Fundraising … and A Common, Self-Defeating Behavior

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    I had a conversation, recently, with a board member of an organization – a type of “foundation” that raises funds to support activities designed to advance/sustain their profession, who indicated that the board was “disappointed” with the total dollars that have been raised over their first few years.

    When the organization was first created, they sought the advice of a development consultant (me) … who explained the basis of successful fundraising: prospect identification; determination of the needs of prospective donors; working with those prospects to find the fit – where prospect needs could be satisfied by making significant gifts to the organization; determining the amount of the “Ask;” and, actually asking for the gift.

    The members of that organization’s board insisted that their organization’s members were different from every other group of prospective donors, that their members would want to help/contribute, that all that needed to be done was to make those members aware of the need, and that they wouldn’t have to be evaluated, cultivated and “Asked.”

    Not surprisingly, those board members were also extremely uncomfortable with the idea that they’d actually have to ask someone, face-to-face, for a specific dollar figure. Their solicitations were all passive – emails and flyers lauding the goals of the “foundation,” signs and a sign-up table at meetings, etc. So, no surprise that they’ve only been able to raise 10% of the funds they’ve publicly stated were needed to do what should be done to maintain/advance their profession.

    These are intelligent, highly educated, capable people who, like many who would be similarly described, believe they know fundraising/development better than those who trained for and have decades of experience in the field. Can you imagine how disbelieving, even horrified they would be if I told them I knew how to practice their profession better than they do ??

    I wonder whether their inability/refusal to take the advice of the fundraising professional stems from a fear of having to ask people for money, from an arrogance often seen in many of the “highly educated” or a combination of the two. Is it possible they’d rather fail than overcome their fears of Asking?

    Whatever the reason, this “foundation” has to choose between doing it their way, and not having the funds to actually do what’s needed to ensure their profession’s future, or….

    This is not, by the way, an unusual occurrence … and it’s not something that only happens in relation to fundraising/development. It’s fairly common that people/groups/organizations are unable or refuse to accept the advice/direction of the consultant/expert from whom they’ve sought that advice/direction. I’m sure a psychologist could explain it !!

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