3 min Read
August 9, 2017

Stop looking forward. Start looking back.

Big Duck

Nonprofits need money. Always. Every day. Every minute. So, how are you going to get it? Another campaign? More major donor calls? Regional galas?? That crowdfunding thing? Hit up local businesses?

Man, I’m tired already. It can be really hard to avoid jumping right into the next thing immediately after you finish that other thing, especially when funding is tight. But I’m here to tell you. There’s something else. The after world. Wait…sorry, that’s “Let’s Go Crazy” by Prince. But you get the point.

There really is a better way: Stop it. Just stop it. Stop jumping right to the next thing! I know it’s hard to stop chasing that carrot because if you don’t chase it you don’t get it! But that’s not exactly true. Let me give you a few reasons to stop looking forward to the next opportunity, and start spending more time looking back:

The past has stories to tell

The number one problem with over-extending your fundraising program is that you hardly ever have the chance to really learn from your successes and failures. You may think you’ve learned that engaging celebrities only leads to disaster. Or that you’ve hit on a gold mine with that new email tactic. But if you take a moment to look back at what just happened, you may figure out that you probably should have given the celebrity clear talking points, and that the email raised so much because of a large gift—not the new tactic. The deeper you dive, the more you stand to learn. The more you learn, the more you improve, and start raising more from more donors with each new effort.

They’re not robots programmed to chase money

They’re your staff. They really do care about your cause—a lot! But, they’re still people, and they’re getting run ragged. Always going, going, going threatens to burn them out, leading to turnover and diminished inspiration. It’s hard to win big when you just lost years of institutional memory or when you’re so exhausted you’ve started hallucinating that there are donors everywhere. Besides, happy staff are more productive. I’ll say it again: if your staff are happy, they will do better work, and raise more money. Really, it’s true. (And no, randomly bringing in bagels tomorrow morning isn’t enough. I know at least a couple of you were thinking it.)

Your destination matters

Having clear internal goals also improves productivity, since having a specific destination you’re working toward makes the work you’re doing feel more meaningful. But goals set on the fly can do more damage than good. If they are unachievable, staff may feel that they can’t win no matter what they do. And if they’re too low, staff won’t be motivated. That is why it is important to pause and take the time to analyze past performance. Goals that are high but still achievable, and are consciously determined based on real data, are one of the greatest motivators out there.

Live with purpose, and you will succeed

Taking the time to stop and reflect on past successes and failures provides the insights you need to produce strategic plans and narratives for your campaigns. Having defined strategies that each appeal, event script, or conversation with a major donor responds to, as well as a big idea that every communication piece reinforces, makes content production and conversations feel more purposeful. Inspired staff do better work. Combine inspired staff with well thought out strategies, and you can’t lose.