Back when I took my first yoga class, the teacher warned us to avoid "The 4 C's." I have kept that advice in the back of my mind in the 25 years since that class, and I've found it to be good advice for yoga, for daily life, and for fundraising.
But while The 4 C's are big Don'ts, they can lead to some even bigger Do's.
It's tempting to look at other organizations in your sector and wonder why you don't have the same name recognition or the number of donors that they boast. But comparisons don't move you forward. Instead, they tend to get you mired in picking apart your flaws and all the ways you can't measure up.
Do Study and Learn
Where it's damaging to compare, it can actually be really helpful to look at what an organization is doing to get that name recognition or secure that donor loyalty. Study their direct mail and see if there are ideas -- packages or techniques -- that you think your donors might respond to. Learn what you can about how they engage the press or work social media and see if you can find ways to boost your own organization.
I was at a children's soccer game recently where a parent was so upset that his son's team was losing that he lost it. He began yelling at an eight-year-old child on the opposing team and had to be escorted out of the park. It didn't help his son or his son's team play better, it didn't increase anyone's enjoyment of the game, and it didn't change the outcome. Our culture tends to laud competitiveness, and while some drive to win is a good thing, in general, competing in fundraising isn't going to get you where you want to go.
Instead, try collaborating. If there's another organization in your sector that is performing better than you in their fundraising efforts, reach out to them and see if they'll share some of their secrets. Reach across sectors to find like-minded colleagues to work with. (Some of my biggest successes come from looking at what organizations in totally different arenas -- including for-profit companies -- are doing.) Different minds have different takes on the same situation, and working together can help everyone succeed.
I like to complain as much as the next person. But let's face it: Nobody likes a whiner. And where does it get you anyway? That ten minutes you just spent jawing about a rotten situation is ten minutes you could have spent fixing it.
Do Embrace Challenges
Fundraising -- like life -- doesn't promise to be easy, comfortable or fun. I wish it did, but instead, it promises one challenge after another. So embrace those challenges. Come up with creative ways to solve them. You might come up with the next Velcro. And even if you don't, at the very least, you'll be moving forward instead of wallowing in the same old problems.
Criticism has no place in yoga, where the idea is to do the best practice you are capable of doing at that moment. But what about in the nonprofit world? Shouldn't we criticize in order to produce the best possible outcome -- whether we're writing a fundraising letter or developing a new outreach program?
Criticism doesn't leave a whole lot of room for what's going right, which is often just as important -- if not more -- than what's going wrong. In their fantastic book on change, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath talk about one of the key steps that people who successfully change situations take: following the bright spots. By looking at what is working and trying to do more of that, we're usually more successful than if we look at what's not working and try to change it. In other words, endless criticism is not going to get you where you want to go as fast as thoughtful critique.