It used to be that slot machines could only be found in Nevada and Atlantic City, but over the years, as states sought more funding for their bloated budgets, more and more of them legalized some forms of gambling, and electronic games of chance started showing up in local bars and other businesses. Since that time, I have watched people feed those machines tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
During the time that states have had those machines in place, I have noticed there are basically three types of people who play those games.
The first type are people who put money in, play for a while, win enough for their next drink, or if they are lucky enough, get a big win, then quit and take their money out. They may buy their friends a round of drinks or appetizers or give the bartender a bigger tip. They are not greedy, and they are happy to get what they do.
The next type of player is the one who plays and gets ahead, but then their luck turns, and they lose everything they put into the machine. They keep inserting their money in hopes of getting that big jackpot, but they keep losing. They increase the size of their bets, hoping to win back what they have already lost, but they seldom do. Many times, these are low income laborers and elderly, the people who cannot afford to play in the first place.
The last type are the novices who see someone win big, so they decide to give it a try, and then they too lose everything they put into the machine and walk away shaking their heads, saying they will never do that again.
I have come across these same types of people sitting on nonprofit boards when it comes to their fundraising strategies for their organizations.
The first group I mention tries different methods to raise support for their organizations. They have a couple of events with some positive results, or they write a couple of grants, or they cultivate the people who have donated in the past. They are happy with the results but they also go on to try other things while they are ahead. When things don’t continue to bring in the revenue they need, they walk away.
The second group I have encountered is the group that depends largely on one form of revenue, whether it is the gala event or the athletic event, the walk, the ride or the run. It worked the first couple of times they tried it, but then in following years, the number of participants gets smaller because lose interest or get offended by something the leadership did and they move on to other organizations. Yet these organizations and their leadership continue doing the same things at great expense to the organization. The Chronicle of Philanthropy posted a great article about legacy events that are beginning to flounder after years of success. Soon, these events will cost their organizations more than the income they generate, but these organizations will not walk away.
Finally, there are the organizations who try something new, but because they do not succeed the way they did for the others, they walk away, sometimes run away, swearing they will never do that again, without thinking about what they might have done wrong the first time and looking for a way to improve their lot. I see this attitude with organizations who want to replicate the results of the Ice Bucket Challenge, but just can’t find a way to do so. Let’s face it, the ALS Association hit that jackpot, and it will be hard to duplicate their results.
When you are planning your organization’s development strategy, try something long enough to see whether it will succeed, but don’t stick with it too long if it doesn’t produce that jackpot. If you have moderate success, be happy that you did, and employ that strategy again, but don’t keep beating a dead horse if the strategy continues to fail. Sometimes you need to walk away before you lose your shirt.