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For Fundraising Excellence, Rely on Expertise, Not Opinions

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The wonderful Simone Joyaux was at work on this post when she suddenly passed. We hope you enjoy and benefit from her wisdom and inimitable wit!

Opinion and expertise are two very different things. It’s not always easy to see the difference, but it’s an important one that’s critical to getting things right in your organization. 

Let’s say you hire a lawyer. You’d be wise to pay attention to what she says. You don’t waste a lot of time offering your opinions about the law. She charges by the hour, after all!

When a doctor treats you, you don’t chime in about the size of the scalpel she uses, or how many milligrams of a medication she prescribes. You know she has the expertise. 

You can ask your lawyer or doctor to tell you why they’re doing what they’re doing, but you know better than to overrule them because you have a hunch that something different would be better.

There’s a substantive difference between personal opinions that are based on preferences and hunches – and expertise, which is based on a body of knowledge and research.

Unfortunately, the nonprofit sector is often ruled by opinions that are not informed by expertise.

Fundraisers share their stories all the time: You’ve written a direct mail piece, carefully following all the resources they have at hand for effective fundraising.

But your boss isn’t “comfortable” with the letter. In his opinion, it won’t work, or it will drive away donors.

Experts can tell you that the letter is highly likely to work.

Your boss is a wonderful person who really cares about getting things right. But in this case, all he has to go on are his opinions — hunches and guesses.

Who’s the expert? Well, it’s you. (I know that because you are taking the time to read a fundraising blog!)

Here’s another example: Your board chair, a bank CEO, runs a tight board meeting. She uses the executive committee to work through all issues before the board meets. Committees report at each meeting. Board dialog is limited.

As the executive director, you’ve studied the body of knowledge about governance by attending workshops and reading books and research. You also serve on boards. You’re trying to improve governance at your agency – and that certainly includes board meetings. But your board chair graciously chuckles and says, “I’ve served on more boards than you are old. We’ll stick with my tried-and-true approach.”

Your board chair thinks her years of board service make her an expert in governance and board development. The problem is, experience alone doesn’t make someone an expert. It also requires book knowledge and research findings.

Fundraising isn’t doing all that great. Donor retention is so low across the board that we lose 99 donors for every 100 new donors we gain. That’s the average! 

There are solutions to this crisis: Better communications. Stronger connections with donors. Keeping up with changing conditions in the marketplace.

In other words, expertise.

That puts the burden on you and me. We need to be the experts. To be as connected and informed as we can possibly be. That’s the essence of professionalism in any field. Fortunately, we have access to all the information we need, through books, conferences, blogs, and communities like The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic! It’s all there, waiting to be used.

When you have expertise under your belt, you can do your best work. We don’t always “win” in the face of opinions, but we can make progress by calmly and confidently sharing what we know. 

That opinionated boss or board member really wants to get it right! It’s up to us to help them suspend their opinions — and feel confident about doing so. It can take time and patience to lead our leaders, but the rewards are huge. There’s almost nothing you can do in your whole career that has as much impact as guiding your leaders toward following expertise.

So here’s to expertise! The hard-won knowledge that you are working to build every day right now.

Get the fact-based expertise you need — join our free Facebook community, the Smart Fundraisers Forum.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • erica waasdorp
    July 8, 2021 10:48 pm

    Wonderful post. I’ve always wondered about why it is that nonprofit experts are doubted (and often underpaid) when nobody questions lawyer or accountant’s fees and expertise. It’s sad but true how so many wonderful fundraisers are often disappointed by their leadership because they can’t do the job they trained for (and have proven to do well)… It’s up to you and all of us to keep plugging at applying the right expertise and raise more funds. Thank you Simone!

  • Sharon Cappetta
    July 10, 2021 8:15 am

    Simone in full rant mode – a sight to behold.


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