Here are some potentially less helpful starting points when brainstorming new advancement strategies with colleagues:
- “I wouldn’t go to that event . . .”
- “I don’t respond to direct mail . . .”
- “I’m not seeing that much at all on my social media . . .”
There are 2 potential problems with these strategy-setting starting points. First, you may not fit, in any significant way, the audience the strategy is attempting to engage. And, second, when a statement like one of the above is made in a group brainstorming session, the conversation almost always dies on the vine. There is no room to explore the idea because, in most instances, the idea melts away after such statements.
Conversely, it also is unhelpful to start strategy-setting sessions with the following statements:
- “I definitely would go to that event . . .”
- “I would make a gift if that was that message . . .”
- “If I saw that on social media, I would respond . . .”
Again, you might not fit the audience for which the strategy is aiming. And second, your eager voice of support (because the strategy appeals to you), may encourage adoption without further exploration.
In science, “n=x” is the size of the sample being used to extrapolate findings onto a similar population. As one might guess, an “n=1” sample is far too small to extrapolate anything.
An “n=me” sample is even worse. Not only are we putting ourselves as the “1” from which we are extrapolating, we also happen to be notoriously blind to our own biases.
If we truly want to develop the best strategies over time for any part our advancement programs, we should start with 2 tasks:
- Be willing to utilize expertise – Seek out and listen to those who have done well over time what you are seeking to do. This will provide you with a broader understanding of what strategies work and which don’t (no matter how good they might sound to us);
- Be willing to learn from your audiences – Ask your audiences for their perspectives – your alumni, your faculty, your staff, your donors, your doctors and medical staff, the leaders in your community, etc. This will provide you with a more specific sense of how your unique audiences may respond to strategies.
Every advancement team member should continually sharpen their perspectives on what and why particular strategies are and are not effective.
And these perspectives should emerge primarily from being willing to learn, to listen, and to adapt.