Please don’t cut and paste this

Don’t read this blog. There’s a much better one over on Rogare by Joe Jenkins. Joe got me thinking about copying and originality. Here are 6 thoughts he triggered.

1. The changing nature of how we ‘learn to fundraise’: as a volunteer I help organise the International Fundraising Congress. It’s the place where I first felt part of a global fellowship of folk trying to do good. The event is changing. Years ago it was about going to learn at the feet of successful people. Often that meant people from more developed markets such as the UK. Today it is much more about an exchange of views, shoulder-to-shoulder, learning ‘with’ people not just ‘from’ them. And that means a massively more diverse group of speakers. Phew.

2. Cultural diversity: 12 or so years ago I did a session there on innovation and failure. Packed room. Massive interest. One of those times where you know you have nailed it. Except, right at the very end, someone from Japan asked a question: ‘You have talked about the importance of admitting and learning from failure, but in my country and culture people will not do this, so how do I approach learning from failures?’ Right there, the biggest learning moment I’ve ever had at any conference in more than 25 years. Fundraising imperialism must die. No harm in sharing best practice and theories, of course not. But fundraisers must do more to understand and embrace cultural diversity in everything from strategic planning processes to the sensitivities of running a successful meeting with people from diverse cultures.

3. Too many awards: ok, head above parapet. There is such a proliferation of awards in the sector that we end up celebrating mediocrity. Moreover, it’s a mediocrity often judged on thin criteria and heavily spun entry forms. And then, this celebrated mediocrity gets copied mercilessly. So just stop entering awards. Please do celebrate your team’s success. But stop entering awards. (Just for the record, I stopped entering more than 10 years ago. Perhaps just as well, as my chances of ever winning another just rapidly declined…)

4. The double-edge of social media: it’s very common now for younger fundraisers to ask for something they can copy. I see it all the time in Facebook groups. It seems natural for people who have grown up in a cut-and-paste culture. ‘I’m writing a donor engagement plan. Does anyone have one I can have a look at?’ That sort of thing. Now, I am absolutely not knocking young people. And I love the sharing of expertise we do in our sector. I love sharing views with younger fundraisers (where I learn as much as I teach). Social media is great for that, but it also makes the replicability of strategies, plans, and creative ideas very, very easy (whether they are good or not). New fundraisers don’t necessarily copy more, but new media makes all copying of shiny new things far too easy. I suspect we’ll soon see a massive tightening of contracts of employment to specifically inhibit sharing.

5. Look somewhere else: there’s a big world out there. Fantastically innovative social change and fundraising is happening in places such as India and Pakistan. The most exciting stuff I’ve played a small role in lately has been in Latin America, the Gulf States, and among small groups of very wealthy entrepreneurs in the UK. To learn where great stuff is going on, don’t look in the usual places.

6. Evidence-based passion? Passion-based evidence? I’ve loved getting involved with Ian MacQuillin’s team at Rogare, which is all about evidence-based fundraising. But I confess I feel a bit of a fraud. Because for me, evidence has often come second. I follow my intuition, and evidence follows. Luckily, it’s often worked, but it’s not always good enough. I hope I never stop wearing my heart on my sleeve, but moving forward I’m studying the meteorological data to assess what sort of sleeve is appropriate for the prevailing climate.

Six thoughts. Please take them and make them much better. But cut and paste at your peril.

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