Tradition can be destructive

Tradition can be destructive

Tradition can be destructive4

Fundraising | Jonathon Grapsas | 7 Jan 2009

"Because that's the way we have always done it".

I've said this before, but if I had a dollar for every time I have heard that. Well, you know the rest...

And as the image above illustrates, just because you've always done something doesn't mean it isn't incredibly stupid.

This dawned on me over the weekend when I learned of the tragic death of a young Canadian hockey player involved in a fight on the ice a few weeks earlier.

Don't get me wrong, I love hockey (and I've only been living in Canada 9 months!) but I don't get the whole fighting thing. Trust me; the purist (male) in me likes nothing better than seeing two guys going toe-to-toe in a sporting contest, whether that is a game of football or in the boxing ring.

But surely in 2009 allowing this to happen in a game of hockey is just plain crazy? I am sure the traditionalists would say at this point, "but its part of the game, blah blah blah..."

Again I draw them to the image above and the poignant caption below it.

So back to fundraising for a moment.

Doing what we did last year because we did it that way the year before that, and in 1995 and in 1863 (Ok I'm being a tad facetious here) can often be really destructive.

This applies to big picture, strategic decisions (like which areas of fundraising to invest and focus in) to really tactical examples on a day to day basis.

One classic example of the latter is the use of 'thank you' letters. Most thank you letters are dull, lifeless and frankly a 'rip off' from the version we used last year or last campaign and so on and so on...


Because it's easy and it was adequate last time round so must be again this time, right?


We can often be inhibited by decisions and behaviors of the past. But let's make your first (fundraising) resolution of the year to not allow tradition to stand in our way and become destructive.

Make the right decisions for the right reasons. Not because someone made the decision for you six years ago.

Ben Wittenberg
14 Jan 2009

Agree with Redina and Jonathon to a point, but I think the underlying issues is the degree to which a conscious decision is made. Doing things the way you've always done them (putting you socks on before your shoes?) can be a perfectly sensible thing to do. The issue comes when something you've always done before is no longer good enough (or was no good in the first place) but you keep doing it the same way because you subconsciously assume it is still the best thing to do rather than actively questioning whether it is.

And remember, if you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got!


Redina Kolaneci
8 Jan 2009

Well Jonathon, I would agree with you and Steve that tradition can become 'baggage' and slow innovation. But, at the same time I would argue that there is a need for differentiation between say 'principles' of fundraising and 'methods' As the little ditty goes: 'Methods are many but principles are few - methods always change but principles rarely do!' Take the principle of the 'critical few', or 'if you don't ask you don't get', or as we argue at McConkey Johnston the four laws of fundraising: 'Find Donors - Win them for your cause - Keep them for the long run - Lift them from one level of giving to the next' Now, I would argue that whether in 1987 or 1999 or 2007 - a charity's fundraising was and is about 'Find- Win-Keep and Lift' or that whatever we do with our appeals or major donors the 80/20 principle will be at work. However, the methods or fundraising tools that can be used to apply the principles should change, differ and adapt to the ways people read or hear or relate to charities... I hope this makes sense. Redina Kolaneci 

Steve Bridger
7 Jan 2009

Jonathon - you're right, especially in these times of accelerating turbulence. 100+ years of history can now just as easily become 'baggage' to slow the innovation that is required. Historical timelines in annual reports need to become dynamic stories of demonstrable impact.

Jonathon Grapsas
7 Jan 2009

Thanks Steve. Absolutely. Thought it was a nice timely reminder for us all in the current climate and at the beginning of the New Year. Cheers, Jonathon


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