Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Being Original

In his latest book, Originals, Adam Grant takes us on another wonderful journey. Much like his last book, Give and Take the content within resonates deeply with the fundraising industry. As we discuss the way to bring positive change with our donors and those who we're in relationships with, one thing we have to end is running with scissors. Often times, one of the barriers to implementing powerful change and being an original input organization is complacency. Grant covers this in Originals by using a profound quote, "Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt,” says serial entrepreneur Howard Tullman. “It breeds comfort.” 

Why are we so comfortable with mediocre? What happens when we stop inspiring those closest to us? If you start a new position and begin your activity right where the last person left off because it's easier than to attempt to change, who are you helping? 

I pride myself on being the type of original Grant writes about, the creative one who gets in trouble for beating out risk. Why are we so risk adverse? What do we have to lose by respecting the giving souls we have the privilege of working with? Why not reject common conventions for the possibility of being excellent? 

Channeling that anxiety and fear of change into the new and what could be is our chance to embrace this amazing profession. We have the privilege of working with generous people to provide them the joy of helping others and changing the world. We rob them of this opportunity when we accept the status quo. 

Balancing risk is also important. As Grant points out, taking the risk out of risk taking is the true art behind being original. It's balancing things that you know are true and safe, say for example the fact that you know your donors want to feel appreciated and shown the impact of their gifts, with something riskier, reducing the number of times you solicit and raising the number of times you communicate without asking.
Allowing sureness in one sense allows us to venturesome in another. 

So what do you know for sure? 

How do you display this original creativity in your work? How are you breaking from sameness and conformity to ensure that your donors are engaged deeply and in a meaningful manner with your organization? 

I look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Learning from a donor #fail

We don't live in an ideal world. Things go wrong all the time. But how do we celebrate these bumps in the road? One Princeton professor took it as a path to enlightenment and posted a CV or resume of all of the things that didn't work out the way they were supposed to. It's amazing, check it out here.

Imagine if we in the nonprofit world did the same thing? At conferences we often put best practices forward to our audiences and attest to our grand successes. This sets unrealistic expectations for our attendees. What about the bumps along the way? What about the projects we tried to do that got stalled in committee? What about the projects that fell flat with our administration and donors? What about the errors that while no one died as a result of them, they just did not work? When we try something new and fail, we learn more from those mistakes than we ever do the projects that sail through and make us look like heros.

A little vulnerability goes a long way. The same can be said for attempts with our donors. I'm thinking of a few examples from my life and others:

The time I put out potpourri on display at an event and a donor ate it as snack mix.
The time someone mistakenly spelled "public" missing a consonant on a commencement program.
The time someone named a building in honor of someone without considering what the acronym spelled.
The time someone eliminated immediate gift receipts and mailed them all in January instead because it was easier on the staff.
The time a donor chose the text on their building signage and put a quote from their beloved dog.
The time someone came up with a brilliant young donor program and then excluded everyone under 35 in the mailing list pull.
The time a first time donor postcard with the words "we wish you were here" was sent out without pulling deceased donors from the list.

And there are many many more. Most of these are innocent mistakes that are fun to talk about and even at times can be funny. But the reality is that they all happened. But no one ever gets to hear about these. I think we should celebrate them and talk about them more, allowing us to have a more open dialogue about how failure pushes innovation. If you need proof of this, think about the videos lately of Elon Musk's rocket ship and its failed landings and then boom on the 5th try they nail it. If they would have stopped at 2 tries, we would never have seen this.

We talk all about our successes but what were the failures along the way? Celebrate them, embrace them and tell us your stories! You can remain anonymous with your #epicfail, but celebrate them and what you learned from them. I can't wait to hear from you and your examples. Comment below!