Ship Or Be Average

Today, I read a Chronicle of Philanthropy article focused on the new IRS data which suggests that Americans gave much less than “Giving USA” reported during 2008-2009.

Ok.  And what exactly should this mean for development professionals?

I’m not a huge fan of giving projections.  First, no one really knows how much is given.  But second, and most importantly, even if they were accurate, development professionals shouldn’t pay much attention to them.  Why?  Because projections by “Giving USA,” the IRS, or anyone else, should have no bearing our work.

Think about it.

If national giving projections are down by 10%, does that mean that a director of development should be displeased that his institution’s gift receipts receded by 15%.   Or, if giving projections are up 8%, does that mean that a vice president for development should be satisfied if her institution’s totals increased by 10%?  In both scenarios, maybe or maybe not.

The institution with a giving decline of 15% could review its effort for the year and come to the determination that the development staff had record numbers of visits, moves, proposals, and attracted 10% more donors through a re-vamped annual fund.  Had they not worked so diligently, their giving may have fallen off by 30%.  On the other hand, the institution that beat the national giving average with a 10% gain could have had an even more productive year if more proposals were presented and more visits had been made.

To my way of thinking, the national giving projections are predicting the goals for the average development team.  In a real sense, the projections say, “if you go with the crowd, are average, and do what everyone else does, this is how your giving should have ended up for the year.”  And who wants to be part of a team with aspirations for mediocrity?

So, instead of focusing on the latest giving projections, I encourage folks to focus on how much they “ship.”

Authors, artists, manufacturers, architects, and yes, even development professional should focus on “shipping.”  Shipping is about delivering.  It’s about meeting deadlines (the ship date).  It’s about keeping work moving.  But most importantly, “shipping” is about the systemic discipline of creating, enhancing, perfecting, and, ultimately, presenting our best.

A friend of mine from years ago is a rather well-known and prolific painter today.  I once asked him when he was most creative.  He laughed and said, “I’m most creative when I paint.”  His point to me was that he didn’t decide to paint when he felt creative.   Instead, he scheduled his painting and trusted that the creativity would come.  Some days he didn’t want to paint.  But, he did anyway.  By focusing on his craft, and not how he felt, he became prolific, with paintings now on display throughout the U.S. and abroad.

Stories that suggest that giving dropped off a huge amount aren’t the point.  The point is our work, our craft, our efforts, our creativity, our discipline – despite those stories!

The point is to ship, every day, without fail.  To keep creating and delivering compelling proposals, even when the economy turns sour.  To keep asking for our donor’s insights and advice.  To keep connecting.  To just ship.

If we ask thoughtful questions of donors, listen actively, creatively plan our annual fund appeals, and authentically market our planned giving programs – if we continued to ship – our results will serve our institutions well.  Regardless of the economy.  And the teams that focus on shipping will beat the national averages every time.

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