It turns out that what actually separates thriving organizations from struggling ones are the difficult-to-measure attitudes, processes and perceptions of the people who do the work.

Culture defeats strategy, every time.

So much that culture is strategy.

Those that read blogs like this one already know that the non-profit world is teeming with amazing, dedicated sector champions. True enthusiastic evangelists of not just their own causes but ready, willing and able to rally around the cause of our peers.

The type that give a proverbial shit about pressing issues before or rather, even if it does or doesn’t affect them personally or someone close to them. Those that go to a bar and never utter the phrase of quiet desperation: “ugh. Let’s not talk about work”.

Those that never settle for comfortable complacency – pragmatic in knowing that their organization can always up the bar and raise more money, create more impact. Their  life’s work is to do so emphatically, so that sooner rather than later their cause no longer exists and they’ve put themselves back on the job market. Those that are unapologetic in asking you  inviting you to join them in making it so.

And then there’s the chickenshit fundraisers.
And there’s nothing worse than a chickenshit fundraiser [or a chickenshit culture].

Truth of the matter is that we’ve all let our motivation wane perhaps from time to time, and fallen into the trappings of mediocrity, or fear to create and share our best art.

This post is mostly harping for chickenshits and giggles, but they do say that a lot of truth is said in jest. How many of us have at one time or another relished in the comfort of hanging out at the sidelines with our colleagues during an event rather than getting to know strangers, donors, our cause’s champions. Fell victim to the diffusion of responsibility in transferring, as fast as possible, that disgruntled donor who somehow got your extension rather than taking the time to put ourselves in their shoes and actually listen to their concerns and why they cared enough to call your organization in the first place. Lazy planning focused on only hitting our core KPIs – only measuring campaign performance against new donors/cost per acquisition/average gift while having no executable strategy to benchmark donor satisfaction, ignoring retention rates, or online user experience. Proudly being able to name your top 10 biggest financial donors by name, while unable to name even one of your 20 most loyal longstanding donors…

So let’s take 15 and do a little introspective reflection. This isn’t a comprehensive list in any way, nor is it meant to be, but how many of these ring a little true? Are we clean, ankle deep, or waist-high in the chickenshit?

  1. You can’t remember the last time that you spoke to a donor on the phone. Or you dread actually speaking to someone. The saddest thing I ever heard was at an old gig, a room full of “fundraisers” laughed and nodded their heads in agreement when one colleague was asked in a strategy session “So let’s be real – how do you feel when your phone rings” and she said “Honestly, the first thing I think is, ugh. who is this and what do they want now“.
  2. You’re consistently silent in brainstorming sessions. It’s one thing to be a bit shy or hesitant to bring your ideas to the table sometimes, but we live in an idea economy and you need to overcome that fear of maybe sounding stupid [your “elementary” idea might just be the catalyst to your team’s next big insight]. Be inquisitive. Ask questions. Propose solutions. Challenge consensus.
  3. You don’t do the deep work and then pause to allow your ideas to bake in the psychic oven.  You go with good-enough because you don’t want to “over-think it”.
  4. You’re too busy for X. “To me, ‘busy’ implies that the person is out of control of their life.
  5. You refer to your Donor Relations department as “Customer Service”. The words that you use to identify your supporters matter. Recognize that terminology will influence perceived connection and importance, which will influence action and communication. Customer service sullies your relationship into the realm of becoming transactional.
  6. You seek comfort in simple problems. You go to work with/on a task list and don’t regularly set aside time for ideation.
  7. You don’t make a regular on-going financial contribution to your own organization. Yet, here you are asking me for my money?
  8. You say you hate meetings. You hate them so much that you schedule meetings about meetings. Do the work instead.
  9. You still haven’t made the effort to get to know everyone in your office by name and garner at least a basic understanding of their position, how their goals relate to yours, to the organization as a whole, and their personal motivations for being a part of your cause. Don’t you at least want to be able to call I.T. rather than go through the ticketing system and wait, and wait, and…
  10. You call the hungry young new fundraisers fresh out of school passive aggressive nicknames like “Keeners” rather than take the time to mentor them, ask them questions, seek the value in their generational insights.
  11. When you are asked a question during a presentation to which you don’t know the answer to [that’s totally ok] you don’t make note of it and look it up with the excitement of learning something new.
  12. You work 9-5. In and out like clockwork. You say stupid shit like “God, it’s only Monday…” as if it’s cute.
  13. You ask people for money. Yet, if they ask you “Why” five levels deep, you get stuck at level 1 or 2. And that’s fine with you.
  14. You aren’t consistently monitoring your competition and peers. Worse, you only notice when they do something successful that you hear about through Facebook then try to copy it to ill effect. #rawchickenbucketchallenge
  15. You leave at the end of an event and don’t assist your team with tear down. You’ve never experienced what it’s like to have a bag full of garbage tear open over your head-while-tossing-it-overhead-into-a-dumpster-and-getting-a-mouthful-of-garbage-juice-after-a-16-hour-shift-and-Sarah’s-laughingatyouandyouhateyourjobandwonderwhatyouaredoingwithyourlife… Yeah. This is one is personal.
May you continue to cultivate the joy of giving. May we all be wise enough to see where we can become our best selves and not be chickenshits.


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