When I work with potential customers to help them develop solutions to their challenges, those prospective customers usually want me to identify other customers that are exactly the same type of organisation with the same set of challenges. “What other hospitals…what other museums…which of the universities”?”
Often times I will give scenarios for the same type of organisation to make the customer comfortable and I also liken their situation to that of another type of organisation from another part of our sector. Why? Frankly, all types of organisations across the sector have more in common than we have differences.
Our sector is filled with professional organisations and publications that divide us rather than bring us together. You likely belong to the one that identifies the closest with your type of organisation and you feel that organisation serves you well. Conferences we attend are divided into tracks not just by topical area, but typically by size of organisation and by which vertical we fit in by organisational type.
I, too, fell into this trap. I became a consultant in our sector more than 6 years ago after being a fundraiser for more than 20 years. My background had been in healthcare fundraising. When I went to consult for the my first university in the US, I hesitated for a while because I was used to talking about grateful patients, acquisitions, capital campaigns for hospital wings, and the like. I quickly took notice that terminology is really all that separates us. Grateful patients for a hospital are alumni for a university or visitors or members for a museum. Other than the terminology, we really are pretty much the same and all are driven by a desire to do the best job we can do to raise the most money at the lowest cost possible.
Why do we limit ourselves to comparing our organisations only to those that fit the mold of the same type and the same sized organisation? Instead, shouldn’t we be benchmarking our organisation against others outside of our part of the sector to push the boundaries, to grow, and to establish best practices of others in our sector? Some of the smallest organisations in our sector can offer advice to the largest of organisations. Some of the universities can offer best practices to healthcare organisations. Some of the religious organisations have a lot to offer cultural institutions.
I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and shake things up a bit. Think about joining a professional organisation that caters to organisations that are not of your same type. When you attend general fundraising conferences, attend sessions for organisations the opposite of yours. You will likely learn more and be able to offer more from/to those that are polar opposite of your organisation than you will likely learn/offer from/to another organisation that is exactly the same type and size as yours.
Do you agree or disagree with me? Either way, let me hear your thoughts!