They're "making good time." People are working hard and putting in long hours. They're grinding their way way through the usual tactics -- identifying and rating prospects, assigning prospects to portfolios, developing solicitation strategies, making calls, and determining next steps. But very few are asking if the "effort-to-outcome" ratio is right or if the whole approach makes sense. They just keep grinding away, spending more and more time at the office.

Some assume they're making particularly good time because they have done some benchmarking, zeroed in on "best practice" and are implementing tactics borrowed from the most successful organizations. They're certain they are not only making good time but that it's only a matter of time before their numbers go up. But wait a minute. Is 'best practice" a result of tactical efficiency or cultural advantage? Take a look at college and university annual funds. Most of the most successful can be found at relatively small liberal arts colleges. So what is the secret to their success -- the tactical mastery of the annual fund staff or the intimacy of the undergraduate experience? If we really want sustained best practice, wouldn't it make more sense to study cultures that promote closeness and the long-term loyalties that flow from it more than it would to examine and emulate the various and assorted techniques of successful telefund operations?

And wouldn't it be more productive to ask your alumni or patients or whoever you want to give what it is in your culture that attracts or repels them rather than using someone else's technique on them? If my wife weren't as close to me as I would like, should I go ask my friend Joe what he does for his or ask mine how we can be closer? And if I spent too much time trying to learn from Joe, wouldn't my wife grow even more exasperated? With me so far?

Okay, so wouldn't we be more assured of going in the right direction and making good time if we knew why our closest constituents were giving or not? Wouldn't listening. learning, then amplifying the strengths and minimizing the weaknesses of our culture improve our chances of success more than the evermore assiduous application of imported technique?

You'd probably never guess where I'd come out on those questions.

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