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Avoiding The ‘Quick Fix’ Syndrome in Development

By Lilya Wagner on May 6, 2010One Comment

Fundraising Nightmares Lilya WagnerPatrick often conducted workshops or training sessions for various types of practitioners.  He did this as part of his affiliation with an educational institution and also as a consultant.  This was an enjoyable task for him because it was a chance for him to review what were the latest best practices and research, and how this information could be adapted to the organizations represented in his courses.  At this stage of his career as a fundraising professional and now a trainer and consultant he thought he had, to use the cliche, “seen everything.”

Therefore he was a bit taken aback when, on the morning of the second day of training as major gifts were being discussed, a woman raised her hand and asked, “What website can I use for finding lists of major donors for my organization?”

Patrick responded, “Your best major donor prospects come from your own donor lists . . .”  and he was going to go on when the course participant interrupted and said, “I know that.  What I’m looking for is websites that tell me where the major donors are.  If I can find them, then I’ll figure out ways to interest them in my organization.”

Patrick let a few moments of silence go by while he pondered how to satisfy this participant and yet adhere to the tried-and-true principles of fundraising.  He finally said, “If there were such lists, those donors may not be available to your organization. You can find online annual reports and specific donor lists, but you would be most productive if you start with your own donors and prospects and then expand with the help of your board . . .” and again he was interrupted.

“But I’ve been told,” continued the participant, “that there is a website that’s the best for finding the wealthy.  If I can only find that website, I can target some of them.”

Patrick felt deflated.  Clearly he wasn’t coming across in the way he wanted to in teaching best practices.  He realized that he was up against the proverbial gremlin of the profession: the quick-fix syndrome.  This fundraiser wanted to truncate the process and go at it in the quickest way possible and she didn’t want to heed reality.

That evening Patrick sat at his desk in his hotel room and pondered.  How could he help this participant and many others obsessed by the quick-fix syndrome?  In his vast experience he had seen too many nonprofit leaders and boards, and sometimes constituents and donors, want fundraising to happen quickly, often in response to a crisis.  It just doesn’t work this way! he said to himself.  He remembered another incident at a recent training session.  “Our grant is running out,” a man said at the beginning of the course.  “How can we get donors to give in the next three months?”  Patrick remembered with regret that this particular organization, which hadn’t planned for sustainability, was off the map by now.  He reflected that a fairly common question when organizations haven’t planned ahead is: how can I find donors quickly and get them to give quickly?  The unknowledgeable and uninitiated see other organizations bringing in donations, and they want to replicate this, quickly and easily.

He got out his computer and prepared some PowerPoint slides to show the next day.  His first slide said, “Our hurry-up society with its quick fixes (like TV commercials where a headache is cured in seconds) wants the same result when finding financial support for its nonprofits.”  He jotted notes on what he would say to lead into the next series of slides that expanded on the quick-fix syndrome and its implications for fundraising.  His next slide read, “It takes time for us to cultivate the donors who support our organizations, to cultivate the development of healthy nonprofit organizations.”  He went on to the third slide: “The expectations that are forced on us, or that we are allowed to desire, are serious and challenging.”  And he closed with, “Therefore it’s unrealistic and counterproductive to think that easy answers and quick fixes are possible.”

The next morning Patrick didn’t take time for the usual Q/A session with which he usually opened his day of training but launched into his brief but profound PowerPoint presentation.  When he had finished showing the slides and expanding on the points and illustrating them, he said, “Are there any questions?”

“Yes, answered the woman who had initially spoken up about the website listing the wealthy, “were you able to find that website for me?”

Patrick sighed.  He felt like putting his head on the lectern and pounding it with his fists.  Clearly there wasn’t a “quick fix” to this one!  He hoped the rest of the class had taken to heart his admonitions and when they left his training session, they would go back to their organizations and discuss with their bosses, boards and volunteers the principles he taught, which definitely didn’t include quick fixes but involved thoughtful planning for sustainability!  He thought of a favorite old quote by Epictetus:

    “No great thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig.  If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer that there must be time.  Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

Dr. Lilya Wagner, CFRE, is an experienced fundraiser, consultant, editor and author, teacher and trainer. She can be reached at

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One Comment »

  • Sue Barkman says:

    Wonderful column Lilya….this is such a common issue in today’s world of instant everything. Relationships take time and nurturing. Bravo on good advice.

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