Observing your fundraising program, and focusing your donor strategy on your own culture and unique set of circumstances, will pay off in good choices and meaningful practice tailored to the philanthropic mission you serve.

Observe & Interact is a principle of ecosystem-building. I use it when working with donors, when thinking about ways to create lean and effective non-profit organizations, really in any situation the invitation to Observe & Interact is really an invitation to breathe and listen deeply. Is the conversation I’m having with a donor being driven by what I think I need to achieve (ask goals, campaign initiatives, all the transactional trappings of the industrial fundraising approach), or by what they want to achieve? Just like a gardener needs to understand how the sun hits throughout the year, and how plants best interact and feed each other so that the entire system thrives, so do organizations need to understand their own culture, their own donors, and how every part of their current reality interacts, both positively and negatively. One thought that comes to mind as I think about this principle is the tyranny of benchmarking. I have worked in several organizations that always want to know “how we stack up” against competitors. I would posit that this is the wrong question. A more helpful question is “how we stack up” against where we were the previous year. While looking to other organizations for good ideas and trends, it is unhelpful to measure your apple-shaped culture to the orange shaped culture in another part of the country entirely. Observing our own ecosystem, paying attention to what causes us to thrive and doing more of it if appropriate is a powerful approach.