Old Problems New Solutions

Year end mailing revenue continues to decline; this year’s gala auction total same as last year—but costs are higher; donor pool just won’t grow. I’m sure none of our readers have experienced these difficulties with their development programs. Now, the truth is, every development program has a problem or weakness that seems to never be solved. And yet how we often respond is amazing.

When a new fundraising problem arises, the frequent management or board response is that a new approach or solution must be developed to solve it. A task force or committee is formed, consultants hired and energy is expended. Such an approach may—or may not—be the prudent course of action. So the solution for a “new” problem may already be in your program toolbox.

The ever-present specter of the status quo is on full display, however, when a continuing, chronic fundraising problem needs addressing. Work harder. Solicit more. Publicize more. These tools are already in the tool box and they may be all wrong for the particular problem at hand. Mention the need for a radical redesign or paradigm shift to solve one of these persistent problems and the oft heard responses are “We’ve never done it that way before,” and “We’re different here.”

The first response implies that either (1) everything even conceivable has already been tried or—the less charitable explanation—(2) what we know is all that is worthy of consideration. While the second response, “we’re different”, is simply a flight of fancy born out of perceived uniqueness. Human nature—across time and across culture—is amazingly consistent. It is because of this fact, not in spite of it, that successful fundraising so successful.

The adage—if you want to continue to see the same results, continue to do the same things—certainly applies to fundraising. Whether it’s old solutions to new problems or new solutions old problems, whatever works works.

Larry C. Johnson
M. E. Grace & Associates