For uncommon fundraising results, use uncommon sense

With a new charity birthed every 24 seconds (or so it seems), it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. Case in point: Google the words charity, clean, and water.  Or try AIDS orphans or teen moms or micro-finance, or . . . you choose the search terms. The results are the same. The nonprofit landscape is crowded everywhere you look these days.

So how do you distinguish your precious organization from similar causes?  Conventional wisdom points in the direction of factors such as visionary leadership, a well-crafted business plan, or a mastery of social media.

But as reported in the Spring 2012 MIT Sloan Management Review, the distinctive edge belongs to organizations with “uncommon sense.” Leaders in these places know things other leaders don’t – including the secret of uncommon fundraising results.


If you doubt the correlation of assumptions about fundraising and amounts with money raised, consider the following categories of belief and the action each inspires.

1. There are the generally accepted standards for success in fundraising—practices that are so pervasive no one any longer refers to them as “best.” They’re simply the way things are done. These are the common sense practices on which every successful development programs rests.

2. Then there’s the shared foolishness that swirls about in development circles – the false beliefs that get in the way of results. These “old fundraisers’ tales” are the stuff that the Sloan article labels common nonsense. These are the beliefs that dumb down the system.

3. Even more detrimental to an organization’s development efforts are the myths and misinformation that organizational leaders repeat to themselves about their own fundraising program. These distinctive beliefs comprise the uncommon nonsense of a particular nonprofit — the self-defeating beliefs that limit an organization’s fundraising potential.

4. Finally, there’s the uncommon sense that many seek, but few find – the category of beliefs that distinguishes stellar fundraisers from the merely good.  Uncommon sense is (paraphrasing the Sloan article) grounded in theories that ring truer with donors and prospective donors than those employed by other similar nonprofits.

Common sense beliefs will keep your organization alive to serve another day.  But if it’s uncommon results you’re after, you’ve got to dig deeper and think differently. You’ve got to trust your uncommon sense.

What's your take on this topic?

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