How too much collaboration ruins fundraising appeals

There’s this idea that people seem to accept without even thinking about it. It’s the idea that all work is teamwork … that nothing can happen without the involvement of anyone and everyone … that any kind of collaboration is always inherently good.

You see this all the time in environments where people do creative work like marketing and fundraising. Everyone from the proofreader to the receptionist to the account staff to a board member’s brother-in-law has a hand in the creative, making changes that are often based on little more than personal opinion.

There are comments like, “I don’t like this” or “Can we change this to something else?” or “Why is this in here?” And invariably, there’s this one: “Change that – the client won’t approve it.” Then someone goes ahead and incorporates the changes, often without regard to the tone, presentation, or strategy goals of the appeal. Hey, we’re a collaborative team, right? So, all input is implemented without question.

This might seem like collaboration since we’re involving everyone and being very egalitarian, but it isn’t collaboration. It’s creative by committee. It’s group think. It’s too many cooks in the kitchen.

This isn’t to say that collaboration is bad. Not at all. Collaboration is vital. But ideally it’s limited to those individuals familiar with the strategy of the appeal, the target audience, the concept, the offer, and so on. This group discusses the appeal and the strategy, and reviews it based on strategy — not personal opinion, ego, or office politics. That’s collaboration.

Creative by committee is something else entirely, and it’s deadly for fundraising. Because if we’re creating fundraising that a committee can approve, that doesn’t ruffle any feathers, that everyone can okay, then there’s a good chance it’s bland and boring. And that’s not going to excite donors.


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