An Arm’s Reach Away

Science has educated us on the term “in vitro” – which means to conduct work not in a living, whole organism but in a controlled, sterile environment.   “In vitro” became part of our lexicon because of its use in reproductive science.  The so-called test tube babies.

On the other hand, we have heard less about the opposite concept – “in vivo” – which means to work with the whole, living organism or to become part of and better understand the whole, living organism.

Qualitative sociological case studies are regularly conducted “in vivo,” so that the researcher can better understand the individuals and groups which make up the study population.  Using this methodology, the researcher may live among the study population and adopt their habits and cultural themes.  It’s immersion.

Here’s the point:  Leaders and development professionals do their best work “in vivo,” – really getting to know their donors.  But, unfortunately, I find too many who wish to do their work “in vitro” – an arm’s reach away from the “whole, living organism.”

“In vitro” development professionals depend too heavily on electronic wealth-screens, rely too much on passive communication mediums, and have only a surface-level knowledge and understanding of donors in their databases.

“In vivo” development professionals spend time with donors outside of normal business hours, are expert question askers, and know about the personal lives of their donors (i.e., family and business situations and what other organizations they support and why, etc.).

“In vitro” may be the phrase that is much more well-known.  But “in vivo” is the more effective concept for development.



  1. This is personally helpful. Why just applied to fundraising, when it has wider significance?

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