Recently, I was given a piece of business advice that has stuck in my head: “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”
This statement sounds odd at first, as many of us think of perfection as the goal. After all, each of us wants to be the best, right? Yet, as I roll it over in my head, I realize there is profound wisdom in that simple statement.
Because I have spent nearly 30 years as a nonprofit fundraising consultant, this statement got me thinking about how perfection sabotages the efforts of the people around me — those in nonprofit development roles. There are five ways that I see the pursuit of perfection hold clients back in their fundraising progress.
- Perfection Consumes Time: Time is one of the most valuable resources we have. Yet, I repeatedly see clients spending hours and hours going through a myriad of edits to their case statement, re-editing their own edits and striving for perfection. It’s as if they believe getting the perfect words on paper will be the tipping point between their success and failure. While editing and proofreading are important, at some point you must put down the red editing pen, stop talking about it and start moving forward with your campaign.
- Perfection Feeds Procrastination: Another prevalent example of the cost of perfection is perpetual donor cultivation. This often manifests itself as the development officer who never gets around to the solicitation of donors because they are always looking for the perfect time, the perfect project, the perfect team, the perfect economy, the perfect naming opportunity — the perfect whatever. The reality is, perfection rarely comes. So, a development officer waiting for the perfect set of circumstances to make an ask never makes the ask. Instead, they end up stuck working on a perpetual cycle of cultivation steps.
- Perfection Forgets Fundamentals: There are some very real opportunity costs associated with a development officer who’s stuck in a cycle of seeking perfection. Most obvious is that, when they don’t solicit the donor, the donor probably won’t give a gift. This is a fundamental principle that development officers often lose sight of. The loss of contributed income to the organization is real when you’re not actively engaged in soliciting donors.
- Perfection Creates Philanthropic Atrophy: Another problem arises when you put a donor in a long-term holding pattern while you wait for the perfect solicitation moment. Be Haas, one of my early mentors in fundraising, used to say, “Philanthropy is like a muscle; it only gets stronger if you use it.” The opposite to this is also true. The person who isn’t approached gets out of the habit of giving to your organization. And just like an unexercised muscle, their philanthropic “muscle” atrophies.
- Perfection Encourages Donor Drift: Finally, there is a risk that you may lose the donor’s interest altogether. When you are not asking for their contributions, donors assume their help is either not needed or not wanted, and they engage with other organizations that are actively seeking and wanting their help. With so many organizations vying for attention, it’s easy for donors to be redirected and drift away.
Try Trading Perfection For Progress
It’s important to acknowledge that working with donors is a complicated dance, as are all relationships where money is involved. I encourage development officers to keep in mind that the more complicated something is, the less likely it is to ever be perfect. While you should strive for excellence, perfection should not be the goal.
The good news is, it’s not the eloquence of the words on paper, the clever phrase or the perfectly timed ask that are ultimately going to sway donors to support your project. What motivates donors to give is the vision of the organization, the urgency of the needs, the validity of the proposed solution and, most of all, their relationship with your organization and leadership. Be clear, be authentic and be responsive to your donors.
Instead of pursuing perfection, set your sights on recognizing when good enough is good enough, and start making real progress on your fundraising campaign.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.