Expect the Unexpected

September 21, 2016

My father is now in his 80s and is very active. He sets himself targets during the day, which range from reciting poetry to listing monarchs and the dates of their reigns. I believe he can list accurately the kings and queens of England since before the Norman Conquest. Needless to say that he is just as systematic when it comes to exercise. For example, he likes to undertake a circuit of Swiss Valley, a local beauty spot and site of an early reservoir in Llanelli, South Wales, in exactly 45 minutes. Joining him on one of these perambulations, we were deep in conversation about life’s oddities (I may have been slightly breathless) and watching our steps on the somewhat treacherous, uneven surface: glancing up, I could not help but notice a unicyclist heading towards us on the path.

That encounter made a good and enjoyable walk memorable, and my father did not mind missing his KPI on that occasion. Seeking donations to support important and worthwhile undertakings is a serious business that requires careful planning. However, the more it can be made memorable and, where appropriate, enjoyable for the prospective donor, the better the relationship and the outcome will be. This is not to suggest that fundraisers should turn up at meetings on unicycles. For all sorts of reasons, this might be a bad idea. However, agency and personality do matter. Research indicates that it is often the coherent first-person narratives that move donors over time rather than dry statistics. When these narratives are put in the context of descriptive local norms, experimental evidence suggests that more philanthropy results. In practice, this finding implies that seeing others participate in regular giving has a positive effect on donor inclination. Donor participation is important and may be a factor in encouraging a major donor to give.

Good fundraising involves making plans, taking account of best practice, processing the latest thinking in context, and following through systematically. Part of the joy of the work, however, is dealing with the unexpected. Sometimes donors can get very upset or offended by an unforeseen event or slight. Equally, donations can emerge from the most unlikely of places. Serendipity is never far away in fundraising, and cultivating an ability to deal with pleasant and unpleasant interruptions to the background process with grace and good humour is generally a good plan. So, if at an interview for a role in fundraising you are presented with a scenario involving an unexpected external input, don’t say, “I don’t like being interrupted. I just like to keep my head down and get on with my job”. It is worth looking up to witness the unicyclists wandering around.

– Jonathan Snicker, Senior Consultant

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