The boss doesn't get it! [MacGyver Fundraising]

Apr 26, 2022

MacGyver Fundraising: A series about getting it done in the real world

MacGyver was an US action TV show in the 80s (with a more recent reboot) featuring a brilliant professional problem-solver who could get himself out of any jam with whatever random materials were at hand. He always solved the most difficult situations. Fundraisers are a lot like MacGyver.


You could overcome every barrier and do everything to perfection in your fundraising ... and still come up short.

That's what happens when those who approve the work -- bosses, colleagues, board members -- don't know their stuff.

They'll squash effectiveness flat.

It's probably the most common and destructive problem our industry faces: people charged with assuring the quality and accuracy of fundraising who are making it up as they go along.

If you are up against this, know that you aren't alone.

What can you do about it?

Be the expert

This is a long-term solution, but over time, it can make all the difference. Become a dedicated pupil of what's working in the industry.

Read a few books. Follow some fundraising blogs or podcasts. Go to at least one quality conference a year. Be part of a community of other fundraisers.

Keep up with it. You will become more and more expert.

And share information with your colleagues. Encourage them to read a book. Print out a blog post now and then. Remember, they may have no idea that there’s an established body of knowledge about fundraising!

Look at the issue through their eyes

They aren't trying to make you fail! They're giving you what they think is good information: "I'd never respond to that, therefore nobody else would either." It seems reasonable.

Also, your boss or board may be afraid. Afraid of failure, or being seen to mess up in public. That activates all kinds of bad stuff. But it's real.

When you can sympathize, you can have a better conversation. You can even let them know that you used to have the same misgivings about the oddness of fundraising.

As much as you can, make it a journey of mutual discovery, not a battle!

Prove it

Get permission to try it "your way." Just this once, and we'll see what happens.

Choose your battles on this. Don't do minor, less-important stuff. Go for it, with a really great, on-target firing-on-all-cylinders appeal against "their way."

If your list is big enough, you can do controlled tests. That allows you to quantify the difference But most organizations are not big enough to run statistically valid tests.

Also, look for case studies from other organizations that show best practices at work. That can be very persuasive.


It pains me to say this, but it's all too common: They'll listen to a paid outsider when they won't listen to you. That sucks. But it's the way a lot of people think.

You can benefit from that outside perspective for a while or just make it they way you do things. You might reach some breakthroughs in the way people think. And it's quite possible that outsourcing some of your work is the most effective way to get it done anyway.

If nothing works to bring change...

I hate to bring it up, but some minds are not changeable. Some don't care that your work is not the best it could be. Some would rather be "right" through force than proven "wrong" by facts. Those things happen.

If that’s the case for you, move on. Go find a different job. There's a massive need for people like you, and you have no business wasting your time at an organization that doesn't want your expertise.

But before you do that, try to make things work. You'll be proud of your accomplishment, and you may just help your organization move to a higher level.

MacGyver Fundraising

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