What's the greatest enemy of effective fundraising?
Paper manufacturers? No.
The Post Office? Good guess, but not usually.
Donor fatigue? Give me a break!
Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa)? Hardly.
The biggest enemy: Committees. Not just any committees, but the committees that are charged with making fundraising better. The bigger the committee, the more deadly its impact on fundraising.
If you're in fundraising, you know exactly what I'm talking about.
Committees pool and concentrate the incompetence of the individual members. Each of us has areas of blindness and strongly held but poorly supported opinions. Most of us make up for this by being competent and useful in other areas. But on a committee, and each member's incompetence gets full hearing and weight:
- On every fundraising committee, there's someone who says, "Too much copy. No one will read that much."
- On every committee there's someone who says, "Too emotional. People won't respond. Make it rational."
- On every committee there's someone who says, "You're talking down to the donors. They'll be insulted by this simplistic prose."
- On every committee there's at least one "formalizer." You know the type: short words like "gift" get turned into long words like "donation," colloquial words like "kids" get turned into formal words like "children." And you can't start a sentence with a conjunction. Or use sentence fragments. Ever.
- On almost every committee there's a Brand Shaman who wants to make everything conform to a narrow interpretation of the "brand."
- Add the many individual eccentric biases against certain words, specific colors, and the fanatical adherents of various marketing and communication theories.
Any one of these little flashes of incompetence would only do minor harm to your fundraising piece. Put them together, and you've killed any chance you had for success.
Is it any wonder most fundraising efforts today are dull, lifeless, derivative, and ineffective? With a generational change about to sweep in a new crop of more demanding donors, this simply won't work for much longer. You need the best work, and you can't afford to have it strangled!
How to make things better
If you have the power and influence to do so: Dramatically reduce the sized of your committee. I'm talking two or three people who have real, specific, and relevant expertise. Or, if that's not doable, limit the power of committee members to their actual area of competence. In other words, just being on the committee needn't give anyone carte blanche to change things they don't understand.
Suppose you don't have the influence to make such sweeping change? Maybe you're part of a committee, and you want to make things better.
You could resign from the committee. On a raw numbers basis, that might be good. But the fact that you understand the problem (and you read this blog) shows that you are probably among the more valuable members of the committee. It might be better if you do three things:
- Limit your comments. Hold your tongue and suggest changes only when it seems absolutely necessary and you are squarely within your area of expertise and you have facts to back you up.
- Work to enlighten your fellow members. Bring in documentation from the experts. Build the case for doing things right.
- Advocate for restraint among others. Gently point out the value of expertise over opinion. You might be able to impact your committee's culture to make it less destructive. But, to be frank, it's in the very nature of committees to make things bad.
Every person in the world knows that committees can't do great work. Yet committees live on, doing their damage in nearly every organization. They are a powerful force.
But we can do better. And those of us who do will get the better results we need.
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