Tuesday, January 31, 2012

BIG’s Blog: What are you?

An onion is an onion.  But the onion provides a great metaphor because of its construction to help us all think about something that’s really confusing.

You are the leader, or are a part of the leadership team, of your organization’s fundraising group. But if you peel back your fundraising group all the way to its core (as you would peel back an onion) you hopefully will get to the “reason for your existence.”

Fundraising . . . right?

We can study the philosophy of philanthropy and spend a lifetime working through the nuances of “why people give,” but if your group is charged with raising funds to power the missions of your organization and the funds are not hitting the goals that you set, that’s a problem.

We are always comfortable with what we know, and a part of that is forgetting what we “are” and instead seeing ourselves as “what we do.” This is always a big challenge in times of great change like we are experiencing today.


It isn’t just fundraisers that fall into this. It is so endemic that it is easy to find all kinds of similar examples. Take the railroads for example.

The railroads forgot that they were in the transportation business, carrying passengers and freight. They saw themselves as railroads and evolved a culture . . . some would say a romantic narrative . . . around all the history, events and characters (think Casey Jones) of what the railroad culture means.

And insofar as the people that actually built and worked on the track beds, ran the trains or otherwise focused on the operation of the railroad, the culture of being a railroad man or woman made sense.

But for the leaders or members of the senior leadership team that ran the company that actually owned the railroads, forgetting they were in the transportation business was inexcusable.

As new transportation technologies developed, and began to siphon off passenger traffic, why didn’t they follow their customers and incorporate these new transportation technologies into their transportation companies? Why don’t we have Union Pacific airlines, or Burlington Northern airlines? Exactly!

For fundraisers it’s no different today. If you view your fundraising group as direct mail and planned giving, because that is what you “do” today, rather than following communication technology and your current and potential donors as they fundamentally shift how they communicate, engage, and donate, you will actually be worse off than the railroads. At least the railroads had a freight business to fall back on.


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