Commit to change or forget it

publication date: Oct 12, 2011
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas
The easiest way to raise more money than last year is to do what you did previously, but just a little better. The hardest way to raise more money this year and in the next few years is to commit to serious investment, accept that some things will fail, learn from the best, try new stuff and commit to a rollercoaster of change.Jonathon Grapsas photo

Most organizations tend to accept the status quo and run with the former. That's fair enough. There's no shame in raising more money than the year before, even if it's a marginal increase. If more people are helped, then that's a good result.

Change limbo

But I'm annoyed by those in what I'd call "change limbo." You know the types - they used to be indecisive, now they're not so sure. They say they want change, talk a big game but can't commit it to or aren't able to make it happen. They make lots of noise, but there's little movement.

This is really frustrating for everyone involved: you, your board, your boss, your partners. If you'd spent that time invested in trying to change on improving the basics of your fundraising program instead, then you'd have been better off.

The change-averse organization

So what are the warning signs that you could be barking up the wrong tree when looking to move the goal posts significantly and drive change?
  • An organization that's a serial rejecter of new ideas.
  • You've been told up the chain "we're interested in trying that, but can you show us someone else who's done it?"
  • There's a revolving door in the development/fundraising team.
There are other red flags, and one or some of the above can be overcome. They're just warning signs, not complete roadblocks.

My point? Change for the sake of change isn't a good thing. An effort to do things differently knowing full well that it won't happen is a waste of everyone's time and a disservice to your benefactors.

The change-friendly organization

If you're serious about working for an organization that truly wants to flip things on its head, here are a few tips.
  • Do your homework before you arrive. Ask tough questions during the interview process. Look at any available external evidence or data that demonstrates the organization's track record in testing, investing, and trying new things.
  • Plant some seeds. Try out something that hasn't been done before, on a really small scale. You'll soon find out what the organization's appetite is for growth and innovation, particularly if it fails.
  • Always test. Empirical data is difficult to argue with. Showing your board, boss and donors why you've done something new and the results you attained can break down the wall of resistance. "We tested it" are three very powerful words.
  • Benchmark. Share, compare and learn from others. Introducing ideas, inspiration and data from those around you is a sure-fire way to fuel growth.
If you're comfortable ticking along at just above last year's level, that's great. But if you're looking for a steep growth trajectory, then commit to change.  Or simply forget it.

Jonathon Grapsas is the founder and director at flat earth direct, an agency dedicated to fundraising and campaigning for good causes. Jonathon spends his time working with charities around the world focused on digital, direct response and campaigning stuff.

If you'd like to chat to Jonathon you can drop him a line, follow him on twitter or check out

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