There is a particularly pervasive narrative in professional fundraising that creates false benchmarks and false competition between fundraisers. A poignant example of this was the promotion of a Blackbaud report on “Developing Personas”. The issue is with the premise of the statement, which infers that donors somehow do not choose who or what they give to. Nonprofits do not own donors, the correct form of competition in the institutional giving space… if any, is not competing for donors, but instead competing to stay relevant to what donors care about. “Find your donors—before someone else does”, is a judgement-laced statement that can insight jealousy and a cycle of esteem damaging comparisons, similar to that which stems from watching other people’s lives on social media. The promotion and subsequent report promotes fear, masquerading as opportunity.
Fear with cause is one issue, fear because of a culture of judgement that exists in philanthropy is quite another, and it creates far deeper and more serious issues for the sector. Everyone at one point or another feels like an impostor, this is known as impostor syndrome, where a person feels under confident and not deserving of recognition for their expertise. One underlying cause of imposter syndrome is that nonprofits have created comparative benchmarks as the standard they have to meet. This often comes at the cost of getting sidetracked from one’s own goals, or losing steam on innovative objectives, in order to compete with the masses.
Comparative benchmarking has also led to a series of metrics that are not rooted in the mission, or centred around the donors. Accountability, analytics, and metrics, are often used as the trojan horse to defend this judgemental culture. There is an entire industry focused on creating a culture of analytics that is nothing more than a modern day Potemkin village. True accountability, true metrics, and true KPI’s, have a different origin- they come from within the organization.
- Start where you are, not where you think you should be
The insights that will inspire your organization to become data driven will come from the data you already have…not benchmarks on what your neighbour is doing at their institution. Data should clarify reality, create opportunities, demonstrate impact, and form a profile of your strongest supporters.
- Treat your data like a muscle and become data literate
Data is like your DNA, or a unique fingerprint, and the problems nonprofits face would be better solved by treating it like a muscle, and using it every day. Don’t just wait until the campaign is over or the quarterly board report, paying attention to live data will help your organization learn how to see data differently, and enable you to pivot during a campaign to achieve better results.
- Compare yourself with aspirations to be better not to be like something else
Acknowledgment that your organization may be behind is fine —it can even be good. So it’s not say that we shouldn’t look at industry reports, it is always good to have a pulse on the what is going on in the sector, but also to do so critically and not loose sight of your organization’s mission. Just like individuals, institutions must make sure they are chasing their dreams, not someone else’s. The question we ask our teams should be, what can we do better?, not what can we do better than our peers?