The Easy Button

Happy March, friends! I’m sitting in a hotel room in Baltimore as I write this, listening to the local news anchors talk about the snowstorm outside. I suppose wishing you all a happy spring might be a bit premature…

It’s been awhile since I posted. I have made updates to the Vital Stats portion of my blog and am less than 4,000 miles away from surpassing 50,000 miles flown. Since I have a trip to Hong Kong in the near future, I’m confident I’ll have a celebratory mileage post soon. Also, I’d like to welcome a special new reader to my blog – my mom! She caught up on all my posts during the snowy days of February (she must have been really bored…) and was excited to read more.

I had a very busy February – I spent a full week in Seattle (including a very exciting Valentine’s Day), then turned around and went back to Oklahoma City to see not one but two clients. All of these were return visits to see clients I’ve already worked with, which means we were rolling up our sleeves and getting into the meat of these projects. Any of you who have been working on a project for several months can identify with this. You start asking all of the messy, tough to answer questions:

  • What do we do with prospects who give to multiple areas of the organization?
  • How do we use our predictive modeling results to identify prospects for a new initiative?
  • How do we leverage the connections between our individual prospects and their employer organizations, which are also prospects?

I wrestled with some of these questions during the full week with my Seattle client. It was only fitting that I saw this when I sat down at the temporary cubicle that would be my workstation for the week:

easy button

I pressed it, and guess what happened? NOTHING! How’s that for a metaphor? This stuff isn’t easy, friends! It takes hard work. Even with the best of project plans, something unexpected will come up and we’ll have to figure out how to continue on in spite of the newest curveball. Your development office’s budget might be cut by 5% for the fiscal year. Your VP might suddenly resign. Key members of your team might take a new job or get assigned to a new project.

So what do you do? I mean, what do you do after you’ve had your pity party and crawled under the blankets, crying? Hopefully I’m not the only one who does that… Allow me to suggest that you prepare for projects the same way that game show contestants prepare. In fact, the easy button looks a bit like a contestant’s buzzer.

3 Tips for Project Planning like a Game Show Contestant

  • Pre-project: Study. No one goes on a game show without doing some preparation first. Okay, some people do, like on The Price is Right, but if you’re going on Jeopardy, I can guarantee that you spent some quality Saturday evenings with a deck of flashcards. Do we prepare like that for big projects? I have a client who wrote out a script prior to a portfolio review meeting with a gift officer. Working on that script was tough. We had “if, then” statements all over it. But at the end of the day, the review went smoothly, we were prepared for all possible outcomes, and we had a working script to use for all future portfolio reviews. Our hard work paid off.


  • During project: Phone a Friend. Who Wants to Be a Millionaire offers contestants the option of using lifelines if they don’t know the answer to a question. They can choose to eliminate some of the false answers, poll the audience for the answer they think is correct, or call a friend that they trust to ask what answer they’d go with. Why wouldn’t their friend just be on the show instead? I digress. In the phone a friend example, their friend knows a lot about the subject and generally has helpful advice. The same is true for development. There are very few totally new ideas in fundraising. Chances are, if you’re working on a big project, some other organization has done something very similar, and has executed it well. Why reinvent the wheel? Do you have connections who can help walk you through it? Call them up. Or post to a message board like PRSPCT-L – the development community is very friendly and you can usually get some great ideas from message boards.


  • During project: Play to Win. Unlike awards show nominees, no one goes on a game show and says that it’s an honor just to be chosen to play. No way! If you make it onto Wheel of Fortune, you play to win. That explains why contestants choose to spin the wheel one more time when they should just solve the puzzle. They always end up landing on bankruptcy or losing a turn. Sometimes you have to take big risks to win big. In fundraising, we can be happy for our colleagues that landed that $100 million gift, but that doesn’t change the fact that we want to see our organization land some large, impactful gifts too. That might mean we need to take a risk and put a crazy idea in front of a major donor. It might mean we need to reorganize the way our shop is set up. It might mean we nominate someone for the board who isn’t connected to any of our other board members. One strategy might land us on the “Lose a Turn” space, but our strategy on our next turn could result in a major gift.


What do you think, friends? Have I taken the metaphor too far? What do you do to prepare for the unexpected?

All game show images are from Wikipedia, which contains an impressive amount of information on game show history, rules, and formats.

Until next time, friends. Conference season is kicking off this week as I am on faculty of the CASE Annual Conference for Development Researchers. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the attendees and am excited to write about it afterwards.


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