Best practices: get your nonprofit back in the game

Want to learn how to be better at your fundraising job? Listen to this podcast. I can hear Malcolm Gladwell lamenting, “what’s a podcast about free throws have to do with fundraising for my nonprofit?” Well glad you asked Gladwell; the underlying message about resisting change  is easily transferable to the nonprofit sector.

The episode is described on the Revisionist History website as follows:

““The Big Man Can’t Shoot” is a meditation on the puzzle of why smart people do dumb things—why excellence is such a difficult and elusive goal, even for the best-intentioned.”

The premise is that shooting a free throw in basketball underhand has a much higher success rate than shooting overhand.  One of the best players of all time, Wilt Chamberlain, had his best free throw season percentage wise shooting underhanded, but returned to shooting “the normal way” for the rest of his career because throwing underhand was perceived as a “granny shot.”

Chamberlain’s story demonstrates how he had a high threshold (meaning it was very difficult) to motivate him to do something different than everyone else. He was more comfortable using a less beneficial method in order to stick with the societal norm. So the question is, why do we continue to sacrifice success at the expense of keeping things PC?

Here comes the parallel with fundraising:

Even though nonprofit staff can intellectualize the fact that using best practices will raise more money, they often don’t make changes because of organizational norms.

It could be something as simple as making a website mobile friendly, or changing the timing of an appeal mailing- small deviations from an organization’s status quo can be tremendously beneficial. Nonprofits should do what works as opposed to what they are used to.

The truth is that many organizations have a high threshold for changing how they have been raising money year after year. There are all kinds of best practices, statistics and studies about how to make your fundraising more effective. More organizations need to lower their threshold in order to make critical changes, experiment with new approaches, or take creative risks with a tactic that perhaps no one else is using, because it is different than what they have always done.  Change is not always easy, but neither is success.

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