Editor’s Note: Douglas Shaw was kind enough to share with us some excerpts from his highly personable and practical new book, The Rules of Fundraising. We’ll be running ten of Doug’s 35 rules here on Fieldnotes in the coming weeks—you can read the introduction and rules one and two—and we encourage you to purchase the book on Amazon to read the rest.

Rule #6: Effective fundraising is counter-intuitive.

In my mind, it’s difficult to be an effective fundraiser. It requires a lot of insight and practice to become a true craftsman. If you’ve been in the field awhile, you know this all too well. Intuition can be kind of tricky. It can, when left to its own devices, disallow the necessary checks and balances of objective reality.

Intuition is often the motivating force that leads a fundraiser to do things she believes but shouldn’t be done—like suppressing her major donors from the normal streams of communication being offered to smaller donors. On the surface, this makes sense. Major donors are special people, and it’s not a good thing to deluge them with direct mail, newsletters, e-blasts, and all the other tools available in your fundraising toolbox. Here’s the counter-intuitive part: Many organizations are understaffed and therefore don’t have the ability to provide personal contact or communication to every one of their major donors. By suppressing normal streams of communication, they’ve unintentionally isolated the very people who need to know what their generous support is accomplishing!

Intuition can lead us into making other costly mistakes too. Many development officers believe that it only makes sense to suppress major donors who’ve just given from their next general giving opportunity.

Experienced fundraisers know “the donor most likely to give is the one who has just given!” Yup! That’s the rule. Now, again, I don’t get to have input into the formation of the rules, I just have to discover what the rules are and live by them. If you struggle with this rule, just know you are in great company! Sometimes it just bewilders me, but the fact is that donors love to give. It makes them feel great inside. They also love to feel needed and included in the advancement of your ministry.

This rule—of not leaning too heavily on our intuition—goes against our instincts. After all, we’ve all made good decisions by “trusting our gut.” But in fundraising this can put you into a place you’d rather not be if it means that you ignore “The Rules.” That’s what it means when the rule states: Effective Fundraising is Counter-Intuitive.

Fund raising is indeed counter-intuitive, and it is the wise trustee, CEO, or development officer who will let go of his fear of offending donors and be open and honest about why he is writing to them: He needs their financial support.


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