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Are fundraisers guilty of “fundraiser shaming”?

on Dec 10, 2014

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I started blogging about fundraising so I could explore and maybe even justify my belief that for professional fundraisers, the ‘how’ is as important as ‘how much’. To show that it’s this belief that legitimizes our profession, and gives us pride in our work.

This hasn’t been as easy as I’d expected.

The challenge seems to lie in our need to balance bottom-line results with what we’re told is “best practice” from the latest book, conference, or blog. But, what if the advice isn’t going to help you meet budget? What if it doesn’t suit your brand? Fundraisers who opt to deviate from the textbook principles, no matter how effective, are left feeling like outsiders in their own profession.

Here’s an example: last January a huge Facebook thread erupted amongst friends debating the merits of doing a December 31st email appeal for a final gift. If I remember correctly the e-appeal in question may have focused on a matching opportunity, or possibly the imminent tax deadline. More people disliked it than were supportive. I injected maybe two comments to say that I was doing a similar email that year for a pretty simple reason – it works, and I can’t afford to leave any money on the table.

In that example, both sides had perfectly valid opinions, and there was also a very rational point made for the middle ground, which was to segment and test.

Are fundraisers guilty of ‘fundraiser shaming’?

The act of body shaming is scarily pervasive, and in too many circles it is far too casual and acceptable. I do wonder sometimes if fundraisers are also a too quick and casual to pass judgement on the work of other fundraisers and what greater negative impacts – if any – result from the judgement.

I also wonder where this all comes from.

I try to remember that behind every email, every letter, every news update or tweet there is a person struggling to keep their head above water. Likely, they are being asked to do the work of two or more people and almost definitely their patience has worn incredibly thin.

The most sensible solution I can think of.

It seems to me that at the root of all this is the best of intentions. We want to find out what works, and share it with everyone. But, we neglect to add the necessary caveats that it can’t possibly work or be feasible for everyone. And, we neglect to recognize that trying does count for something. Best practices aren’t a binary state, where you’re either doing it or your not. There’s a ton of space in between, and what matters is forward progress.

So instead of trying to market a best practice as a one-size-fits-all solution, why not embrace our differences? Why not start by mentoring someone, or picking up the phone to tell a peer about a breakthrough you just had. Email someone. Buy someone a coffee. I’ve done this, and not only do we both learn a bunch of new stuff, I got an awesome new fundraising buddy out of it as well.

Let’s ask for help when we need it, and give it when we can.

This post was by Brock Warner. Hailing from Toronto, Brock works to foster and place value upon the act of philanthropy, no matter the size of gift. As a professional, he values the ‘how’ as much as the ‘how much’ and desire to see the fruits of my labour and energy be a catalyst for positive change. Connect with Brock on Twitter at @BrockWarner.

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