Applying the 10,000 Hour Rule to Fundraising

While working with one of our private school clients, I was reminded of the of the “10,000 Hour Rule” discussed by one of my favorite authors, Malcom Gladwell in his 2008 New York Times Bestseller, Outliers: The Story of Success.

Mr. Gladwell argues that some are endowed with “innate talent”…just born with that “it” factor that allows them to be successful in some particular discipline. You know someone like this, the business person that seems to have the Midas touch with every deal they put together; the kid that seems to be born with a baseball glove on one hand and a bat in the other; or in our world that new Development Officer that always gets the big gifts. More importantly, Gladwell suggests that innate talent never becomes expertise without practice…and lots of it.

I won’t bore you with a rehashing of Gladwell’s finer points, but I do think there is an interesting corollary here for Development professionals that is worth considering.

You see, the private school I am working with is faced with some serious needs to retool some of the curriculum, particularly the STEM programs. The new Head of School is committed to providing the very best STEM program…starting in kindergarten no less…in the entire metropolitan area and is depending on a brand new, first time Development Officer to bring in the capital required to make it happen.

So, how does this school accelerate their “10,000 hours” so they can achieve their goals?

I suggest “practice fundraising” to build confidence and to get the rhythm down between Development Officer and Head of School for solicitation scenarios. The Board is committed to helping the School attain its goal and all agreed to personal giving. Since we have donors ready to give, and the project well defined, all the board members need to do is ask for the gifts. In concert with the Development Officer a strategy was created for each Board Member, rehearsed with the Head of School and they are sent out to solicit the “friendly” donors for their commitments to the program.

The Board is responding favorably and the School now delivers the most thorough STEM programming within 100 miles. The result is an incredible level of new interest in the school with new families seeking them out for their children’s education. Exactly what they wanted.

An arguably more important outcome is a Development Officer with the confidence to lead the organization’s philanthropic programming, a Head of School with the confidence of the Board to deliver big wins and a future full of promise.

Asking people to share their resources with your organizations is a tough job and anyone that tells you differently has obviously never done it. Like anything else in life – golfing, playing the piano, public speaking or getting to Carnegie Hall – it takes practice. To be successful and develop the muscles needed to be a good development professional…practice, practice, practice.