you know enough about fundraising

I stopped reading “leadership” books last year because I realized that I didn’t need to learn anything new. I needed to actually do more of what I’d already learned. I’ll go back to books on leadership eventually, but for now I’m enjoying the freedom not to read more on leadership.

Understand, it’s not that I think I know a lot about leadership or that I’m a good leader, it’s that I need to practice more of what I’ve read and spend less time reading about it. The funny thing about leadership and management type books is that you can fool yourself into thinking that reading the book is the same thing as actually doing the work.

Anyway, with that context, I thought I’d ask you about fundraising and development (and marketing). I’d observe that many fundraising professionals know more about fundraising and development than they’re actually doing. Yet, they’re all about learning new things.

Seminars are great fun. Presentations are a joy. It’s a rush to learn new techniques and strategies. I love presenting and teaching on strategic fundraising. Shoot, give me an audience, a whiteboard and a screen and I’ll wow ‘em and make you proud. Plus, I’ll deliver top-notch, cutting edge, actionable strategies.


Over and over I see organizations and leaders who aren’t doing what they already know to do. They’re not thanking and acknowledging their donors quickly. They’re not connecting their donors with the heart of their ministry’s mission. They’re not fixing that cranky donation form. They’re not . . . (well you get the idea).

So, like I decided to take a hiatus from leadership books, maybe you oughta consider taking a break from learning about fundraising and spend more time doing great fundraising. (Of course you can still read our blog).

So this is one of the crazier topics I’ve covered (which is saying something for sure). What do you think? Have you ever found yourself “learning” about something instead of doing it? Do you find yourself loving the learning but struggling with the doing? I’d love to know what you think.

Steve Thomas
Partner, Oneicity

(photo credit: ralph and jenny)

Steve Thomas

Steve Thomas

17 thoughts on “you know enough about fundraising”

  1. Thanks for writing this post. I’ve been finding the same thing with social media blogs and books. They’re all saying variations on things I mostly already know. So now I just need to stop reading and start acting on all the great strategies we already know.

  2. I always find half the battle is just getting started…the other half is doing it consistently. For me consistency always requires accountability in one form or another. The trick is finding something or someone to be accountable to a week, a month, 6 months after you read the book or listen to the seminar.

  3. Deborah Gohrke

    Heavens knows I love books and love learning, but you are absolutely right about endlessly studying about leadership or fundraising or anything else, versus doing it. Most of us know what we need to be doing. I was looking for some inspiration on my bookshelves last night and got weary just looking at the titles. I’ve read most of them already and now I’m cycling back?! “Work avoidance,” a term from one of my leadership books, is especially tricky when it is respectively disguised as learning. Sometimes we do need to learn more. But, I often pick up books as an excuse for postponing the doing, while comforted that I AM “doing” the important work of preparing to do.

    I’m trying to off load my books related to my coursework and teaching at SU. You were one of my prime suspects for the dump…oops, I mean gift. No wonder there was silence when I asked you Saturday night if you wanted my leadership and fundraising books. That makes me quite happy, actually, as I may have been one of the sparks that triggered this most excellent post.

    Thanks, I needed that.

  4. I teach operational efficiency classes all over the world. Every customer says, “Brad, that’s just common sense!” To which, I generally respond with a question, “Are you doing it?” They look down, sheepishly grin, and say, “Well….no.”

    When they actually “Do” something, they are amazed at the results.

    Nike gets is right…..Just Do It.

  5. Thanks for the post Steve.

    I got to thinking about this and thought I would share with you my reflections upon putting down the books, unregistering from the trainings, and putting it all into practice. I lean heavily upon my own experiences and so my reflections are limited to me, but, they may with others. Admittedly, it is a bit long winded, but I wrote my thoughts as an exercise for me to grow from and thought you and possibly others might enjoy the reading.
    There is one word that most comprehensively, though not totally, explains the reason I kept my head in books and avoided performance. FEAR! What if all my learning was for naught? What if I don’t perform to the expectations that I have set for myself or others have set for me. What if I am not doing it as well as it could be done? What if I am not the best? And what will be the consequences if any of the questions end of being true?
    I had three options to respond to this fear…Fight, Freeze, or Flee.
    Fight: Lift my head out of the books and classes and put it into action. This would be the choice to risk the loss believing that the reward is worth the risks.
    Freeze: keep my head in the books and learn more. This is safe and often provides a great smoke screen because learning is respected and it is action. But is it the right action in the right place at the right time.
    Flee: Change jobs, change the objective, or change the expected outcomes. This is not necessarily the wrong choice. Admitting defeat and failure can be a very healthy step towards greater success in something else. Unfortunately, in a culture and climate that celebrate wins and success and shames losses and defeats this is a very uncomfortable and risky option.
    My recent change in positions and duties at my organization is a bit of a personal case study which has spurred much of my thinking about this topic. Believe me when I say this winded response doesn’t capture it all. But I will save you and others the pain. To the point, as I reflect upon this change from fundraising to directing a men’s shelter, I am struck with how I respond to my fears differently. Where I once tended toward freezing (learning, researching, growing however you want to pour honey upon it) in fundraising, I now fight the fear, develop plans and put them into action. The possible outcomes of the action for my organization and those I serve at the organization are so exciting, that the fear of failure almost doesn’t matter anymore. I want to know if what my team has learned and what we have developed together will work so much that no amount of doubt will keep us from taking action.
    I think there is a lot more to think about and learn (pun intended) about this for me (e.g. what is different about the expectations, impact, risks, rewards, cultures, management, settings, etc., of the two positions that have contributed to this difference for me?), but what I doubt is that is that I could have ever shaken the fear while in fundraising. I am just not sure it was the best fit for me. And so, as one who now has many more people reporting to me, and lots more over whom I have significant influence, finding the job and duty and role in which a person is driven to fight and not freeze and work to graciously move that person in that direction is a very important part of what I do as a manager.

    AS usual, you have got me thinking. Thank you!

  6. Steve— Such a great thought. It reminds me of a favorite saying of my friend and beer maker extraordinaire— Mike Hale— “I always try to keep the main thing, the main thing!”. Remembering the basics in all marketing (and fund raising) is core. Say thank you. Emotionally connect the donor with with the ministry. Seek and share compelling stories of both need and success. Years ago I attended sales trainings offered by a big name trainer on a regular basis. I noticed the content was always exactly the same from year to year. And each year it it was worth the price. We continually have to find a way to “inspire” ourselves to do what we already know needs to be done!

  7. @Hoots — you know it’s interesting how many comments echo their versions of your sentiment. Doing verses not doing out of…what fear (I think that’s one of the themes).
    Thanks for jumping in here publicly!

  8. @Lindsey — you’re dead-on, starting and continuing is tough. Maybe that’s why we seek to learn is that it’s a way to “restart”. Could be.
    Grateful for your thoughts.

  9. @Deb — Sorry, I didn’t mean to signal I didn’t want your books, I’d love them. We’re going to have room for a library in the new offices, so we’re happy to have them.

    And “work avoidance” is such a powerful force and we have to find ways to identify that force and deal with it. Motivating action in spite of fear or risk is so much easier to identify than to solve!

    (I’m thinking there’s a seminar in my future on that subject ).

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. You always make me think!

  10. @Brad — I love that your clients have that reaction. There’s no I would rather have helping me get off the dime than you! Love the way you think.

    Thanks Man.

  11. @John — whoa! what a thoughtful, transparent post. Love it. I appreciate your analysis of your current position and past position–how those fit/didn’t fit you–and your responses.

    And you have a terrific analysis of fear response: Fight, Freeze, or Flee. So true. We’re going to need to have a cup of coffee and unpack this some more.

    I love what you’re saying here. Thank you.

  12. @Al — Keeping the main thing, the main thing. I had a buddy in Texas who used to say that as well. Smart guys.

    I wonder if the seminar speaker did the same gig over and over because people never got it or if he was lazy and didn’t want to make changes?

    Thanks for jumping in on this!

  13. Steve— I think the presenter who repeated the same material each year (for big bucks, by the way) knew WE all needed to go back to the tried and true basics with renewed enthusiasm! Funny thing, is that I never felt bad for paying for the remind, and it helps me do the right thing when I know my clients might need a “refresher course” in things they already “know”.

  14. The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. Psalm 78:9 (KJV)

    Steve and the “Tribe”

    I remember a friend from the Air Force often talked about taking time to slay the dragon. Of course that appealed to my desire for heroics. However, we often are caught between the urgent and the important. As everyone has commented, doing beats only thinking.

    Fundraising and leading are difficult because the best fundraisers and leaders invest their time in people and not only paper or statistics. This is slaying the dragon. Doing the most important and not only the urgent.

    We are people who have to review stats, benchmarks and goals. However, our most important work is investing in people. Yes, we create research, create content and develop brands. However the richest results still come back to investing in people that share in our ministries or companies.

    Yet, this work can involve numerous appointments, hours of talking and “little to show for it”. That is one of the many dilemmas. We want to be successful. We want to point to the trophy or the star or match our efforts to a specific milestone. People invest their time, energy and resources for our vision as a company or ministry. Educating, listening and investing in people is gold-mining.

    It is hard work and often goes unnoticed on paper, carries no badge and has no named trophy. But it is written on the hearts of the people we work with, for and together. To my colleagues, let us be armed with the know how, the intent and most of all with the doing. Let’s take up our bows and slay the dragon.

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