Breadth versus Depth

Is your organization more about breadth or about depth? In other words, does the organization you represent focus on providing relatively few services to a big number of people, or does it serve a small number of constituents very deeply?

Seems to me that child sponsorship is a prime example of breadth. My sponsor gift of, say, $30 a month is pooled with dollars from other sponsors to create enough critical mass to effect change in a village or community. As a donor I see my gift as making a difference, but it only works if I’m part of something much bigger.

The field of education, by contrast, is a good example of depth. I represent a high school for students at risk, where the annualized cost to educate a single student is relatively high. That makes it a challenge to come up with the sort of “Your gift of $X does Y” calculus that many donors prefer. But the transformation that takes place in the life of each student is deeply significant. Some donors understand that model and embrace it while some don’t.

My experience tells me that, in order to acquire new donors, we need to find ways to break that sort of “depth” model down into bite-sized chunks so the smaller donor understands exactly what his/her gift will do.  When the overall cost per beneficiary is high, how do we attract the entry-level donor with something compelling? We’ve been trying some different approaches but the jury is still out.

I’d love to hear how you’ve handled this balance. Breadth or depth? Efficiency or effectiveness? Or is it both?

My Top 3 Resolutions for 2014

A few months ago my wife and I attended a fundraising banquet for a small non-profit. We were eager to go and enjoyed the evening (although I thought the program was about an hour too long, but why quibble?). And when the ask came, we responded and wrote a reasonably sized check — for us, anyway. Less than a thousand dollars but more than a hundred, we’ll say. And it was our first gift to this organization.

What happened in the few days afterward? Nothing. The sound of crickets. To this day, not a note, not a phone call, not even a receipt (yet — I figure they’ll get us one in time for the IRS deadline this month). It has been at least two months, and nothing.

Now don’t misunderstand. I wasn’t expecting a brass band or a weepy thank-you call from the person in charge. And I realize this is a VERY small organization, so their infrastructure is probably minimal…or less. But come on, people. When a new donor makes a first gift, a thank you is in order…a note, an acknowledgment, something.

I do plan to talk to the organization and tell them of our experience, but more importantly I’ve been reflecting on my own fundraising modus operandi. How am I in the gratitude department? So after careful contemplation I’ve come up with my Top 3 Resolutions for 2014. I hope they help you as much as I expect they’ll help me. They are, in order:

1. Say thank you.

2. Say thank you.

3. Say thank you.

Got any resolutions you want to add?

My friend, Mister P.

“I have a little shadow who goes in and out with me/And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.”

I used to love that poem as a child. Now when I read it I think of another sidekick who is never far from me. I’ve nicknamed him Mister P. — “P” as in “Pride.” I don’t know about you, but for me Pride is more or less my constant companion. And on those rare occasions when my pride is in check and I’m feeling particularly humble, well, all the more reason to feel proud, right?

If you’re a fundraiser (or a close cousin, a sales rep), I hate to suggest it but I suspect you, too, may be susceptible to pride, especially when things are going well. We flawed humans have, I think, a natural tendency to want to bask in the reflected glow of other people’s achievements — so when we have a good week or a good month or a good year, we might tend to get just a little bit puffed up and start believing we’re all that. But this fundraising business is seldom a one-person show. Chances are you’re part of a team, and your teammates likely deserve a great deal of the credit for your success. So do the front-line workers in your organization — without them, you’d have no stories to tell. And behind it all, it was the Lord who gave you the professional skill to do the work in the first place. Celebrate the gifts, but don’t overlook the Giver.

Both James and Peter quote Proverbs 11:31 — “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Why does God feel so strongly about Pride? Because it’s at the root of all sin and disbelief. Pride says to God, “I don’t really need You — I can make it on my own.” Every time I find myself saying that, even subconsciously…well, it just never turns out well.

We can talk more about pride later. So Mister P. is a friend of yours, too, huh? Sorry to hear that.


Unity (or the lack thereof)

In a Development Department, especially in one grounded upon a shared faith, unity seems to me to be essential to effectiveness. (Maybe you’ve noticed how often the theme of unity is highlighted in the New Testament.) Unfortunately, even in faith-based organizations, the self-centeredness and pride that can destroy unity lurk not far beneath the surface — human nature being what it is.

Perhaps this corrosive effect that sin has on unity is best illustrated by the familiar joke about the man deserted on a remote island for years. When his rescuers finally arrived he was naturally overjoyed after such a long time in isolation. As he was leaving the beach for the last time, one of the rescuers looked up toward the trees and saw three huts just above the sand. “Excuse me, sir,” he said, “but I have to ask what those three huts are for.”

The man replied, “Well, the one on the left is where I live. And the one on the right is where I go to church.”

“Ah,” said the rescuer. “Well, what about the one in the middle?”

“Oh. Well, that’s where I used to go to church.”

What about you? Have you experienced the power of a unified team — or the pain of one plagued by division and disunity? Have you had to stand on principle even at the cost of unity among your colleagues? Love to hear your experiences.


So I’m not really sure where the term “devotions” originated when it comes to talking about one’s personal devotional habit. Usually when those of us in the know talk about “devotions” (plural) we ask things like, “Do you have devotions every morning?” or “What tools do you use in your personal devotions?” Like many jargon-like terms, this one probably sounds odd to the unaccustomed ear.

Regardless of what we call it, I definitely think a daily devotional time is important — to read, to reflect, to pray, to listen to God. So last year for my devotions, I am both proud and chagrined to say that I read through the entire Bible in 2013 — proud (wrong word, I realize) because it is something I have intended to do for eons…chagrined because I just turned 63 and this is the first time I’ve ever done something so basic and important!

Ah, well — remember Zechariah 4:10 — “Do not despise these small beginnings.” But I will say that reading through the entire Bible (even though many passages raise a host of questions) gives one a far greater sense of the arc of Scripture. I chose to start simultaneously in Genesis and Matthew and read both Old and New Testaments each day (2 1/3 pages of one, 3/4 page of the other in the Bible I was using). I just grabbed a pencil and dug in. Finished on December 30th.

So now what? What else? I’m starting over. How about you? Any personal devotional plan or protocol you’d like to share that you’ve found particularly helpful?

Why Do We People of Faith Stress Out Sometimes?

Calendar year 2013 is over, and as fundraisers we’re still catching our breath…maybe hoping the mail that shows up in the next few days will bring a few more checks with those 2013 postmarks we’re hoping for. And as we reflect on the year just past — can we talk? — we have to ask, “If we trust God so much, why do we stress out so often?” I suspect the reason the Bible tells us not to stress out (“Be anxious for nothing,” says Paul…Why worry about food and clothing, asks Jesus) is because worry is a natural part of the human condition. I think, therefore I obsess! It’s another classic case of Christian cognitive dissonance: we believe it’s all up to God but we behave as if it’s all up to us.

As fundraisers we live in this tension: how much is God, how much is me? (A pastor friend of mine used to call this “living between ‘already’ and ‘not yet'” — between what God has already done and what He has yet to do.) Yes, we trust God. Yes, we make our plans, work to our best ability and take both our failures and our successes too personally.

So how’s your balance between faith and freak-out? Any resolutions in 2014 to find that elusive balance between the serene walk of faith and the roller coaster ride of excessive self-reliance?

Happy New Year, fellow pilgrims!

What Does “Devo” Mean to You?

If you are, um, of a certain age, “Devo” was an 80′s band with flowerpots on their heads. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, rest assured that (as Dave Barry would say) I am not making this up. Just go up to someone over the age of 50, say “We are not men, we are Devo,” and see what they say.

However, this blog has nothing to do with that Devo. In my experience as a fundraiser at a faith-based non-profit, “devo” has two meanings. It can be shorthand for “Development,” as in “I work in the Devo Department.” Paradoxically it can also be short for “Devotions” which (to the uninitiated) is a spiritual gathering that many Christian workplaces schedule regularly (as in “What time is devo?”). The purpose is prayer and mutual encouragement. The term may sound odd, I realize, but it’s something many of those of us working in these organizations take for granted.

I think these two definitions of Devo, “development” and “devotions,” the professional and spiritual, go hand in hand. But I have to admit that sometimes our fundraising profession and our “faith profession” exist in uneasy alliance, and holding them in proper balance can involve a kind of cognitive dissonance. It’s precisely that balance that Devomania exists to address.