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Screw the Golden Rule: It Doesn’t Work in Digital Philanthropy

We’re taught that in order to be a good person, we should “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Don’t get me wrong – being a good person is a worthy goal. However, following the Golden Rule can make you an ineffective (and eventually unemployed) fundraiser.

Why? Because we are not our donors. We can’t assume that what we like is what a donor wants.

Our donors come in many different flavors, with their own distinct motivations and identities. And they don’t think like professional fundraisers…they think like themselves.

I’ve sat in far too many meetings lately where I’ve heard, “Let’s create a campaign around [X]. That’s what would motivate me.” Stop. Right. There.

First of all, what you like or dislike is not a strategy. It’s a lazy way out of doing the hard work of making decisions based on actual data. Feel free to start with a hunch, but take the time to test and verify it.

This has become a mantra of mine that my colleagues have heard countless times now: I am a data point of one. And in the world of statistical significance, a singular data point is not enough on which to build a successful fundraising campaign.

Perhaps our nonprofits would be better if we adopted the Fundraising Platinum Rule – suggested by Tony Alessandra and then Michael Rosen – which is more donor-centered: Know thy donor through data and treat them how they want to be treated.

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