In poker, the “board” is the context of the community cards (the cards dealt face-up in the middle of the table and available for any player to use in putting together her hand) during any given hand.
A “dry board,” for instance, occurs when the community cards do not have much connection or relationship with each other – different suits and spaced apart values.
A “wet board,” on the other hand, occurs when the community cards are closely connected. Perhaps two or three of the same suit or cards that are numerically close and could be part of a straight.
There are other board types, as well. Such as a “static board” (where new cards likely won’t change the situation much), or a “dynamic board” (where new cards likely will change the situation greatly). You get the picture.
The “board” is the environment, the landscape, the terrain, on which the poker player finds herself playing. She can’t predict it. She can’t control it. She can’t change it. It is what it is. And the best players in the world learn how to navigate the various terrains by first recognizing that there are various terrains. And that the terrain matters.
According to poker greats, one of the mistakes that new poker players make is to focus – almost exclusively – on trying to learn specific strategies. “There must be,” the new player believes, “rules and formulas for when to bet, how much to bet, when to fold, when to bluff, and when to go ‘all in,’ etc.” And many rookie players spend their time trying to learn these supposed rules and formulas.
But, the reality about poker is that there are no formulas and rules that work on all “boards.” The first and most important learning of poker is to understand and embrace the fact that different circumstances call for different approaches. Different card presentations encourage different strategies. Different playing orders suggest different tactics. In betting, in bluffing, in raising, in folding. In how to play that hand.
When played expertly, the whole game starts by first understanding how to read and think about the context of the hand before implementing a strategy for the hand. There is no silver bullet tactic that will work in all (or even most) settings. There is no rule that gives easy answers on how to act or react given a specific set of cards in your hand. The context matters preeminently.
Many new (and some experienced) development professionals suffer from the same misunderstanding that hinders new poker players. They seek absolute answers on strategy and tactics. They ask, “what should I do in this situation?” As opposed to asking the more helpful, “how should I think about this situation?” It’s the situation – with all its variables and unique attributes – that will drive a successful strategy.
What is the donor’s motivation to give? What is their interest in giving to your institution specifically? Who will or can influence their decision to give? Is there a timeline involved for the donor and, if so, what is driving that timeline? Are they more likely to give out of income or assets? Do they seek, reject, or care little about public recognition?
These questions (and of course others) represent the gift officer’s “board.” He can’t control the answers. He can’t change them (at least not much in all likelihood). They are what they are.
The best gift officers recognize that understanding the responses to questions like these is the most important part of the gift invitation process. The specific strategy or tactic on how to invite the gift will emerge from these responses. There are no sure-fire ways to invite every gift. There are no silver bullets in asking. There are no rules that, when followed, lead to success in all situations. Instead, what matters is a willingness to be curious and the discipline to pay attention to circumstance.
Erik Seidel, one of the greatest championship poker players in history says it this way, “playing poker well is all about thinking well.”
And, so is development work.