ASU Lodestar Center Blog

Current nonprofit sector research and recommendations for effective day-to-day practice from ASU faculty, staff, students, and the nonprofit and philanthropic community.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012 - 9:00am
posted by 
Shelley Gillespie,
Venture Court Productions


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

Like this article? Get another!

Click here to read Katie Berta's "The Future is You: Philanthropy in the 21st Century ."


Hey Shelley,

I really enjoyed reading your post. The idea that one should continue to do something for the sole reason that it is the way it has always been done is narrow minded ideology that will stunt your potential for growth and opportunities like quicksand. In situations like the one you described above, the response should always be "there ought to be a better way to do things", followed by new approaches. If you succeed, then you discovered a more effective way to help your organization; if you fail, you evaluate what went wrong and continue to narrow down your strategies for success. The fear of failure stops many people from taking chances, but one thing I have learned is that if you never try or never take a chance, you fail 100% of the time. Your blog reassured me that I should always try to find fresh and innovative ways to better not only myself, but my organizational involvements and committments.

Thanks Shelley!

I Look forward to reading one of your future blogs!

I love the underlining thoughts and ideas of this article. The ideas are so simple yet so effective. Assessing you clientele and making a simple change could do more than you would believe in many situations. In many cases 'it doesn't hurt to try' is another phrase that should make people want to make changes. The different perspectives create more ideas and 'new eyes' are helpful because they see things from a different view is yet another simple yet very effective idea.

Blog Archive