The Problem with Perfection

Peter Bregman has a great quote:  “The world doesn’t reward perfection.  The world rewards productivity.”

Your donor lists are going to have a misspelling. Your gift receipt letters are going to address someone incorrectly.  Your major donor strategies are going to miss on occasion.  The point should never be to wait for perfection.  It doesn’t come.  The point is to attempt meaningful stuff and know that mistakes – and thus new learnings – are going to occur.  It’s a cycle.  Try something, make some mistakes, learn how to improve, try something else.  Rinse and repeat.

In working with major donors, it is not uncommon for staff members and volunteers alike to wait for perfection.  Maybe perfection comes in the form of the finished case statement.  Maybe perfection comes in the form of that last little bit of research that is perceived to be needed on the prospect.  Maybe perfection comes in the form of believing that more time is needed to develop the successful solicitation strategy.

Whatever form perfection comes in, when we bow to it, we become less productive.  We put things off.  And, what happens when the desire for perfection really takes hold?  Usually nothing.  Weeks turn into months.  Months sometimes turn into years.  And still no progress with the donor – all because something isn’t quite perfect.

Instead of focusing on perfection, we should set as our goal to stumble our way through cultivations and solicitations.  Think about it.  Most donors do not give to our institutions because we convince them to give based on our perfectly articulated solicitations.  Most donors don’t give because our case statement materials are perfectly designed.  Most donors support an institution because they believe in the impact the institution makes, because the institution shows that they are valued, and because they were asked.  Therefore, we should strive to stumble our way through these relationships.  Get out there, start asking questions that show you care about donors as whole people, make a few mistakes, and learn how to do it better.  That’s what really matters.

When I asked my wife to marry me, my voice got choked up.  The words didn’t flow smoothly.  I was visibly nervous.  The delivery was far from perfect.

But she still said, ‘yes.’


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