The First Precaution of Intelligent Tinkering…

…naturalist Aldo Leopold wrote in his essay on ecology, “The Round River,” is to keep every cog and wheel.

More blunt but just as profound is the carpenter’s axiom: measure twice and cut once.

We are in a time of much tinkering with fundraising programs and budget cutting without measuring. Such times are when bad mistakes of long lasting consequence are made.

The cause of almost all mistakes is that tinkering and budget cutting are done at tactical levels, and far too many managers don’t know or understand the connections between matters of tactics and strategy. They see cogs and wheels without understanding how they work with one another to move than hands of a watch and allow its owner to tell time reliably.

New donor or member acquisition campaigns are always the most vulnerable. It’s perfectly okay to reduce investment in new donor acquisition provided one has calculated the consequence of having a smaller donor base in the years ahead. Or, to use the common analogy, it’s perfectly okay to take out a second mortgage if one knows how it is going to be paid down.

More insidious is budget cutting and tinkering with the tactics of donor retention and value development, the campaigns that keep donors active and engage them more deeply and valuably.. The worst time to do that is precisely when managers most want to, when response and revenue are down not because of fundraising practices but because of the economy and bottoming consumer confidence.

Fundraising is the husbandry of relationships that affect the voluntary giving of money. We are well advised to tinker and cut with great care.