The Right Answer vs. The Best Answer

We are taught to seek out the single, right answer.  And we are trained to learn the formula that leads us to the single, right answer in most all circumstances.

The problem for development leaders, of course, is that there is almost never an unconditionally “right” answer.  Qualitatively complex human interactions are far too varied and nuanced to be reduced to a formula — much less a single, right answer.  Think about the relatively simple questions we ask each day that have no “right” answers:

  • “Who should be involved in the solicitation of John and Ann?”
  • “How should we go about recruiting Jennifer to our Board?”
  • “Who should we have sign the letter for our direct mail solicitation?”

For each of these questions, a response of “it depends,” while perhaps unsatisfying, is usually the most truthful.

The more helpful work, then, is not to seek out the “right” answers, approaches, or strategies, but rather the “best” ones.  When we begin looking for the “best” answers, we recognize that each question and each opportunity comes with its own set of important variables that need to be addressed.  The kaleidoscope of advancement work can be twisted in any number of ways to create a picture of success and effectiveness.  To discover the “best” possible responses to most every development concern, the acronym VIBE can be helpful.  Ask the following questions:

  • Values – What fundamental values and knowledge about our institution need to be emphasized and communicated?
  • Influencers – Who are the influencers in this specific circumstance and how do we involve them?
  • Beliefs – Which core beliefs are serving to motivate these donors or prospects and how do our values align with these beliefs?
  • Experiences – Which experiences will stimulate the most positive and meaningful emotions?

When we incorporate VIBE questions into our strategy-setting efforts, we take significant steps toward generating the “best” possible answers to our development questions.   When we ask VIBE questions, we begin the process of engaging our creative and strategic faculties in the highest interests of our craft.   Artists don’t seek to create the “right” art, they seek to create the “best” art.


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