It’s been said that good decisions come from experience and I believe that wholeheartedly. It’s also been said that one gains experience from making bad decisions. Boy oh boy, do I ever believe that, too!
There is a lot we can learn from some of the really bad decisions that have been made—and the better ones (hopefully) that have subsequently been made.
Error #1 – Cutting acquisition quantities to improve the current year’s fundraising ratios while at the same time seriously impairing future revenue streams. If you cut back on acquisition, it follows that you’re going to have fewer current donors to cultivate. It also follows that you will have begun a downward spiral of revenue that will take years to reverse.
Error #2 – Hiring the wrong major gift leader. If you have a major gift leader who interferes with a successful direct mail program, that’s bad. That person should be out visiting with donors. Or, if you have a major gift leader who actively tries to restrict communication with donors based on how much they’ve given rather than based on who should be cultivated, that’s also bad. Major gift officers should generate major gifts.
Error #3 – If you have a consultant who claims to be able to acquire “high-value” donors, at the expense of ending up with “not-enough” donors to guarantee the sustainability of your organization, that needs to be corrected as soon as possible. You need a program that acquires donors who are high value PLUS all the other donors.
Error #4 – Bragging about your efficiency. Instead, teach donors to judge you by the impact of your programs (that they have supported), instead of by arbitrary and misleading numbers in a report.
Error #5 – Allowing people, both inside and outside of your organization, to take your mission and its programs for granted. When this is done, the temptation is to cut the frequency of communications and have more of an emphasis put on stories of success rather than stories that illustrate need or urgency. When these efforts fail, you will then be blamed for the channel or the donors or your department, rather than the dilution of the strategy that led to your success.
Error #6 – Believing that you are the target audience. You should be meeting donors where they are, rather than where you wish they were. Make it easy for donors to financially support programs that they truly care about, not programs that you or others in your organization would like for them to be passionate about.
Error #7 – Being so afraid of being called a micro-manager that you don’t oversee what’s actually going on in your office. Sure, you sometimes need to allow your staff to learn from their mistakes, but that should be on the small stuff. When it comes to important matters, however, you owe it to your organization, your people and yourself to teach staff the right things to do and the right way to do them. If there’s one thing experience should teach us, it’s that not all ideas are of equal value.
Error #8 – Being afraid to fire someone. If someone is not succeeding in his position he’s hurting the cause you represent and very likely demoralizing others. If someone isn’t cutting it, even after you’ve worked with them on improvement, let them go. It will allow you to hire someone better, and will allow the exiting employee to find a position better suited to their skill set.
If you have other errors to add to this list, I’d love to learn about them. Please add them here.