Wednesday, February 11, 2015

And If Everyone Else Jumps off a Cliff?

I enjoy receiving emails from folks all over the world asking for advice. I do my best to answer them within 24 hours and ensure I give real life advice from my experiences and based on best and next practices. 

Here is an example of an email that suggests to me that sometimes we have a larger problem facing us. "My supervisor said that Nonprofit X is doing (insert horrible practice here) and that we should do it too". Le Sigh. Just because another organization does it or that it worked in one instance doesn't mean it's best practice or even a legal practice. 

Here are some of the examples I've read lately that make my stomach flip:
- putting a business reply envelope in with the receipt
- withholding scholarship money from a student because they didn't write a note to a donor
- giving an acrylic tchotcke/paperweight to a donor with their name inscribed on it for their deferred gift
- putting the link to the giving website on every single communication
- ignoring donor retention numbers and instead only focusing on alumni participation

Like your mother said growing up, just because Jimmy jumps off a cliff, are you going to do it too? I think that there are a few horrible reasons to do something in the nonprofit sector and here are my "hit list":
- We've always done it that way
- "So and So" does this
- One of our donors says they like it
- XX Vendor says it works for them at XX organization

How are you challenging assumptions? Are you using guiding principals to help you make decisions? When something doesn't "feel right" are you questioning it? I have to tell you that if you let data drive your efforts, some of these pitfalls are easy to avoid. Also your general counsel and others can help you stay out of a danger zone as well. We all want to do better for our organizations. If we didn't we wouldn't be in this industry. We care, about our mission, about our supporters, about our work. So why do we succumb to these pressures? Because we aren't always provided with wonderful alternatives. We have to be advocates for our donors and supporters. Remember, if it doesn't benefit the donor, we shouldn't be doing it.

Help me help you fight the good fight and question authority. It's perfectly acceptable to reason something out and use empirical evidence rather than anecdotal evidence. And if you need help, I'm only an email away.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue. 


  1. Brilliant as always, Lynne. On the one hand, if you were to join the cliff-jumping craze it would be a relatively soft landing - considering the number of folks who had gone before. That being said, you would still find yourself at the top of a heap of foolishness. The only bottom line folks need to hit is discovering what works best and is authentic to U and your constituents.

    1. This article was fantastic, and your comment JoAnn, made me laugh out loud in my office. Thank you

  2. Love today's post. If I had a nickle for every "brilliant idea" that has come my way that isn't wise. By the same token, I have co-opted a number of practices from colleagues that are fantastic!! I'm always quick to acknowledge the institution that shared their brainchild with me--although in retrospect perhaps I should take the credit, just like I have to keep reminding myself not to respond to a compliment on a dress by admitting I picked it up for pennies at TJ Maxx! :)