Creating Your Own Lens: 4 Tips for Evaluating Fundraising Advice

June 19, 2017 Pamela Barden

If you’re like me, you probably receive a number of e-newsletters related to fundraising, as well as a print publication or two. With so many free resources and others that have only a nominal subscription rate, it’s hard to avoid the temptation to sign up, even if you have to resort to just scanning them some of the time.

But even a casual review makes one thing clear—not everyone agrees on everything, not even in fundraising. That’s no surprise given the highly divided political atmosphere, but it goes beyond that to “best” practices, lists of the top things every fundraiser should do, recommended strategies and more. Especially if you don’t have a deep pool of your own experiences to draw on, how can you benefit most from the advice that is so freely offered?

Most importantly, remember that each writer is generally basing his or her comments on personal experience. Even if they are using a study for supporting evidence, it’s possible that research had a limited response pool—their own clients, for example. This is not bad, but it does mean that we need to dig deeper on occasion to see if there are mitigating factors that influence the findings.

Each fundraiser has his or her own lens to view fundraising through. That lens is shaped by experience in a particular environment or environments. For example …

  • Donors to an organization with a large fundraising budget that allows a lot of testing and experimentation may respond differently than those to an organization with a budget that only allows investing in a few proven methodologies.
  • Donors to a religious organization may have different motivations than donors to an environmental organization.
  • Donors to a large national nonprofit can respond differently than donors to a local grassroots organization.
  • Donors to a cause that has a very visible personality at the helm connect differently than those to an organization that is less personality-driven.

This is only a partial list; the point is, your donors are essentially the same as everyone else’s—philanthropic intent, interest in that cause and possessing disposable income—but they are conditioned to respond based on things that are specific to them and/or to a cause.

Rather than ignore all advice or grow frustrated by the differing opinions, keep reading— it expands your mind—but create your own lens for evaluating advice.

4 Tips for Evaluating Fundraising Advice:

  1. Look at the credentials of the writers you respect. Where have they honed their fundraising skills? Were they hands’ on? Are they still hands’ on? Does their experience feel like a fit with your current situation?
  2. Understand the context for any broad statements. “Donors prefer direct mail” makes sense for an organization that has a feeble online presence, and “Donors appreciate a telephone call” may depend on whether it was a volunteer-based thank you call or paid telemarketing.
  3. Don’t believe everything you read. Just because someone else says something or another organization does something doesn’t mean it makes sense in your context. Evaluate it. Test it if you can. Even if you can’t test it, move slowly so you don’t inadvertently “kill the goose that lays the golden egg.”
  4. Be open to new ideas. When you read something contrary to your experience, consider if there is something there that could enhance what you already are doing. You may not make a wholesale change, but you may be inspired to try a tweak.

When you add in the factor of people to fundraising, you are bound to get some diverse results. So don’t give up if it seems no one agrees on the definitive approach to fundraising success. Your openness to new ideas will help you shape your own lens as your experience increases.

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