Book view orbit

BOOK REVIEW: Orbiting the Giant Hairball

Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace by Gordon MacKenzie

orbiting the giant hairball coverI read a lot of books that are meant to make me better at my work. You probably do too. Every fundraising book I can get my hands on. Lots of books about marketing and other forms of persuasion that can bring new ideas into fundraising. Books about strategy and thinking that just make me smarter and more effective. Books about dealing effectively with other people.

I devour them all. Hundreds of books. Many of them are simply amazing. Some of them not so much.

So when I tell you there’s one book of all those that I really, really hope you’ll read, please understand that I’m telling you something I think is a very big deal.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is the one book that has really transformed my professional life. It’s the “business” book I most often recommend to people.

It’s not about fundraising. It’s not about any particular business at all. It’s about being your best in a “corporate” environment. And for the purposes of this book, nonprofits can be among the most in-the-box, anti-creative types of corporate environment in existence.

You know that in order to succeed at this crazy, fuzzy profession of fundraising, you have to be creative, passionate, and amazing all the time. But you work in an organization that is ruled by procedures and bureaucracy — and it often feels like a strangling mass of hair.

That’s the hairball of the title.

When you read this book, you’ll see how to escape the hairball — and appreciate that it has a necessary function. You’ll discover the balance that will give you the freedom and confidence to be the creative problem-solver you want to be — and that your organization needs you to be.

Let me summarize that balance.

Most of us are able to make a positive impact because we are part of a community — an organization. Even those who are “self-employed” don’t work alone, really. Everyone works within organizations.

And that means hairball. Every organization has one — a mass of policies, procedures, rules, and bureaucracy. Those things, by their very nature, strangle creativity, innovation, exploration, and bold thinking.

Some hairballs are worse than others — bigger, messier, more strangling — but there’s no such thing as a hairball-free organization. The weird thing about the hairball is that it’s necessary. If there were no hairball, there would be no organization.

You need the hairball.

But you also need to be free from the hairball.

If you let yourself be trapped in the hairball, you will waste all your time and energy on trivial, bureaucratic BS. You won’t accomplish much that matters. On the other hand, if you completely escape the hairball, you are no longer part of a community that puts your greatness into action.

The solution is to “orbit” the hairball. Stay just within its gravitational force — close enough to share the corporate goals and direction, but just far enough out of it to avoid getting tangled up.

That’s what the book is about. It’s a practical, inspiring, cheerleading handbook on finding the balance where you aren’t tangled in hairball, but you aren’t floating by yourself in empty space.

The book is full of inspiring examples of orbiters and hints for how to orbit. It has helped me solve more conundrums and deal with more frustrations than anything else I’ve read. Through the years, it gave me and my orbiting colleagues a vocabulary for plotting our escape from the hairball — while appreciating what it offered us. Like, you know, salaries and benefits and shared purpose.

It also points out that each of us has a hairball inside our own heads. And talks about how we orbit even that hairball:

So many books and workshops that promise to increase our capacity for creativity fail to deliver because they prescribe removing the left twin’s censoring hand through rational means. That won’t work. To take a rational approach to halting the left twin’s silencing of the right twin is to play directly into his strength, which is rational thinking. And you cannot beat him at his own game. Ultimately, the only effective way to remove his inhibiting hand is through transrational thinking.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball is not a “normal” book. It’s filled with sketchy drawings and weird design. Some of it is handwritten. It looks messy. (There’s one chapter, titled “Orville Wright” that is just one 8-word sentence long. But it’s a sentence that packs a wallop.)

You probably know people who will hate it at first sight, because it looks so strange. Maybe you will hate it. Until you read it.

This book just might change your professional life, the way it has mine. I highly recommend it.

One of the duties of a true Orbiter is to equip yourself with knowledge so your creativity can soar. The best way to do that is to pursue quality fundraising training and advice — and by belonging to a community of fundraisers who share knowledge and connection. That’s what you’ll get when you join The Fundraisingology Lab by Moceanic. It’s a true community, the thing we all need most right now — plus all kinds of courses, templates, checklists, and other resources that can help you go to new places as a fundraiser. More information here.

CFRE Points:
Strong Monthly Giving Program
BooksMonthly Giving

How to Build a Strong Monthly-Giving Program in Less Than One Afternoon

Book Review: How to Create Lifelong Donors through Monthly Giving by Harvey McKinnon

The most important thing you need to know about fundraising is this:

Everything you do is about finding and stewarding three types of donors:

  1. Major (and mid-value) donors.
  2. Bequest donors.
  3. Recurring (mainly monthly) donors.

If you aren’t actively helping donors join one (or more) of those categories, your fundraising program is almost certainly unsustainable.

Of those three types, major giving and bequest giving are a challenge, because only a small percentage of donors can or want to do those things.

But any donor can become a recurring donor, and the percentage of donors who are open to it is much greater than the other two groups.

But don’t get the idea that getting recurring donors is easy. It’s not.

That’s why you need to read Harvey McKinnon’s latest book.

It is a simple, fact-based, no-nonsense guide, from one of our industry greats. Harvey knows what he’s talking about!

This book is a quick read — you can get through the whole book in one sitting — there are 40 chapters, but most of them are two or three pages long. But that doesn’t mean the book is thin on details. It has everything you need to know to launch a successful monthly giving program:

  • Want to know what should you name your monthly giving program?
  • Want to know how much should you ask people to give each month?
  • Looking for the best ways to find and recruit those monthly donors?
  • Can you ask monthly donors to give even more?
  • How should you collect those monthly donations?

Just as important, Harvey equips you to make the case to sometimes-skeptical bosses or boards for why you should create (or improve) your monthly giving program:

  • We will raise more money — significantly more.
  • We will develop a more positive relationship with our donors.
  • Our monthly donors will stay with us, giving for four years longer than other donors.
  • We can rely on sustainers to keep income flowing in year-round and year after year.
  • We’ll lower our cost of fundraising.
  • Our income will grow over time.

Reading this book could change the financial future of your organization.

Whether you’re just starting to consider monthly giving for the first time, or a long-time veteran and you want to up your game, read this book!

When you join The Fundraisingology Lab, you get access to Harvey McKinnon’s powerful online course, How to Raise Money AND Change the World. You also can take our popular online workshop Matched Giving Magic, taught by Erica Waasdorp. And that’s just the beginning of what you’ll have available. Check out membership now!

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Pop Art Woman holding a book
BooksDonor Care

Hurry up and Read This Beautiful Book on Caring for Your Donors

Book Review: Donor CARE: How to Keep Donors Coming Back AFTER the First Gift, by John Haydon


When you read a book, you often get a sense of the author. It’s so much like they’re in the room with you, speaking directly to you. It’s more so with books than with other forms of writing, because writing a book demands so much heart, soul, and mind — it can hardly help but bring the writer to life for you. This effect is even stronger when the author is a good writer.

That’s one reason Donor CARE by John Haydon is such a blessing to have. It’s kind of a way for us to keep John here with us. And it’s not the only reason you should get this book.

As you probably know, we lost John to cancer a few weeks ago. It’s a devastating loss for the whole fundraising community. John was smart, experienced, wise, and kind. His previous books, his blog, and his sessions at conferences helped so many of us become better fundraisers. It’s hard to believe that we will no longer see or hear John Haydon.

Except we have his final book. And Donor CARE is really and truly John Haydon.

The book is built around the acronym CARE that will help you remember what we must do to care for our donors:

Connect: Every human being needs to connect, and that includes donors. This means we must connect by telling great stories that touch their hearts, tell them how their giving makes a difference, and let them know the community they are part of as donors.

Appreciate: Let donors know you appreciate them. Not just their money, but them as people.

Reply: Make sure your donors are in a relationship with your organization — not just a series of transactions. Get back to them — quickly and wonderfully — when they give. Report back on their giving. Create ways to have conversations with them.

Encourage: Treat them well. Let them know how awesome they are. One of the main reasons donors stop giving (and non-donors don’t give in the first place) is that nagging feeling that their donations don’t matter. Your job is to make sure your donors never feel that way.

John really captured the reason donors give, and what that means to us as fundraisers. Check out this brief and insightful explanation:

Donors don’t give because they’re generous. They give because it feels great. And being a hero feels the best. This isn’t just unicorn thinking. It’s a phenomenon that’s hard-wired deeply in the human brain from millions of years of evolution. When you tell donors they can “feed hungry children”, “stop human trafficking” or “give twice the hope”, you make them the hero.

Most important, John makes it clear that donor care starts inside each of us.

Ultimately, CARE is an attitude. CARE is human, it begins with how you feel about your work, and how you feel about your donors.

If you don’t have it in your heart, you can’t really practice donor care! That insight alone is worth the price of the book.

Donor CARE is a practical, deep, and helpful book that will give you a lot to think about — and a lot to do. And it’s heartbreakingly beautiful. You’ll learn a lot about the man and his battle with cancer. You might not expect that from a book about being a better fundraiser, but, believe me, it enriches the book in amazing ways.

And it will enrich you, both as a human being on the journey we’re all on … and as a fundraiser.

Get a copy.

Want real and practical help on keeping your donors by caring for them? Consider one-on-one Coaching with an expert Moceanic Fundraisingologist. To find out more, click here to schedule a FREE advice call with the Fundraisingologist of your choice.

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