Biases In Development and Fundraising

Cartoon Man with Blinders OnRecently I attended a talk given by Rand Fishkin, CEO + founder of SEOmoz – @randfish.  He was a keynote speaker at a conference and the presentation had some long name that would probably bore most of you.  However, the speech was great.

He was talking about the prejudices that impede our success.  But, he started off by talking about the biases that women use when they join on-line dating sites.  He asserted that the large majority of women reduce their chances for a good match by a single bias.   I am definitely misquoting (you will still get the idea), but the bottom line is that if you are a woman looking for a man and you check off all the things you think you want in your ideal mate – male, certain age range, minimum bachelor’s degree, income greater than $100,000 (or $150,000) per year, taller than 5’9”, geographically desirable, etc. you will have very few choices.  But if you eliminate just the one that states taller than 5’ 9” you can easily get all of the rest of the list.  Our bias in America is towards tall men – but as most women are well under 5’ 9” why would they automatically check that box?  Because they didn’t know that one bias could have such a drastic effect.

He went on to list 12 biases that he has seen in inbound marketing.  But, since I live a double life as marketer and fundraiser, I thought we would do better examining a few of the biases that we have in development and fundraising that we should let go.

  1. My board has no money.  Not everyone has the same monetary capabilities but that does not mean there is no money to be raised through your board.  Whom do they know?  To what foundations are they connected?  We have learned in recent years that crowd-sourcing, group funding and donor pools can all be successful paths to additional funding.  But being afraid to approach the topic will ensure that your board is not reaching its potential.
  2. We can never get close to 100% participation in our fundraising efforts, so it is not worth trying.  Whether you’re thinking about your annual fund or a capital campaign, success will only happen when you are willing to do the work required to get full participation of your board and then – if appropriate – 100% of your members. While conventional wisdom is that approximately 10% of your donors will provide 90% of the funding in any major campaign, I recommend that after you obtain complete participation of the members of the board, you create a plan that employs a variety of strategies to focus on the 10% and leverage their response when you turn to  individually “touch” the rest of the targeted population.  Explain to the other 90% why it is important to your nonprofit that they become (further) involved – not why you want their money.
  3. My board won’t fundraise.  A few weeks ago I wrote an article about considering the different personalities on your board.  You can create ways how they would feel comfortable fundraising.  If you missed the article – click here to help your board help your organization.   Sticking with a single way in which your board can help you raise money ignores the potential of the three-quarters of the room that think in a different way.
  4. My ______(E.D./Board Chair/Director of Development/?)______ will never be able to do ___________.  We are not born knowing much but we can be taught.  If you want someone within your organization to gain the skills they are lacking, find a way for continuing education and professional development to become part of the culture of your organization.  First, have an open discussion about what abilities you’re hoping the person will gain – if they have noticed that they are missing necessary skills, they may be frustrated, too. Then help find an appropriate conference, a class, a trainer (Mersky, Jaffe & Associates can help), or book.  Ignoring the deficit and waiting for natural turnover or attrition will cost the organization more than money.  And it will set a bad precedent that your organization does not invest in success.

This list could go on, but this article is already past the normal length. If there is a bias you would like to share with me to get de-bunked definitely let me know by email or twitter @bullseye33.