Skip to content
Follow Us

Get the best of Capacity Interactive delivered to your inbox.

A Fundraising Masterclass
Episode 79
A Fundraising Masterclass

CI to Eye with James Langley

This episode is hosted by Erik Gensler.

0:00 / 0:00


Erik and James discuss his humanistic view on philanthropy, which prioritizes long-term relationship-building over short-term results. Based on those principles, James shares how to authentically cultivate first-time donors—like those you may have acquired recently through refunded tickets or online fundraising campaigns—and evolve them into lifetime supporters.

James Langley: The first time someone gives a gift to any organization, the most astute thing to do is, in any way you can, is to ask that donor why. You see, we get a small gift, often through impersonal means like a telephone call or email or some sort of electronic push. We get that gift and we go, “Oh, check the box. Move on,” and then, we try to do the same thing the following year and we see a high rate of failure. Those donors that gave once have now fallen away; they don’t give again. So, most donor attrition occurs between the first and second year. You simply try to repeat the process and you see a very significant fall-off in giving and therefore, the maturation, the importance thereof doesn’t go anywhere. That is one year and you’re starting all over. But if you intervene and do something simple, like ask, “Could you tell us why you gave to us, what you had in mind, and maybe the backstory: Why us? Why did the cause resonate with you? What in your background made our mission appealing to you?” You see, you start to connect, you start to create conversation, and you start to create shared purpose. And as basic as this sounds, so few organizations are doing this. They’re taking credit for harvesting the obvious in a highly philanthropic culture and saying it worked because 65% of people gave again but what they’re not realizing is, they’re far and away sub-optimizing the potential of their donors and they’re losing way too many. And they could get away with that. Erik, for years and years and years but something happened in the last 16 years, according to a recent study done by Indiana University and that was, for the first time in recorded American history, a loss of giving households. Fewer and fewer households giving to institutions to the tune of a loss of 20 million households-

Erik Gensler: Wow.

James Langley: … stopped giving through institutions—now, they may be giving interpersonally—which represents a 13.5% decline in the participation in what I have called the “American philanthropic revolution.” That’s not good for America, it’s not good for democracy, and it certainly isn’t good for philanthropy and the institutions that depend on it.

Erik Gensler: It sort of mirrors a lot of the marketing … you know, and I always say, marketing and fundraising are the same thing. It’s about acquiring relationships and nurturing relationships and I think there’s just a tendency to focus on acquisition, “More, more, more,” rather than, as someone also said on the podcast. Steven Roth, who’s a pricing expert, said, “Organizations need to learn to shop within their own closet,” which I thought is such a great metaphor.

James Langley: It’s perfect, it’s perfect, and I use this orchard metaphor with the same ideas, that we keep looking at the number of apples in the bushel basket and saying, “It was a great year,” without looking at the health of the tree and the state and the aging of the orchard itself, which calls upon us to have a replenishment strategy to start planting new trees, knowing that, as trees age, their yield diminishes and so, you have to have a strategy. But what I loved about the example that you just cited is, we have to look within and we have to nurture persistence of giving and the loyalty behind it if we are going to sustain impressive results over time. So, we’re all learning the same thing is, it isn’t just the acquisition of a donor or a client or a customer in any given year; it’s the retention of that customer or client or donor over the year that is most significant and in a declining market—to use your metaphor—we’re in a declining market, then retention becomes ever more important. It becomes important in and of itself and it becomes important to buffer an organization against further erosion and further loss going forward.

Erik Gensler: You shared a fascinating case study along those lines on LinkedIn that asks, “Want to raise more money and retain more donors? Acquire fewer donors.” Can you talk about what that study illustrated?

James Langley: Yeah, so, think about, maybe, this in very human terms and think about the fact that neuroscience now tells us that multitasking is a myth. The more things that we try to do, the more things we do poorly. So, now, let’s put that into the arena of donor acquisition and think about the gift officer, the frontline fundraiser who has a portfolio of 200 or 300 people and he or she is tasked to bring in as many dollars in each year that is possible. You know, “Just get as much as you can, as fast as you can, without promising anything in return.” So, what does that yield over time? Is weaker and weaker results. So, what you then say is, “Oh, if multitasking is a myth and the more we try to do, the more poorly we do all those things, what we really need to do in donor acquisition is to not get greedy, is to focus on fewer, higher-quality donors, people with positive giving histories, with histories of civic engagement, with histories of caring about issues of great social import. Focus on them, acquire them more carefully, in terms of, do it conversationally, use fewer selling techniques and use more listening techniques, and in doing so, focus on the acquisition of fewer donors with the eye toward retaining them longer. So, what you really try to do, then, is to say, “If we get greedy, if we try to acquire too many donors in any given year, we lose more donors than is necessary than makes sense and isn’t this crazy. So, if we get less greedy, acquire more carefully, more slowly, more thoughtfully, more interpersonally, what we’ll really do is not only have a good year, but we’ll set the stage for building a stronger community of shared purpose over time and that really becomes the goal.” But you see, it seems to run counter to the way that we think in all areas. As you said, in marketing and in the public and the private sector, we seem to have missed this over and over again. So, slow down, focus on quality, focus on careful acquisition, and watch over time what happens. And we even ran numbers. We did modeling to show that if you stem attrition, if you stem the loss of donors and you just plug in some very modest giving levels, in a few short years, you’re raising significantly more simply by deepening the relationships with the donors that you already have and, obviously, feeding back information to them. It’s not just stewardship. It’s not just saying thank you. It’s proving the efficacy of their giving and saying, “Here’s the societal return on the investment you made in us.”

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative) and it’s very humanistic because you’re talking about relationships, long-term relationships. In order to have long-term relationships, you have to have a healthy internal culture that retains fundraising staff and I think there is a massive amount of turnover in fundraising in the arts sector. We see jobs turn over quite a bit, often at senior levels, every few years and I think it’s very hard to maintain these long-term humanistic relationships if you’re not maintaining your fundraising staff or you’re not holding onto them.

James Langley: Exactly, exactly Erik. And so, the reason organizations are losing donors is the same reason they’re losing staff. So, you, under the rubric of institutional health or organizational health, then, let’s say, “Look at the damaging effect of unrealistic expectations.” So, you take very good fundraisers and you give them a qualified list of good prospects and good donors and between the two they figure it out. They figure out a very good relationship and a renewable relationship because the skilled fundraiser is knowing when to ask, when to listen, when to back off. Maybe somebody had a bad year; we don’t press hard this year but by sustaining the relationship, we’re stronger in the out years. This is the inner workings of the minds of good fundraisers. But what happens is, then, the organization, usually in the form of management or middle management, intrudes and says, “Oh, no, we can reduce this to a mechanized, metrical exercise in which we start tasking fundraisers to produce results at a rate that is inconsistent with the rhythms of philanthropy itself.” So, we take something which I will characterize as natural—a tendency to give as we can, when we can, for causes and purposes we believe in—and we attempt to recognize that and accelerate it and donors feel put-upon and it’s the major reason that donors fall away is, they say they’re being asked too often and simply being asked to support institutions not to make differences, right? And then, fundraisers feel they’re now being asked to do something that runs counter to their instinct, counter to what donors are telling them, simply because someone decided it can be done faster and the yield can be accelerated, notwithstanding the lack of evidence. So, again, back to my metaphor, it’s like saying, “Make that tree grow faster and bear riper fruit than we have ever seen before or that we have any example from in nature.” So, you impose these incredibly unrealistic expectations, usually focused on one-year results, and you alienate donors and you lose your most adept, most conscientious fundraisers.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). There’s a book I just read from the chef Dan Barber called The Third Plate and he writes about the food economy and your apple orchard is kind of perfect by using all these chemical fertilizers. In the short term you can produce more food, but in the longterm it’s absolutely ruining fields. It’s absolutely ruining our food supply and it’s not sustainable. It’s the same thing.

James Langley: Exactly right. A metaphor that I’ll often use is, well, you know, when you simply try to increase the yield in any given year, you can be successful at that. So, I say you can drive a car or a truck into an apple tree and you can dislodge no end of apples from that exercised but many of them will be green and inedible—in other words, well before their time—so all you’ve done is to shake off unripened fruit, well below what it could have been, well below its ideal yield. And you go, look, “Oh, all the apples we got and all the bushels that are full,” but you may have damaged the tree and the process and you may have killed the tree in the process. So, this is this short-sightedness, I believe, is the single greatest reason for this very significant decline in contributing households because it simply was an unsatisfying, soulless exercise to be harangued for more and more and more and to be left feeling as if, “I’m not sure I’ve made any difference at all. It’s just whatever I give, they want more and they want more for largely unspecified reasons.” So, what seems to be happening, Erik, is some people are simply going off the roles, if you will, off the traditional institutional grid and giving interpersonally, right? So, they’re just saying, “Well that wasn’t very rewarding.” So, any traceable movement seems to be toward the small organization, the small nonprofit, to the crowdfunding of something simple like, a hurricane hits and some fine person is out there with a chainsaw cutting down trees that have fallen over people’s driveways or blocked streets and somebody says, “His chainsaw was stolen. Let’s pitch in and let’s go give him enough to buy gas to continue to do this good work.” So, people can clearly identify with these micro-impact incidents and initiatives and they like those. And the other thing is, if they’re deciding to help each other. It is much less driven by tax deductions than people suppose and far more animated by making a difference in some concrete, tangible way that can look at themselves and say, “Okay, that’s what we did. There’s where we made a difference. We helped a good person do something better or we helped create an opportunity for somebody.” So, institutions are losing that kind of support by begging for institutional support to keep the organization afloat and failing to say, “Here’s how you give through our organization to have a measurable, sustainable impact.”

Erik Gensler: Yeah, and all of this points to human stories. When you talk about that campaign with the chainsaw and the person and as you get bigger and more corporate and less about telling those human stories, I can understand why that resonates less. And one of my favorite books I read last year was a book by Mark Schaefer, which is called the Marketing Rebellion: The Most Human Company Wins, and talking about how, in the last 20 years, there’s been this sense that technology and automation can fill in for a lot of the tasks that we did and in that, we lost a lot of the humanity in our marketing and our outreach and our fundraising and what you’re highlighting is a call back to that, to recognizing individuals, to telling human stories that often, now, are happening on those other platforms and then, people who are representing institutions have moved too far away from that.

James Langley: Absolutely, and I can’t tell you how heartened I am by the examples that you share and others that I’ve found where this is not just in my field, but this is across the board, where leading thinkers are discovering the same thing and I’m characterizing it as the post-marketing, post-sales, post-fundraising world; that truly authentic, truly conscientious consumers of any product, service, or any philanthropic option are now seeing through marketing techniques, false exercises, hype … they’re seeing through it and they’re searching for the authentic, which means the authentic organization, the authentic frontline fundraiser, the authentic salesperson, and want to have a real conversation about problem-solving. And so, anybody who’s moving in that more humanistic direction is very astute and wise and capturing a larger portion of their markets. But more importantly, Erik, I think we have to stress is, what we’re learning is the right way, the more fundamentally decent, sound, humanistic way is also the most smart and productive way. So, the best brand is authenticity and integrity and delivering on one’s promise and how we ever got away from that seems kind of astonishing. If we’ll all step back and say, “Is it not true that the best institutional relations, the best corporate relations, the best organizational relations are nothing more than good human relations writ large?” which is a point you made an essence earlier. We just have to go back to what constitutes good human relations, lasting relationships, and then make sure those are applied in institutional settings.

Erik Gensler: Mm-hmm (affirmative). A question that I planned to ask you that you pretty much answered, but I just want to make it really obvious: a lot of our clients in the arts field and every field, they want to do, understandably, online fundraising campaigns and in our work with organizations, we see these online fundraising campaigns often can bring a lot of new donors and they’re often small gifts. And so, you know, you may spend a lot of time, money, and effort to run a fundraising campaign on social media and through email and come out with a few hundred donors, maybe a few thousand dollars, but I’m thinking that’s probably the wrong way to even measure the success of those campaigns because what you’ve got is now, say, 250 people that raised their hand and say, “I care about this organization.” So, rather than looking at it as the short-term amount you raised, it’s like, “Okay, these are now 250 people with whom I can further engage and can sow the seeds for a longer term relationship.” Would you say that’s right?

James Langley: That’s right, and I would say, “Any way that you can acquire donors is fine but then what it is, what do you do once you’ve acquired them?” and that’s what we’re really discussing today is, that’s the missed opportunity is, they don’t stay unless there’s a deepening experience. That’s proving to be more and more true. Yes, in my generation, the baby boom generation, there was a tendency to be loyal no matter what, that once you affiliated with an organization, you stayed with them but that’s proving less and less true and what we’re seeing are people loyal to a cause or a purpose and then looking around for who best realizes that. So, less loyal to institutions and more loyal to the advancement of cause or purpose. The second thing I’d say on arts organizations is understanding how personal philanthropy is. So, quick example would be the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra in the last economic contraction, 2008-2009 period, knows what’s coming, wants to maintain its share of giving, and so it’s trying to understand why people give to a symphony orchestra. The first thing it discovers, which is obvious, but we shouldn’t walk past, is no one gives to a symphony who hasn’t attended. So, remember giving is experiential. Focus on people who have crossed your threshold; if not your threshold, the similar kind of arts threshold elsewhere, which you then start trying to zero in. The second, more insightful point is the correlation of who’s then most likely to attend a symphony orchestra; the most powerful correlation they found were those people who had played a musical instrument as a child. So, you see, if we realize how personal philanthropy is, how it’s an outgrowth of early experience; it’s not something that dawns on us and late in life. It’s something that grows within us and comes out of our own learning and development experiences. You say to those arts organizations, “One, you’re going to have to narrow your focus and start looking for people who have experienced what you do at an early stage and then, most recently, crossed the threshold. So, where do you miss the obvious? It’s simply trying to connect with the people who come in and witness what you’re doing and the worst way to do that is to make a fundraising pitch as soon as they cross the threshold, right? So think of the theater and you’re all there and eager to see the play and the first thing you do is have the Executive Director walk out and say, “Thank you for being here. We need money.” You see, what you’ve done is, sort of, turn the experience into what I’ll call the “Venus flytrap model,” is you send out these beautiful emanations, I get closer, and the first thing that clamps down on me are the fundraising jaws. Let me enjoy the experience for a while. Let me come to make that experience part of my life. And philanthropy will come, at least for 75% of us. Philanthropy will ultimately come as we conclude this is important to our lives, important to our culture, and important to our way of being. This, again, this acceleration, this tendency to spray, pray, and spray, as they talk about this mass marketing, these are the things that are not helpful to organizations and to arts organizations. So, what they really need to do is to realize that there are these potential kindred spirits out there looking for what they provide. But again, offer, do what you do, do it as well as you can, watch who crosses your threshold, see if you can capture any information about them, see if you can make that experience as positive as possible, and then, as you acquire donors through the good deeds you do, through the services you provide, then try to work within that field to make giving more productive and more possible. We’re using a lot of metaphors, but another one is, just think about faith. Faith, giving to faith doesn’t come when you walk into a church for the first time. It comes from something in your early childhood development through example, through your pursuit of meaning in life, and, if you stay with a church for a while and someone passes the basket, you give because you are enjoying all the benefits of being in congregation. But now, reverse that and say you’re looking for a new church or maybe exploring a new faith and the first person who greets you as the person with the offering basket and the only person that you develop a relationship with is the person with the offering basket. You’re not going to stay in that church and you might not stay with that faith. So, what is it that we’re doing to deliver meaning purpose and community first, let people steep themselves in it, and then follow up? So, you see the progression we’re talking about is not just to giving progression; it’s an experiential progression. So, back to your arts organizations is, first look at intake in terms of the experience they’re providing, enrich and deepen that, and sustain that for as long as they can, and then listen to your customers who can then become your donors. What do they like and dislike? What would they like to see more of, less of? What were some of the most rewarding cultural experiences you provided? You listen to your customers and you create corridors to giving.

Erik Gensler: And it’s so tempting, in a moment like this—and I’m shocked we got this far in this interview without acknowledging the moment that we’re in—but given the technology we have and how easy it is to create an email and say, “Oh, you know, I could send a targeted email to, like, these 50 people, but I have a database of 20,000 people, so I’m going to send this email that everyone.”

James Langley: (laughs)

Erik Gensler: And I have to say, in the last month or two, I’ve gotten so many emails from organizations I have no relationship with, asking for money. And, you know, in some ways, you understand it. They’re feeling scared. They’re feeling desperate. It’s something you can do but it’s definitely not the right thing to do. And one of the things that you’ve written about is pleading versus pastoral fundraising and I think it’s relevant to this moment.

James Langley: Yes, so, what I would do with this exercise … Well, let’s take it back to the metaphor that we’ve been using. What works interpersonally or doesn’t work interpersonally can then be applied at the organizational level. Well, think about desperation at an interpersonal level. When you’re met with someone who seems desperate and may be glomming onto you, it doesn’t inspire your confidence. It doesn’t make you feel … while your heart may go out to that person, it doesn’t necessarily make you feel as if you want to invest yourself in that person, right? Because it’s desperate. Whereas, something that is hopeful, that suggests there’s a partnership that could be productive and mutually rewarding going forward, does draw you in. So, in the face of COVID-19 what I saw was what you just mentioned is this amping-up of kind of desperate pleas and it caused me to write this LinkedIn post to contrast that approach to what I characterized as pastoral. And so, what I asked the reader to do is to say, “Now, imagine, just as an exercise, as an exercise, imagine yourself as the pastor of a church in which the vast majority of your congregation works for a single company, and that company has just been shut down. So now, you’re now faced with a congregation that fears both for its livelihood and its health. Are you going to stand in front of that congregation and say your church needs money? No. You see how damaging that would be because you’re now trying to squeeze something out of them in their fearful hour. So, if you now say that congregation is your group of current donors, what you have to be is pastoral. And pastoral I’ve defined or someone defined—I’ve never been able to find the source of it—six beautiful words, is to “absorb chaos, project calm, give hope.” So, what we want is these arts organizations or other organizations doing beautiful, important, significant, contributory work is to not look at their congregation of donors and go, “Woe is me and I don’t know whether we’re gonna make it or not,” but to say, “Okay, we’re all together. We’re in a very tough time. We’re going to tighten our belt. We’re going to cut back on our appetites. We’re going to get as lean as we possibly can so that we can get through this together but what we will not do is to lose sight of a mission advancement. We will not give up on our determination to get to a better place, to better serve and better serve more people wherever possible. We will not sacrifice mission. We’ll go rogue. We’ll go guerilla. (laughing) We’ll do without the physical surrounding to make sure that we continue to live out the cause. So, in other words, you reduce all these, sort of, internal needs so that you can advance the cause and you say to the congregation, “How can we work together? How can we help each other and how can we work together to advance what we believe is so important?” So, that’s what I characterize as pastoral. Again, looking for a metaphor that people would understand and to say to nonprofit leaders, “You have to act much more pastoral and much less pleading. Pleading scares. Pleading diminishes people at a time when they’re feeling diminished but true leaders, no matter how desperate—and think about this throughout human history—find a way of absorbing chaos, projecting calm and giving hope. And let’s not forget that philanthropy feeds on hope, not on desperation.”

Erik Gensler: To turn the topic back to the idea of organizational health … I’m just obsessed with that.

James Langley: Yeah, it’s good.

Erik Gensler: That’s, like, the first thing I see on your website and it’s something I believe in so strongly and one dynamic I see come into play a lot with the arts organizations we work with is this fear of the board or this idea that, “We have to do X because this person on the board says we do.” So, this often comes in the form of, “We want to invest … We know our audience is on social media and we want to invest more on social media but our board member reads this so we need to put an ad here,” or, “Our board member lives, you know, in this neighborhood and they want to see our organization on the bus sides,” and I often think that that is a breakdown in an internal leadership because isn’t it the job of the Executive Director to set boundaries between the board and staff in order to let them work most effectively? And there’s the sense of, in in many organizations, dictating of strategy by a board member, rather than letting the staff make the decisions. Like, you have marketing professionals; let them make the decisions. The decisions shouldn’t be made in that way. And then,, there’s something there about appropriate boundaries between board and staff as driven by or as set by an Executive Director. Can you talk about that?

James Langley: You bet. I think that’s a profound question and a profound area of exploration for most nonprofits and let’s go back to our interpersonal relationships and say, “How do we get in bad relationships?” because that’s exactly what you’re describing, where lines are being crossed, where boards are meant to be outward-looking and strategic are now looking internally and micromanaging and overstepping their competence and giving bad direction and organizational leaders are responding to bad direction, lest the board oust them. So, now, let’s take a few steps back and say, “How do we get in those situations?” and by doing that, start to unravel. So, what happens is, desperate fundraising created that. What do I mean? In an effort to raise as much money as quickly as possible, too many organizations have waved board slots in front of wealthy people and they’ve looked for wealth, not civic engagement, and not all the other qualities that we’ve talked about so far. So, they wave these boards lots in a desperate way and say, “Mr. or Mrs. Big Bucks, if you come on board, this will be your play pen and all you have to do is give.” Terrible set of mistakes. One, not all wealthy people are philanthropic. In fact, the people who are most philanthropic within their means are the poor. The people who give the most to the poor are the poor. The people who give the most within their means are either poor or lower-middle class. People who have struggled tend to be more philanthropic in terms of the percentage they give, right? But there are wealthy people that are philanthropic, but let’s put this in perspective. Sixteen million millionaires in the United States, about 40% of them are philanthropic. So, you see (laughs), if you just look for money and you don’t look for money plus philanthropy-

Erik Gensler: Ah!

James Langley: … you now get a board that says, “Well, you wanted me and you offered me the sun and the moon and the stars and I’m now on the board and I may not even have made the money that you so desperately wanted. I … For whatever reason, you now get what I’ll characterize our Will Rogers characterized as people who born on third base who think they hit a triple-

Erik Gensler: (laughs)

James Langley: … that it’s all about them and now they’re going to pontificate to you but, you see, with no philanthropic experience, it is exactly that person who gives the worst advice. The non-giver or the nominal giver within their means gives the worst fundraising advice. What would have been the alternative to this, Erik, would have been to look within—just where you and I started—your own donor rolls. Your loyalist, the most generous within their means, should have been lifted up to board slots because they were already deeply invested in the organization but if I could chide here, “No, no, no. You were so desperate to get more money quickly that you looked beyond your loyalist. You looked beyond the people were giving generously within their means to say, ‘Surely, there must be somebody out there who’s going to give more,’ and you brought the wrong people onto that board with a narrow view, with a lack of experience with a high degree of self-congratulations, and now they’re dictating terms to you.” Like the old Western, the guy with a revolver is shooting at your feet and telling you to dance and you have no choice. So, what you have to do, if you’re in any of these organizations, is to start to unravel that and start to award board slots or to create your own kind of rump cabinet or your own kitchen cabinet out of loyal donors because they’re more constructive, they’re more deeply invested, and they’re more caring … And, oh, by the way, if you look into the personal histories of those loyal donors and those who have given generously within their means, you’re going to see much more commonality of purpose. So, back to that symphony, you’re going to see lots of people who play music. Back to the theater, you’re going to see lots of would be actors or people who had significant acting experience in their childhood and their college days. You’re going to find people who care about the art form but, unfortunately, we sold out the art form to people who we thought could fill our coffers the quickest.

Erik Gensler: It is so much about boundaries. It’s like, the most successful executive directors I see have the best relationships with their board chair and the boundaries are very clear.

James Langley: Absolutely, and that’s … go back to this interpersonal relationship. A violation of boundaries is a really bad sign that can be abusive or it can be nettlesome at bare minimum but look to those healthy relationships and what you see is a board chair who I believe grew up in the cause, if you will-

Erik Gensler: Right, mm-hmm (affirmative).

James Langley: … or was deeply invested in the cause from the beginning and from there, then becomes more invested in time, talent, and treasure, but it’s a mutually productive, honest relationship, not false expectations being parked on anybody’s shoulders. It’s an honest relationship in which they’re solving problems together and the board chair is respectful of management prerogatives and the Executive Director is respectful of the strategic oversight of the board and their right to ask the toughest possible questions but not to propose operational solutions.

Erik Gensler: That’s a great way to look at it; questions, not answers. So, I could talk to you all day but we can move to our final question which we call your “CI to Eye moment,” and the question is, if you can offer advice to the executive directors, leadership teams, staff, and board of a thousand arts organizations, what advice would you provide to them right now?

James Langley: I would say, what you must do is to go back to all great causes and purposes and in your own Pantheon … I don’t want to propose any, but, you know, whoever in your personal experience in your reading of history stands out to you as a leader of a great cause, someone who made a profound difference and from their example say, “How can I apply it?” Stop thinking like an organizational leader and start thinking like the leader of a cause and assume that you have no headquarters, no physical plant. You’re starting from scratch. What would you do to advance that cause? And I would submit to them, you wouldn’t go around saying, “We need money to fill certain institutional categories.” You would be saying, “This cause is too important to let slip, to be undermined, and, at its purest form, what could we do to advance this cause, person to person?” You’d make it viral. You’d make it interpersonal. You’d strip away all pretense. You’d say, “How little do we need for ourselves and how much can we sacrifice to make sure the cause is advanced?” And so, in pre-COVID-19, we saw too many people, sort of, in their own ships, sort of, sailing merrily along and saying, “All we need is fuel,” and telling to their clients and customers, “All we need is fuel.” Well, with COVID-19, we’ve hit an iceberg. We’re in a lifeboat but what you’ve got to convey is a determination to get to shore, to get to that better place, to get to where that cause can be advanced. So, you’ve gotta be leaner internally and you’ve got to collaborate more. When we look at funding, when we listen to donors, they’re deeply concerned about false competition or even false market. So, if you’re in the business of theater or if you’re in the business of at-risk teenagers, what you’ve got to do is to say it is not the needs of the organizations, but it is the needs of those that we serve and we are determined to be internally lean and we are determined to collaborate with anybody and anybody, including other nonprofits, to make sure that the end cause is served. So, get back to cause and strip away institution. Understand what we’re learning, what is measurable, is a declining trust in institutions themselves and the primary reason is, they got caught up in survival and lost the scent of cause. Get back to that, any way you can, and everything you do, remind people of those core purposes and your determination to serve them in any way you can, no matter what happens. And if you cry desperation, if you say, “We will fold,” that you will then predict your fate. But if you say, “We will serve this cause, no matter what,” you will also predict your fate and future and make sure you don’t confuse the two. An organization can die but a cause never should.

Erik Gensler: Jim, that’s fantastic. Thank you so much.

James Langley: Yes, sir. My great pleasure. Thank you for what you’re doing.

About Our Guests
James Langley
James Langley
President, Langley Innovations

James Langley is the President of Langley Innovations, a strategic consulting and training firm, which he founded to help institutions advance a philanthropic revolution. Over his career, James has worked with institutions across the country at different levels to help raise over $3 billion.

Read more

Related Episodes

Artificial Intelligence: The New Frontier or Unchecked Robots?
EP 114
May 03, 2023
Artificial Intelligence: The New Frontier or Unchecked Robots?

AI is generating a lot of buzz in the marketing sphere—but is it really worth the hype? In this episode we pull back the curtain on AI, explore its strengths and limitations, and consider how it can help arts marketers meet their goals more efficiently.

Navigating the New Privacy Landscape
EP 113
Feb 28, 2023
Navigating the New Privacy Landscape

More than ever, arts marketers need to be purposeful about data collection, responsive to privacy regulations, and respectful of their audiences’ preferences. In 2023 and beyond, it’s all about staying user-centric and privacy-focused.

Don’t Miss an episode

Don’t Miss an episode

Subscribe to CI to Eye and have your insight and motivation delivered on demand.