The #Fundraising Life is Tough, so Laugh More!

Are you able to laugh at yourself?

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy to laugh at oneself. At times, it’s not even easy to laugh at the challenges we encounter in any given day. However, finding the humor with ourselves, and the situations we encounter, can be enormously beneficial.

Consider what actor Salma Hayek has said on the subject:

Life is tough; and if you have the ability to laugh at it, you have the ability to enjoy it.”

Author Kurt Vonnegut emphasized another benefit of laughter:

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward.”

We can all benefit by laughing more at the daily frustrations we face while trying to do our fundraising work. That’s where Phillip E. Perdue, MBA, May I Cultivate You?CFRE, CDM can help. A longtime fundraising professional, Perdue has written the book May I Cultivate You? Perdue’s book takes a humorous, insightful look at the various aspects of fundraising.

When reading the book, I recognized any number of frustrating/humorous situations I’ve seen over my long career. If you want to have some chuckles and gain some insights about the world of fundraising, I encourage you to pick up a copy. If you want to spread the cheer, you may want to get some extra copies to share with your favorite fundraisers this coming holiday season.

May I Cultivate You? is available on Kindle and paperback. To give you a taste of the book, Perdue has allowed me to share “Chapter Twelve — Your Fundraising Software is the Worst.” Thanks, Phil! This bonus chapter is not available in the print version of the book. Let me know what you think of this chapter:


When you begin a new job, someone will give you a log-in for the fundraising software. Moments later, one of your new co-workers will come over and say how much they hate the fundraising software and moan about how confusing, user-hostile and archaic it is. Everyone within earshot will nod agreement.


 Your passwords go on post-it notes next to your computer.


The software will seem to have caused more human misery than typhoid, small pox and opera combined. Which is strange because you thought the software at your last job was the worst. And it was. And now this new system will be the worst. Wherever you are, whatever you are using, it is the pits, the bottom of the barrel.

To be fair, the modern software industry has given fundraisers remarkable tools. But as you know, this is generally an awful thing for a lot of reasons.

Imagine using a 200-lb sledgehammer to kill ants. Or having a Swiss Army knife with 7,000 attachments the size of a pickup truck. Modern development software feels like that to the Liberal Arts majors trying to jockey it. It is too unwieldy for people who use words like “unwieldy.” Mostly, we use the software as a rolodex and a gift log.

It does not help that most of the computers running the software are nearly as old as the furniture they sit on.

And it does not help that as the systems have grown exponentially more sophisticated your organization’s training budget has not increased since 1950. Chances are no one in your shop has had any professional training or knows how to take advantage of all the wonderful features buried away in FundJuggernaut ’98 or whatever you are using. If newcomers are lucky, they will be taught to log-in and look up phone numbers.


Your database is like a showroom toilet. It can hold a lot of crap but it is not really meant to be used.


The lack of training and procedures usually results in a database that is horribly out of date. Corrections never get entered. Returned mail goes into the dumpster behind the liquor store. Most of the email addresses bounce back. Phone numbers all reach the same deaf octogenarian.

This mess means that you can’t get good metrics. Running a report will be like trying to seduce a schizophrenic. You will get a different result every time.

Perhaps the biggest challenge we face is that the software is just not intuitive. It does not fit the way we fundraisers work and think. For instance, almost everything we do is based on dates and timing. The way we cultivate relationships – follow up calls, appointments, letters – needs to be done on a careful schedule. The development software calendaring systems are excruciating. You probably find the paper calendar on your wall more useful.

This data vs. dates conflict actually points to the ultimate problem. You are in the business of trying to control future events. You use timelines and look ahead. The database deals only with past events and consequently looks backward. For you, using the database is like driving a car by relying on the rear view mirror.


“How much!? No raises!? On second thought, we love this software!”


Yet another reason this software sophistication is bad for non-profits is that the cost of upgrading or replacing your software will soon skyrocket beyond the funding capacity of your organization. Faced with raising the money to replace it, the development team can suddenly find some love for the old system, after all. So when you arrive at new job there will be talk of the need to switch the system. That talk will still be going on years later when you leave.

Finally, fundraising software also leads to IT people. IT people are not like fundraisers. I have nothing against them as a group, they are just different. Of course, we fundraisers are no picnic either as this quiz will reveal:


1) How do you approach training new development employees about your software?

___ Figure out what they need to know and provide sensible and adequate training.

___  Try to teach them how the database uses particles at the sub-atomic level.

___ Show them where the desktop icon is and how to click it.

2) If an upset donor calls with a question, you:

___ Answer the question.

___ Get a phone number so someone who is paid to talk to donors can call the donor back.

___ Ask about the donor’s most recent vacation and/or outpatient procedure.

3) How important do you consider data integrity?

___ Very.

___ It must always be the primary goal of all system users.

___ Bored. I am so very bored by your question.

4) You feel that “ad hoc” reports are:

___ A necessary part of adapting to the changing environment.

___ A sign of poor planning and managerial failure.

___ Always late! What’s the hold up? Let’s go! I am getting bored waiting!

If you answered any of these questions, you are a fundraiser. No one else would be reading this book.


That’s what Phillip Perdue and Michael Rosen say… What do you say?

3 Responses to “The #Fundraising Life is Tough, so Laugh More!”

  1. It’s interesting for you to say that nonprofit software is archaic and requires so much hours training. One nonprofit software company that I work for is defying that right now by creating an 4-in-1 user friendly system for nonprofits to manage all their fundraising campaigns, events, donations, volunteering and contact database. It’s so easy that the team only requires an hour training and then they’re good to go. Have you heard of Giveffect?

    I agree that once you create a fundraiser, you’ll need more than just a campaign page. It requires lengthy amount of content, of which IT people might not be concerned with. It takes coordination across the board.

    Here are some of my favorite tools that might benefit others:

    Make beautiful infographics:

    Schedule your posts:

    • Janet, thank you for your message. All software has a learning curve. All software has its strengths and weaknesses. To help ensure that an organization gets the best product for its needs requires careful planning, the involvement of all stakeholders, and thorough training. There are many technology options in the marketplace. Those looking for new software solutions owe it to themselves to research the full range of options.

      I also want to thank you for sharing the other useful links.


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