When Fundraising Programs Stop Running Like Clockwork

Have you ever taken apart a mechanical clock? (Or maybe the better questions is, “Have you ever tried to put a mechanical clock back together again?”) Thanks to my dad, I have a collection of antique American-made clocks, and out of necessity, I am trying to improve my clock repair skills.


What I do know is that once you remove the screws holding the front and back plates together, chaos reigns. There are several wheels, some that control the actual keeping of time and others that control the striking of the clock. These wheels have pins and notches, and there are multiple levers that have to line up with them to trigger an action or stop an action. Springs have to be wound “just right” to improve the accuracy of the clock. And finally, there is often a pendulum, going back and forth to keep the clock running.


Given the intricacy of the clock movement, it doesn’t take much to make it run slow or fast, stop striking, or just stop all together.


The intricacy of the clock movement is much like our fundraising programs.


They tick along “like clockwork,” as the saying goes, but then—seemingly without warning—something goes wrong with one of them. And sometimes, the only option is to take them apart, figure out what’s broken or just worn out, fix it and then put the program back together again.


If you’re a fundraiser who loves your work because of the action and the often-immediate results, it can be painful when chaos meets fundraising. Sometimes you’re tempted to try for a quick fix—in the world of antique clocks, that’s often putting a few coins under one corner in hopes it will rebalance the clock or putting some oil on the wheels, levers and springs. But when the problem is deeper, we may have to tear a program apart before we can completely fix it.


On his career blog, Harrison Barnes recently wrote,

You can only grow if you are willing to subject yourself to, and tolerate chaos and confusion. Groups, things, and people subjected to stress and increased input either reorganize and improve or they die away.


As with the clock, sometimes even the most brilliant fundraising program breaks down. Some fundraisers won’t stick around to fix it. But when you do, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing something ticking along again, generating income for your programs like clockwork.


Fundraising is hard work, and when some aspect of it stops working, there are no shortcuts. So like the clock, sometimes we have no choice but to take it apart and then put it back together again in order to get it back on track.

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