This morning I came across my copy of Aesop’s fable, The Tortoise and the Hare. My friend Tom Wick, a fellow development professional gave it to me and said it’s one of his favorite books because it is full of lessons for major gifts officers. I’ve been thinking about those lessons the most popular being “slow and steady wins the race.”
Before we begin, here’s a quick refresher on The Tortoise and the Hare:
The story begins with Hare teasing Tortoise and bragging about how much faster he is than Tortoise. Hare then challenges Tortoise to a race. Hare sprints away at the start, taunting Tortoise for being so slow. Soon, Hare becomes very tired and looks back to see that Tortoise is so far behind him. He decides to rest under a tree eventually falling asleep. Hare is so comfortable that he dreams of his victory against Tortoise and is later awakened by the cheers of the crowd watching Tortoise approach the finish line. Rabbit jumps up screams at Tortoise to slow down but it is too late. Tortoise wins the race and they both learn a powerful lesson: goals are achieved with hard work and perseverance.
We know these words to be true, but many times we find ourselves as fundraisers feeling like the hare rather than the tortoise. We are given goals at the beginning of the fiscal year and we pursue them with fervor yet the pressure to produce and unreturned phone calls from donors can make us feel tired and sometimes feeling that our goal is unachievable. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to become disenchanted with our goals when we slow down to strategize and develop our fundraising tactics especially when building a major gifts program or going into a capital campaign. We’re excited about the future but want to see results now. When they don’t materialize as soon as we had hoped, it’s easy to think that we will never raise the money.
Slow & Steady Wins the Race
As fundraisers we have multiple goals to balance – donor visits, solicitations, stewardship pipeline building, donor communications and follow-up, internal meetings, database entries, staying current in our profession and the list continues. How do we balance achieving our overall fundraising goals with everything else on our plates without burning out like Hare or plodding along Tortoise? After all, you can’t really say to your boss: “ I am the tortoise. I’ll achieve these fundraising goals slow and steady.”
“The fundamental task in achieving our goals is breaking them down into many smaller goals and assigning “tortoise” or “hare” characteristics to them,” Tyler Tervooren, founder of Frugally Green, a website dedicated to helping people live green while saving money. I’ve adopted Tyler’s observation and make it specific to our fundraising work below.
The Role of Tortoise
In the fundraising world, Tortoise represents our organization’s overall vision and the planning that is required to achieve it. This could be anything from eradicating childhood obesity or becoming the number one engineering school in the country. It’s the “fire” that is going to move our donors to action. Whatever our vision is, Tortoise represents the strategic and deliberate planning that must take place to realize it. A vision is not something that can be completed tomorrow but is something that if we strategically pace ourselves can be achieved. We achieve this by breaking our vision into smaller, more easily attainable goals often done in a written campaign plan. It is through this slow and strategic process that we will build the framework that will guide our actions toward our end goal. The same is true if we look at our overall fundraising goal and break this goal into small manageable pieces with milestones to make at specific times. This allows us to see if we are on the right track or if there is a course correction that needs to take place. This is why writing our goals with specific actions steps and completion time is so vital to our success.
The Role of Hare
We all know a fundraiser or two who has burnt out while trying to balance multiple goals under what appears to be an incredibly fast-ticking clock. I’ve been there and know that it can feel like you are on a constant treadmill, racing to finish a marathon of goals and demands. So where does the Hare and his hyperactive and boastful tendencies come into play for us? Well, since we took our time when we started off and carefully pieced together an outline that breaks down our goals into bite-sized pieces, we can now pursue each of them, one by one, with clarity and strength.
If we look at our example of achieving our overall fundraising goal, a first step could be to make a daily commitment that, no matter what, you reach out to five donors a day. This could mean calling potential donors, executing a stewardship touch for an existing donor, sending a personalized invitation to an upcoming event, etc. The point is you make this a habit and you do this when you are at your Hare peak energy of the day. This is a habit I started about five years ago and it transformed the way I was able to keep myself on track to achieve not only my overall fundraising goals, but the related goals as well. There are times when we go through the day feeling that we have not had any time to connect with donors because we have been in internal meetings all day… we are working on a solicitation piece… we have to attend an event. It feels like there are not enough hours in a day to actually talk to donors. But by taking the energy and the confidence of Hare, we can form daily habits that allow us to achieve our overall goals and vision while ultimately strengthening our donor relationships.
Putting It All together
The lessons taught in The Tortoise and the Hare are relevant throughout the day and the life of a fundraiser. Sometimes we face seemingly contradictory goals: closing end of the fiscal year gifts, while planning for the coming year’s fundraising goals. We can tap into our Tortoise and Hare characteristics to meet these goals by understanding how to use these characteristics for our success. Our Tortoise nature allows us to take the time to be strategic in our work and not give up. Our Hare nature gives us that quick burst of energy and confidence we need to see some immediate results of our efforts. We’ll build on these in an upcoming blog. But for now we’d like to know what are some other childhood lessons we can learn from and incorporate into our fundraising work?
Share them by posting on our blog. We’d love to hear from you!