Fri, July 09 2010

Failing wisely this fundraising season

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

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Filed under:   Fundraising essentials •

This is not a terribly original thought, but it’s certainly a critical one: failure is how we learn.

There are times when you will fail as a fundraiser.  You will fail as a marketer.  You will think you know your audience, you will be certain you know your message, and you will be wrong.

Your audiences aren’t necessarily rational, they aren’t necessarily consistent, and they aren’t necessarily predictable.

Welcome to the imperfection that we all exhibit - and face.

We’re just weeks away from fundraising season, and it’s so easy to go into it cowed and meek.  Worried about results, focused on what we might not get, and conservative in our approach. Why?  Because we fear failure.

The problem is, fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy - it makes us fail and worse, it makes us fail foolishly.  It makes us safe and boring (not good), too focused on extracting value from donors instead of offering them the chance to make a difference (not good), and so focused on the downside of missed targets that we fail to embrace their gifts: what they teach us (also not good).  For example, if an email bombs - and you use an email campaign tool - at least you know what didn’t work and why.  That insight is gold.  Better to have a big failure that yields insights than an unimaginative campaign with crappy results that net no knowledge at all.

Listening to my seven-year-old screech her way through violin practice tonight - after crying that nothing was perfect the first go-round - and then screeching once again, with a few good notes and satisfaction in her own persistance, I was reminded the best we can do is press on, boldly test, critically examine, and reflectively learn. Look at missteps - if they happen - as useful guidance as to where the right path may lie. 

Iin the important months ahead, be brave in your outreach, boldly giving to your donors, and most of all, generous with yourself.  Don’t be fearful in your practice as a fundraiser - it will only lessen your results and limit your understanding.

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