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The art of perseverance

publication date: Oct 24, 2013
author/source: Jonathon Grapsas

Whilst on the surface this might feel like an article about risk taking and failure, it really isn’t. There’s enough commentary on those topics to provide a year’s worth of bedtime reading.Jonathon Grapsas photo

It’s actually about good old-fashioned hard work, not always accepting sector truths, and persevering.

As much as I love what I do, there’s a lot of stuff that frustrates me about the sector. One thing in particular is our acceptance, too easily, of things that often don’t have a whole lot of sound reasoning or evidence behind them – other than somebody mentioning it at a conference, so therefore it must be true.

What am I on about?

If you believed everything you read, listened to, and were taught as a fundraiser, then you’d be certain that face-to-face fundraising is a waste of time because of the high, unmanageable attrition levels and because it “damages your brand.” You’d swear that direct mail is dead and buried and you should think about moving DM donors across to email. You’d preach to anyone in earshot that Facebook isn’t worth doing anything with except perhaps “sharing content.” And you may even have thrown away the events handbook, having conceded that events simply don’t make money any more. They’re so 1990s.

The reality

Full disclosure: I believed some of these things to be sector truths at other stages of my fundraising career. Not all, but some of them.

The reality is that whilst I’ve deliberately picked areas that have been tough to crack, it’s doable. Mix in some blood, sweat and tears with some patience, fundraising insight and testing, and anything is possible.

In the last couple of years we’ve seen organizations

  • Reduce the attrition of supporters acquired through face-to-face by 25% in the first 12 months, gaining hundreds of thousands (in some cases millions) of dollars, by switching their focus to mobile-driven communications;
  • Significantly grow their donor bases and net income from an investment in direct mail acquisition and renewal programs (particularly those with a focus on monthly giving);
  • Profitably recruit event participants, financial supporters and advocates via Facebook acquisition;
  • Increase net income from a mature event. (One client increased income from a single event from $600K to $1.3 million in one year). They did that by using direct marketing to acquire more participants as well as developing tailored digital communications to increase renewal rates and total amount fundraised per supporter.

So what?

The point is that they managed to succeed because they stuck at it. They had a plan and they saw it through. They didn’t give up after the first bump in the road.

In each of these examples, there have been plenty of bumps. Some took more than two years of testing to get it right. Others experienced some downright failures along the way. But they have all come out the other side with thriving programs.

I get that our boards are impatient and often can’t see the forest for the trees.

But our job as fundraisers extends further than raising money, often into the unenviable task of educating boards and managing their expectations.

Hard work and perseverance really can change the world. Just take your board with you all the way.

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 campaign tactics.

For more information, email him, follow him on Twitter or check out

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