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ASU Lodestar Center Blog

If You Don't Ask, You Won't Get and Thinking Outside That Old Box

During my time with a national nonprofit in Washington, D.C., I found myself assigned to projects that were already in process or rehashes of annual solicitations. This required some fast turnarounds, as we were on tight deadlines. But, we still had to make these donor requests lively and effective.

The section where all of the stories and marketing efforts came together was in the "check-off" area. Strangely, the top amount our pamphlet was requesting was a mere $2,500. I asked my director why.

 His answer was, "That's what we've always done."

With a little coaxing, I convinced him to increase the top amount to $5,000.

After the solicitations were disseminated, the results spoke for themselves. Four donors had upped their donations to the new top level, increasing our yield by over $12,000. With a few extra numbers and an underline, we made a difference to our bottom line.

Crush the box!

"Think outside of the box"— is so clichéd that I hope the world will invent some new catch phrase to indicate a refreshing approach to arriving at solutions.

Perhaps we should crush the box, dismantle the box, jump over the box, or invite others to join us in the box for a party.

In any case, we need to think about new ways to accomplish our tasks. But beware! The innovator must also be charismatic enough to convince people about the value of the new idea! Otherwise, the innovator could be consigned to a box of their own where they wind up ignored and discounted.

In my case, the results on the first try were enough to convince the administrators that the idea was valid and successful. And, it did not cost one dime beyond the original project's cost!

Jumping on top of the box— for a better perspective

Coming to the project with "new eyes" was probably the most valuable thing I could bring to the table!

Being more objective— or new to a concept— has great value. People get stuck in the "we've always done things that way" mode and, as a result, things get stuck in more ways than one.

If you are embedded in a project and have trouble finding a new perspective, try leaving out a section of details and seeing if things still make sense. Or, pretend you are explaining the project to someone new— or from Mars. By paring things to the bone, you will discover what is essential.

That is where you will discover how to rebuild in a new, effective way.

And, this is where the excitement comes— from succeeding for your organization and your own sense of fulfillment.

In these difficult times of razor-thin budgets, every organization needs some innovation and some fresh eyes. Use yours!

Shelley Gillespie is a marketing consultant, award-winning journalist, and author of Hiking for the Couch Potato: A Guide for the Exercise-Challenged. Her newest book, Hiking for the Couch Potato Kid: Birds, Bugs, Butterflies and Other Beasties, is a child’s guide to getting active outdoors. Gillespie also writes the column, “In my boots,” published on


ASU Lodestar Center Blog