Action without thought is labour lost!


Blog Post by Usha Menon for 101fundraising , Aug 2015

Evaluating activity v/s  performance  

In my last post ,  I  shared my insights on the importance  of making Optimism an actvity (yes! not just an attitude) to impact fundraising performance.  In this post, I want to focus on the negative  impact of ‘activity ’ on fundraising performance.

I was called in by the Board of a health charity doing good work in the community, yet struggling to meet their fundraising requirements.   I met with their  fundraising team made-up of the Chair of the Fundraising sub-committee, the executive director and  three mid-level fundraising executives. At the meeting with this team, they   expressed their disappointment that donors were not as forthcoming with their support due to the ‘economy’.   They presented  their fundraising calendar  and the wide range of fundraising activities they undertake despite being a small team. They proudly shared with me  the media coverage their various fundraising activities  garnered and photographs of the dance competition where a famous television personality was the guest of honor.  The team mentioned  how busy they are every month either organising a fundraising event or preparing the logistics for it. ‘We have been very busy” said the Executive Director.

That to me was a ‘red flag’. Often,  fundraisers and their bosses succumb to the temptation of staying busy, even when it is counterproductive. I needed to ascertain  whether in this case their busy-ness was productive.

The ‘fundraising activity positioning map’ shown below, provides an overview of the organisation’s overall fundraising efforts. It highlights the organisation’s:

  • fundraising activities
  • alignment to the mission
  • the level of donor relationship that each activity nurtures
  • net income (funds raised after deducting the cost of organising the activity)
  • the trend of funds raised by the activity, compared to the previous year(s).

boston matrix 4

The team had spent most time and effort on the low cause awareness / low donor relations quadrant made up of transactional activities which were logistically intensive. They indeed had made themselves ‘very busy’ doing ineffective and inefficient fundraising activities.

Being busy is not the same as being successful

We tend to swing into action and develop solutions before we fully consider the various options available to address a situation. One of the reasons why we tend to swing into action is because we ‘glamorise’ being busy and hence we choose to do activities merely as justifications to be busy. Research has shown that reflection and careful analysis of our activities help to overcome the bias for action.

As a mother of three competitive soccer/football playing sons, the analogy that explains it best is the action bias of goal-keepers. Taking the time to observe, reflect and explore a situation is often the better option. However, it looks and feels better to dive in the wrong direction and miss the ball than never to have moved. The action bias is usually an emotional reaction to the sense that we should do something, even if what we do is unproductive.

I hope this post has given you some insights into being more reflective, analytical and deliberate about your fundraising. I would love to hear your lessons on this matter.

The noblest method to gain wisdom is through reflection.  Action without thought is labour lost

~ Confucius, Chinese philosopher (551 B.C.E – 479 B.C.E)

As to how to develop the ‘fundraising activity positioning map’ and how did this particular organisation reshape its fundraising future?  I will be sharing the details at the Master-class on ‘Developing a donor-centric fundraising strategy’ at the International Workshop on Resource Mobilisation (Asia). Hope to see you there!


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