Fundraisers: Are you on the Right Track?

by Laurie Herrick, Mentor, JCamp 180

As my train chugs along from Philadelphia to my home in Western Massachusetts I'm struck by the metaphor of the train headed down the track in a specific direction. Are our organizations headed in the right direction?

In the book The Three Laws of Performance, Dave Logan and Steve Zaffron provide useful tools for those of us who raise money for important causes. The first law of performance is this: How things occur affects how people perform. This means that how we perceive things, interpret them, and how they occur to us is what impacts our actions. For example, one person might say that what has happened in our economy in the last few years has been a "disaster". As a result of that interpretation, they might act in a particular way; perhaps they hunker down, proceed very cautiously, not ask for much from others - and brace themselves for worse times to come. Another person might interpret the past two years as a "challenging time", which might cause them to be proactive and thoughtful, the "challenge" may call them to action.

I met a man on the train yesterday who is an investment broker. He told me that the "fabulous economic events" of the past two years had had a tremendous impact on his work. I was incredulous. While I told him I had never heard anyone use the term "fabulous" about the last few years' financial climate, he said that it was exactly the wake up call we all needed. He understood that it wasn!t causing fabulous outcomes for everyone, but it was a reminder that we needed to stop being arrogant and riding our high horses and get our business in order. It was an important opportunity to take advantage of. Besides being an investment broker, he is the VP of the board of directors of a prominent, successful foundation. I told him that his foundation was very lucky to have him on their board. Leadership from someone who can envision "what is possible" in times that most consider tough or challenging, can significantly move an organization forward. In fact, he had begun to enroll his board in a new fundraising initiative.

When we look at the last several years, how many of you know organizations that stopped asking their donors for money? How many depended on state and federal grants and were riding a wave of complacency? How many of those organizations actually closed their doors? How many took advantage of the opportunity and strengthened their "portfolio" of donors? How many got better at articulating their vision, realizing that those who couldn!t speak passionately about their cause would be left by the wayside?

The Second Law of Performance is: How a situation occurs arises in language. When we start to identify and pay attention to the language we are using, we can see that we have a default future all set up for ourselves. According to Zaffron and Logan, every person, every family, every group, every organization, has a default future - the future that is going to happen if we just move ahead with nothing unpredictable interfering. If we sit on the train headed for Hartford, CT, we will likely eventually arrive in Hartford.

I recently explained this Law to a group of fundraisers and asked them about their default future.

They responded by saying that their default future was that:

  • The economy will get worse before it gets better
  • Leaders of their organization will decide to spend less money for fundraising efforts
  • They will continue to lose grant funding over the next couple of years
  • many of our organizations will close down
  • For those who remain open, we'll be serving a smaller and smaller proportion of those who need our services

Is this the future we want??? Absolutely NOT!! As Logan and Zaffon state, the only way to transform your organization is to honestly identify your default future and have your leadership and community recognize it as the train they have been on - that they may want to choose to get off. When we see that train is going down the wrong track, we need to unify and boldly, loudly say, NO WAY!! We are NOT going there. We refuse to head in that direction. We are committed to going here instead. We will do this, be this, make this happen.

Then, and only then, can you create a different future. This is the Third Law of Performance: Future based language transforms an organization. This should be one that you and your colleagues unify on. Future based language does not include passive words like "hope" or "wish". It is bold and visionary. Support each other in a bold vision.

The gentleman I met earlier on the train had a vision, he enrolled his board and staff in greater possibility and opportunity and really transformed their community. Some could say he was crazy to try this during "challenging economic times"... I say he was just getting on the right train.

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