We used to run into each other at fundraising conferences and events, but it had been a while since we had met. When I called her and suggested catching up over lunch, I was hoping for an enthusiastic response … but it took three calls to convince her to get out of the office. “There’s too much going on / the world’s a different place / I feel like all my trusted skills / are falling out of grace”, she sighed on the phone, “I’ll tell you all about it / but now I have to run / not sure where to or why / but it’s what must be done”.
She looked very, very tired. We ate in relative silence, and as we were waiting for our coffee, she seemed ready to share what was burdening her, so I suggested “I wish you would confide in me / what made you so distraught / perhaps tell me what is both’ring you / and share your darkest thought”.
She sighed. “I’ve spent my lifetime raising funds / for causes large and small / I mailed, I called, I asked and got / and thought I knew it all”, she said, clenching her napkin. “I chose this job, and gladly so / to give a better life / to hungry, poor, deprived and sick / of needs the world was rife,” and I swear I could see tears starting to form in her eyes. “I had a burning mission / to which the board agreed / we shared this great ambition / so pure and free of greed.” She sipped her coffee, as if she were gathering strength, and went on. “But younger folk are telling me / the way I work is wrong / and though I argue violently / their arguments are strong. They talk about the journey / our donors undertake / and how we should engage with them / and thus them donors make,” she spat, contempt clear in her voice. “They prove to me with numbers / that what they say is right / that it is time we change our ways / and I should see the light”.
“Ah,” I said, “but you are not alone / in feeling such frustration / when you are facing change / there’s cause for agitation,” hoping that a expression of empathy would make her feel better. It didn’t, and she continued ferociously, causing sideways glances from other tables. “Change, you say, but whence and why / when every fiber of my soul / is certain that it’s all a lie / and that it will destroy us whole!” She put down her coffee forcefully. “It’s always been our mission / to help whose needs are worst / so how can someone justify / putting a donor first? Should we not look to people / who understand the need / to contribute financially / and help us to succeed ?”
This conversation was going to need a lot more coffee. “My dear,” I said, “you must calm down / I understand your pain,” while signalling the waiter, “let’s have another cup / and give your grief free rein”. This was not the first fundraiser lament I had heard, so I had a fair idea of what was coming. We’re always talking about the next fabulous innovation in fundraising technology, and sometimes forget change is hard on most people — even fundraisers. Many will retweet a quote on the future of fundraising, but few will share how hard it feels to adapt.
She did not wait for coffee. “I can’t begin to count / the letters that I sent / to donors so they understand / the way their gift was spent. The quarterly reports / that fill my desk in stacks / combine the finest prose / with budgetary facts” and looked me straight in the eyes. “I think I know my job by now / I’ve proven it enough / and I am getting sick of all / this empty mark’ting fluff! This storytelling nonsense / and content marketing / communities that we should build / and segment targeting. Instead of simply listening / they measure clicks and flows / and watch with rapt attention / as time spent onsite grows. Their charts are bright and colourful / their tools like Star Trek look / and I feel like an idiot / reading Adrian’s latest book …”
I’m sure you’ve all heard similar stories, albeit not in rhyme. It may even be how you feel in your job today. Well, you’re not alone. People with years of experience, decades of dedication to their cause, are feeling overwhelmed by the new digital developments. Not simply because it’s change, but because it disrupts more than just tools and processes. It expects us to change our intent and purpose of everything we do. And like most disruptive hangs, it feels like it happened overnight. Suddenly, we’re all donosaurs.
We’re all donosaurs
A donosaur is a person who intellectually agrees with new approaches to fundraising, but finds it hard to change their daily routine. Often, they feel that the new approach feels ‘wrong’ in some way, but are lost for objective reasons not to follow their ratio. So they try to be donor centric, and tell compelling stories, nod when campaign results are presented suggesting a more personalised donor experience, and gradually feel less and less at home in their jobs and environments. But they don’t speak up, so management thinks everyone’s on board. Enter demotivation, burnout, staff attrition, poor donor service etcetera.
So it’s (once again) management’s problem? Perhaps it is. The challenge for nonprofit managers is to move their entire organisation into the digital era, instead of just a happy few. And I’m not only talking about staff and volunteers, but about the donosaurs in the management team and on the board. But we must embrace our inner donosaur and share our concerns with them. If you’re struggling to integrate what you’ve ben doing before and the new digital stuff, speak up. Go to a seminar, talk to your peers. Organize donosaur support groups, declare an office-wide ‘Donosaur Development Day’ spent only on learning and trying out new stuff. And once in a while, have lunch with a fellow donosaur and just bitch.