Here’s a classic marketing question: When do I imitate versus when do I innovate?

As much as Roger and I bemoan a lack of innovation today in fundraising, without question there are plenty of ‘lessons learned’ that all fundraisers should seriously consider before launching into change for change sake.

Another way of putting it is that there are heaps of fundraising mistakes that others have already made for you — repeatedly — and there’s no reason for you to add to the evidence!

That’s the message from Tom Harrison, CEO of one of the most experienced fundraising operations around, Russ Reid Company. In this Fundraising Success article, 15 Mistakes That have Already Been Made For You, Tom talks about some key lessons lying on the table for all of us to profit from.

It’s a stimulating list, covering most aspects of fundraising. However I’ve reorganized it to reflect my sense of relative importance, from greatest impact to less impact.

  1. Lazy cultivation. [Or as Tom says: Retention. Retention. Retention. Tom, if you made this #1, you would have earned an Agitator raise!]
  2. Cutting acquisition quantity to improve fundraising ratios, but destroying your future revenue stream in the process. [This is Tom's #1. And closely related ...]
  3. Being seduced by a consultant who claims to be able to acquire “higher value donors” and ending up getting too few donors to sustain your organization.
  4. Believing that you are the target audience.
  5. Forgetting to test.
  6. Putting all your eggs in one basket. [But, balanced by next item ...]
  7. Chasing blindly after the next big thing. [Amen!]
  8. Cutting revenue-producing programs to address a budget shortfall. [Don't let your finance czar get away with this.]
  9. Being afraid to fire someone. [Although, the higher ranking the individual, the more I might move this one up the list!]
  10. Hiring the wrong major-gift leader. [Exact placement of this one depends on the nature of your giving pyramid.]
  11. Being so afraid of being called a micromanager that you don’t manage enough. [Mentoring is fine.]
  12. Accepting watchdog standards. [Be judged by the impact of your programs, not by ratios.]
  13. Making it look too easy. [You should be this lucky!]
  14. Setting a target for your capital campaign, but forgetting to include two years of operating budget in the total. [Low ranking only because I suspect not too many of our readers are involved in setting strategy for capital campaigns.]
  15. Letting brand dictate fundraising messages instead of mandating that brand reinforce fundraising messages.

    [Tom didn't explain what he was getting at on this one, so I'll disagree! I say your brand should be driven by your core mission -- what you do and how you do it. Fundraising messages must reflect that reality, not invent a new one that fundraisers would rather sell! The exception? If your brand has really lost its way, and you as a marketer have the insight and clout to force that issue to the table, by all means, go for it!]

Any mistakes you’d like to see the rest of us avoid?


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