Occasionally when fundraisers ask for advice in how to secure more major gifts or very valuable partnerships, I have the impression they are looking for one big move. When we’re not experiencing the results we want, it is tempting to believe there is one powerful step that would take us to where we want to be, to close the gap. However unrealistic this is, the power of the instinct is strong, which is why adverts for get rich quick schemes (or get healthy or happy quick schemes) are to be found in the ad section of any newspaper.
In truth, you know that the successes you are most proud of have been achieved through numerous small actions and practices, over a long period. These hundreds of ‘2mm shifts’ compound to create an entirely new level of skill or fundraising result.
For more than a decade I have made it my habit to interview people who get consistently great fundraising results. Their personality traits vary hugely. But one thing has been consistent, and this is their ability to follow through, that is, to stick to what is important over the long-term.
Professor Angela Duckworth refers to this quality as ‘grit’. She has spent decades studying how very high achievers succeed, interviewing of world class athletes, artists and business-people. And she has found the same trait crops up in every area. She explains ‘what we accomplish in the marathon of life depends tremendously on our grit – our passion and perseverance for long-term goals’.
In her book Grit and 6 minute TED talk, Grit – the key to success Prof Duckworth shows that though in theory most people would agree this quality is important, in practice, when we see someone who is getting brilliant results, the normal thing is to assume their ‘talent’ is the primary factor in their success. She agrees that some talent is always part of the answer, but the side effect of focusing too much on the exciting mystery of ‘talent’ is that we rarely pay enough attention to the importance of grit in any success story.
Why being gritty makes such a big difference
You may be thinking that making your fundraising behaviour more gritty doesn’t sound much fun. Actually, research shows that grittier people are not only more successful, they are also more happy. Acting this way means giving more but you also feel more fulfilled.
The other important conclusion I took from Prof Duckworth’s research is that, contrary to what some of us have been led to believe, your level of grit is not fixed from birth. Excitingly, we can all improve how passionate and persevering we are.
I’ve found that fundraisers on my Major Gifts Mastery Programme secure more major gifts not only because they learn more effective fundraising strategies, but also because they learn to operate in a more gritty way. For example, taking more bold action to secure meetings with donors or confidently tackle the internal challenges, especially from the very start of your work day, becomes normal.
Doing more of these things inevitably leads to relationships with more donors, more asks and more gifts. And once you have proved this is possible for six months, albeit with the advanced fundraising strategies and the power of the group and your coach to help you succeed, fundraising in a more gritty way after the programme also becomes easier because you have proved it is both possible and very rewarding.
One trick that increases income
One of several reasons that gritty fundraisers have so much drive is that they feel their work connects them to something greater than themselves. Even if this was not strong in the beginning (interestingly, it often wasn’t), the longer they stay, they increasingly feel that they’re in part driven by their purpose. It’s no longer primarily about them.
How can you strengthen this power if currently you don’t feel it? I have found that simple, small shifts can dramatically improve both the drive you feel and your consequent results. For example, the book The small BIG reports that when a telephone fundraising team shared stories about their cause at the beginning of their shift, they secured more than twice the number of donations over the phone compared to when they got straight to work. Not bad for an activity that takes just ten minutes.