I can’t count the number of times that I have seen a great strategy railroaded by a seemingly innocuous criticism – “it’s too formulaic.”
What does that criticism generally mean? Well, for many organizations, big and small, there is an underlying pressure to come up with a “new” way of doing – or saying – things. Indeed, I have been in many meetings where crazy things have been suggested – like not sending anything via traditional channels (which now includes email and Facebook apparently) or not communicating to supporters at the end of the financial year (because everyone does that) – all in the name of not doing things the way other people have done them before.
I know you and your team don’t want to feel like your campaign was cut and pasted from a ‘Fundraising for Dummies’ handbook. But as creatively tepid as it may seem, there are numerous, proven (“boring”) practices that will power your fundraising campaign toward its objective – even as you work within and around these. That is because fundraising is based on underlying relational human behavior.
You can be as creative as you want, but a strategy works best when it is part of a solidly successful framework. From my experience, there are four things that you can do to help overcome the “are we being too formulaic” question:
- Start with what we know. Go with what has proven successful, and build on it. Everyone wants to feel like they’ve created something brand new, but don’t jettison the wisdom of the past entirely until you have built a better mousetrap.
- Let the numbers tell the story. Before going back to the drawing board, review what you have tried that actually worked – and didn’t work. Make sure you put any new element to the test before you decide on whether it can be a part of your winning formula.
- Check your campaign for a heartbeat. The criticism may be tied to your message lacking the elements that make up any good human interaction – things like compelling stories and personal pronouns.
- Innovation matters. Try new things, like messaging, or marketing channels, within and around a framework of fundamentals, and then branch out in new directions based on where you got some traction.
In the end, it’s not the formula that’s holding you back from breakthrough – it’s the execution of the formula. You can be as innovative with campaigns as you want — just don’t lose sight of the fact you are communicating with real people.
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