February 27, 2015 Doug Shaw

I’ve been around the fundraising barn a few times.  In fact I’ve worn a path around it that, if filled with water, would resemble a moat!  I’ve played in the haymows and stacked bales of every kind of hay known to man.  I’ve even shoveled out the stalls and fed the cows!

No matter how long I live, it never ceases to amaze me that all fundraisers at one time or another, give in to the temptation to spend their organization’s money on an idea that’s poorly conceived.  But what really vexes me is that I, on occasion, still find myself listening intently to a client who has an idea that they just know will work (when all my experience says it’s DOA) and I give in and try to execute it.

But I’m working on it!  Here’s the thought process that I’ve developed for myself that seems to be helping me overcome the temptation to knowingly take a bad idea and make it a good one in order to raise money.  Maybe it’ll help you too.

As I listen to a board member, CEO, or development officer try to “sell” me on why their idea will work, I sit forward and concentrate carefully on what is being proposed.  As a knot begins to form in my gut, and conveys warning signals to my brain, I sit back in my chair and wait for the seller to pause.

Here’s what I’ve learned.  If someone has to sell me, then the idea never had a chance.  What’s worse is when I listen; giving affirming head nods and trying to come up with reasons for why this failed idea just might work this time.   This is when I know I have to stop, take a deep breath, and say to my client and myself, “I wouldn’t be serving you well if I didn’t tell you that I have attempted this same approach with about six other organizations, and each time we got our lunch eaten.” 

This is hard to do because I’m basically a people pleaser by nature, especially if the person “selling” is of high stature.  I pains me to be the wet blanket.  But I’ve learned from the Fram Oil Filter commercial campaign that says, “Pay me now or pay me later.”  Do you know it?  There’s this ominous voice that tells the viewer or listener that if you buy a cheap oil filter it will ruin your car’s engine.  So the point is, spend a little more and buy a good filter that will protect your engine or go ahead and be cheap, buy an inferior filter, ruin your engine, and pay to have it fixed.  Then you’ll buy a Fram Oil Filter.  It’s really a quite effective commercial.

So, perhaps a good name for this principle is THE FRAM PRINCIPLE!   You and I are far better off challenging the validity of a doomed strategy or tactic right at the outset.  If we try to please the boss, knowing in our gut that it will fail, we will have worried, wasted time and money, and perhaps put ourselves in jeopardy.

The end result of agreeing to a strategy that can’t work is often a comment from our supervisor, “If you knew it wouldn’t work, then why did you let me talk you into it?”  See, you can’t win by waiting. You might as well go ahead and push back in the moment and earn the respect of your supervisor for having the guts to challenge them with specific evidence.

Just because you, me, or our supervisor thinks a strategy will work doesn’t mean it will.  So beware of the seller, especially if it’s you!

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