The Donosaur’s Lament

Published by Paul Delbar on

We used to run into each other at fundraising conferences and events, but it had been a while since we had met. When I called her and suggested catching up over lunch, I was hoping for an enthusiastic response … but it took three calls to convince her to get out of the office. “There’s too much going on / the world’s a different place / I feel like all my trusted skills / are falling out of grace”, she sighed on the phone, “I’ll tell you all about it / but now I have to run / not sure where to or why / but it’s what must be done”.

donosaurShe looked very, very tired. We ate in relative silence, and as we were waiting for our coffee, she seemed ready to share what was burdening her, so I suggested “I wish you would confide in me / what made you so distraught / perhaps tell me what is both’ring you / and share your darkest thought”.

She sighed. “I’ve spent my lifetime raising funds / for causes large and small / I mailed, I called, I asked and got / and thought I knew it all”, she said, clenching her napkin. “I chose this job, and gladly so / to give a better life / to hungry, poor, deprived and sick / of needs the world was rife,” and I swear I could see tears starting to form in her eyes. “I had a burning mission / to which the board agreed / we shared this great ambition / so pure and free of greed.” She sipped her coffee, as if she were gathering strength, and went on. “But younger folk are telling me / the way I work is wrong / and though I argue violently / their arguments are strong. They talk about the journey / our donors undertake / and how we should engage with them / and thus them donors make,” she spat, contempt clear in her voice. “They prove to me with numbers / that what they say is right / that it is time we change our ways / and I should see the light”.

“Ah,” I said, “but you are not alone / in feeling such frustration / when you are facing change / there’s cause for agitation,” hoping that a expression of empathy would make her feel better. It didn’t, and she continued ferociously, causing sideways glances from other tables. “Change, you say, but whence and why / when every fiber of my soul / is certain that it’s all a lie / and that it will destroy us whole!” She put down her coffee forcefully. “It’s always been our mission / to help whose needs are worst / so how can someone justify / putting a donor first? Should we not look to people / who understand the need / to contribute financially / and help us to succeed ?”

This conversation was going to need a lot more coffee. “My dear,” I said, “you must calm down / I understand your pain,” while signalling the waiter, “let’s have another cup / and give your grief free rein”. This was not the first fundraiser lament I had heard, so I had a fair idea of what was coming. We’re always talking about the next fabulous innovation in fundraising technology, and sometimes forget change is hard on most people — even fundraisers. Many will retweet a quote on the future of fundraising, but few will share how hard it feels to adapt.

She did not wait for coffee. “I can’t begin to count / the letters that I sent / to donors so they understand / the way their gift was spent. The quarterly reports / that fill my desk in stacks / combine the finest prose / with budgetary facts” and looked me straight in the eyes. “I think I know my job by now / I’ve proven it enough / and I am getting sick of all / this empty mark’ting fluff! This storytelling nonsense / and content marketing / communities that we should build / and segment targeting. Instead of simply listening / they measure clicks and flows / and watch with rapt attention / as time spent onsite grows. Their charts are bright and colourful / their tools like Star Trek look / and I feel like an idiot / reading Adrian’s latest book …”

I’m sure you’ve all heard similar stories, albeit not in rhyme. It may even be ThinkstockPhotos-465080709-e1435007860941how you feel in your job today. Well, you’re not alone. People with years of experience, decades of dedication to their cause, are feeling overwhelmed by the new digital developments. Not simply because it’s change, but because it disrupts more than just tools and processes. It expects us to change our intent and purpose of everything we do. And like most disruptive hangs, it feels like it happened overnight. Suddenly, we’re all donosaurs.

We’re all donosaurs

donosaur is a person who intellectually agrees with new approaches to fundraising, but finds it hard to change their daily routine. Often, they feel that the new approach feels ‘wrong’ in some way, but are lost for objective reasons not to follow their ratio. So they try to be donor centric, and tell compelling stories, nod when campaign results are presented suggesting a more personalised donor experience, and gradually feel less and less at home in their jobs and environments. But they don’t speak up, so management thinks everyone’s on board. Enter demotivation, burnout, staff attrition, poor donor service etcetera.

So it’s (once again) management’s problem? Perhaps it is. The challenge for nonprofit managers is to move their entire organisation into the digital era, instead of just a happy few. And I’m not only talking about staff and volunteers, but about the donosaurs in the management team and on the board. But we must embrace our inner donosaur and share our concerns with them. If you’re struggling to integrate what you’ve ben doing before and the new digital stuff, speak up. Go to a seminar, talk to your peers. Organize donosaur support groups, declare an office-wide ‘Donosaur Development Day’ spent only on learning and trying out new stuff. And once in a while, have lunch with a fellow donosaur and just bitch.

Paul Delbar

Paul Delbar’s journey into fundraising started with the creation of Belgium’s first online giving platform ikwilhelpen.be. For 10 years, he worked for large and small nonprofits, advising them on online communication and fundraising tools and strategies. Since 2014, he is a fundraising manager for an innovative nonprofit with a global audience.


Janice F · June 23, 2016 at 16:16

Excellent. Yes, we must ALL embrace our inner dinosaur.
But the solution is so much bigger than just embracing the digital. There is so much more that needs to evolve in the nonprofit culture. We need to understand that what we do is so very much more than just fundraising. It’s so much more than just about the money we raise.

claire axelrad · June 27, 2016 at 07:01

A very timely (and clever!) piece about the fact that the digital revolution has caused a fundamental change in how fundraising and nonprofit marketing is done — and how hard it can be to fully embrace the change. Like most change, it needs to begin at the top and also bubble up from the bottom. Everyone must be involved. Nurtured. Encouraged. Whatever you can do to make this happen, and shift your culture to embrace what must (of necessity) be embraced, I would encourage you to do it. Would love to hear others thoughts as well.

    Paul Delbar · June 27, 2016 at 07:47

    I think that many people who feel the ‘pull of change’ would start by arguing the ‘necessity’ is really there. It’s the common ‘but why’ which requires a logical explanation and an underlying vision that explains the benefits for the organisation. This is where management needs to take the time to reflect on that ‘why’ and come up with more sensible arguments than ‘well, the world is going digital and so should we’.

    At the same time, they need to address the insecurity people feel when the change that they do not want requires new skills they do not have, and are at a loss to start acquiring. This kind of disruptive change is similar to announcing that you’re moving the head office to a location half way around the country to a person with a large and comfortable social network and no means of transportation other than a bike. It make you wonder whether you can actually do it, or even want to try. Here’s where organisations stand to loose decades of experience in dealing with the people behind the clicks.

Sam rider · June 28, 2016 at 22:31

Isn’t this just a simple failure to understand and implement the tools of strategy and stakeholder engagement? Tools and understanding any good manager in any sector should know. Plus the leadership skills that qualify anyone for a role as a director. Make time and space for training and professional development.

http://www./ · November 7, 2016 at 15:59

That’s really thinking at an impressive level

http://www./ · November 24, 2016 at 16:22

Mike… couldn’t agree more. Executive sponsorship from the CEO is critical. In my experience, you can still achieve meaningful results without it, but it’s A LOT easier when you have it. Change is hard, even if it’s right. I have future posts planned on the topic of effective change management. Thanks for your adding your perspective…

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