Since today is Halloween, I thought you might like to help me by sharing some of the scariest things you’ve seen happen in a fundraising office. It doesn’t have to be your office, it can be an incident you heard happened elsewhere. Or you can pretend it did. I’ll start first, but please feel free to add yours in the comments!
My first story has to do with an email I received two weeks ago (and two months ago, and two years ago, and…) from someone sending confidential information via email. I recoil in horror every time I open up an email and see a list of donor names with addresses and giving information. Spouse names. Strategy statements. Or, heaven forbid, an attached un-password-protected Excel sheet.
Why this is so scary: email is not secure. In fact, email is the very least secure way anybody can send information in the universe. You may think, “I’m just sending it to Chris down the hall.” But in order to get to Chris, that email travels across state lines (and sometimes across country borders and several time zones) to get from your computer to Chris’s. It goes through a ton of servers, any one of which can siphon off your email to read later.
(Also please change your email password at least every three months. Two-factor authentication is a pain in the rear but could save that same rear.)
The second thing that scares me about fundraising is the language we use. Lori Hood Lawson started a great conversation on Twitter with this:
Those of us on the thread decided that “Prospects” as a term actually passed muster, but “Suspects” got a big, hearty, NO. Likewise “Portfolio penetration.” Ew. Just no.
Another word that was mentioned as needing to go was “pipeline” – not because it’s scary but because it can be confusing. Are we talking gift pipeline, prospect pipeline, or donor stewardship pipeline? The context needs to be specific but isn’t always. Which is another problem:
Fundraising language can be impenetrable like The Fog, (see the terms “Advancement” and “Development,” for example), and it would help if we had industry-wide research-and-development to find new terms.
And by new terms I mean good terms. Clearly descriptive terms. Not creepy terms like “suspect,” or “portfolio penetration.” And not amorphous terms like “resource development” or “prospect development” which sounds like we’re embarrassed about what we do so we hide it in a hazy term that doesn’t mean anything.
The last scary things I want to mention about fundraising are the topics of ethics, donor domination, and the #MeToo issues that have come to light lately. I think we can all agree it’s been a fairly stomach-turning season with the recent Epstein scandal; nonprofit decisions on how to handle past Sackler (and other disgraced donors’) giving; and a wellspring of discussions around sexual harassment and gender-based pay disparity.
It’s been a few seasons, actually, if you factor in the fairly constant media focus on the fundraising sector in the UK and the regulations and fines that have sprung from a few bad actors’ misdeeds.
Fortunately, now that it’s come to light, all of this is fixable with level heads convening to find workable solutions. The scary thing would be if nothing happened.
What scares you about fundraising?