Jul 12, 2010

Fundraising Blind Spots: What Are Yours?

I recently saw a fascinating play, "In the Wake," by Lisa Kron, at Berkeley Repertory Theater. It centers on a group of friends living in New York, post 9/11. One of the major themes is the characters' struggle to discover what assumptions are so ingrained in them that they can't even see how these affect their personal lives and political opinions.

For example, one character, July, who does international humanitarian work, shocks another (and the audience) by explaining that she never votes in U.S. elections. Her rationale turns out to be one of the most thought-provoking moments in the play: It's because she didn't grow up with the level of economic privilege that gives her friends a blind faith in their ability to effect societal progress. From her and her family's perspective, she has truly never seen voting make a difference.

The other blind spots explored by the play didn't seem as clear-cut or satisfying, at least after a single viewing (I haven't read the script). But the play has left me "seeing blind spots" everywhere I turn. And where better to ferret these out than in one's fundraising plan?

An example turned up in a book I read recently, called Effective Church Finances: Fund-Raising and Budgeting for Church Leaders, by Kennon L. Callahan (Jossey-Bass). Callahan says that many U.S. churches conduct their primary drive for member pledges in October -- despite the fact that, statistically speaking, October has been shown to be one of the most difficult months in which to raise money, as people pay off their summer vacation expenditures and parents cope with the expenses of the new school year.

Why October? It dates back to when our economy was based on agriculture, and farmers would have just brought in the autumn harvest. By now, probably few church fundraisers remember that fact -- while the need for an October pledge drive has become their particular blind spot.

Does your organization have its own blind spots? Asking questions like, "Why do we always do things this way?" is a good way to start finding out. Another way is to think of ways you can test your assumptions about what works. For example, let's say you've always sent four-page letters in your direct mail appeals to potential new donors. You can test the effectiveness of this strategy by dividing the mailing group in half and sending a two-page letter to some and a four-page letter to others. Then compare the results. If you're surprised, congratulations -- your vision just got closer to 20/20.