“Do it right the first time.” “Get your ducks in a row.” “Look before you leap.” You’ve heard them all before — adages suggesting that before you make a move, be sure that you have your plans in working order and your shoulders perfectly squared. Makes a lot of sense in some situations. But in the fundraising world — where shortening the distance between you and your first dollar is critical to accomplishing your mission — you might be better off thinking in terms of “Practice makes perfect,” “Put one foot in front of the other” and, “Hey, just get started already!”
In a perfect world, it would be nice to have strategies and systems down pat before launching an effort. But the truth is that time is money (not to mention time), and spending inordinate amounts of it on planning stages can be a resource drain that a) you can ill afford and b) doesn’t necessarily get you any closer to your goal of having well-functioning systems in the real world. This is not to say that planning should be given short shrift. But by and large, we’re often having to encourage our clients to get moving with their ideas, to begin putting processes in motion and tweaking them along the way rather than waiting for perceived perfection before launch.
This mindset has implications for every layer of a fundraising organization. We encourage executive leadership not to get caught up in strategic planning to such an extent that actual fundraising never seems to get off the ground. But even if an organization has yet to fully hone its approach to fundraising, that doesn’t mean that it can’t begin with pilot events and other implementations to get that crucial ROI ball rolling. Leadership should remember to think of the time spent designing a strategy or an event as an expenditure, and ask itself: “How long can we afford to spend our resources before we get our first registration fee?”
On a project management level, too, we too often see a frontloading of process development that unnecessarily bloats the amount of time that’s really required before beginning execution — again, lengthening the timeline between the organization and its ROI. It’s essential to keep in mind that project management structures (and even projects themselves, for that matter) are merely means to an end (getting money where it needs to be to support a particular cause). Process is helpful and necessary, but when you worry more about the process than the end result you defeat the reason you have process in the first place — to move faster and more efficiently. Further, if the goal is indeed to create the best possible processes, getting projects moving creates a feedback/idea churn that can only enhance systems as you go along.
Technology is another area where we often see too much time and money spent trying to create a perfect system before reaping the payoff of execution. In fact, IT teams are often paradoxically spending massive amounts of time and money designing faster systems while delaying the time it takes before their organization sees any ROI. The fact is, the longer you spend in a sterile development phase, the longer it will be before you even know how well your systems will perform in the field. Proof of concept does not come in the laboratory—in comes from real-world usage. Success, in turn, comes through subsequent iteration that ultimately allows you to cover your costs.
In all of these areas—executive and project management, and IT—people traditionally think that they can make perfect estimates and get all the requirements laid out early on, and then do everything that needs to be done as part of an initial rollout. But aside from eating up time (which pushes that first dollar further and further away from where you are now), what happens is that you end up jamming all your requirements into the initial phase, which sabotages its chances for success. This may seem theoretical, but in practice, whatever your function, we’re talking about getting something simple and stripped down out there right now—then you’ll get to see what needs to be done to take it to the next level.
In the end, shifting your focus in this way can amount to a significant culture change, and all that might entail within your organization. But consider that being risk averse is only a good thing to the extent that it doesn’t paralyze you and your team. Don’t let the search for perfection (and the fear of failure) get between you and your mission—and your all-important first dollar.
“Jim’s Tools of the Trade” blog posts will be featured monthly. Vice President, Operations Jim Grohman provides our project teams and managers, as well as our IT group and customer service specialists, leadership and guidance to ensure flawless delivery. A former Major with the United States Marine Corps, Jim is a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is certified as a PMI Project Management Professional.