What David Lee Roth can teach you about fundraising

October 9, 2013

“The Devil is in the details, but so is salvation.”
― Hyman G. Rickover

If you were around in the 80’s, chances are you remember the hard rock band Van Halen.  Known for their crazy antics, loud music, Eddie Van Halen’s masterful guitar tracks and the wild and woolly David Lee Roth, Van Halen achieved worldwide fame.  In their heyday, the band had a relentless tour schedule with previously unheard of production values (in his autobiography, Roth tells of pulling up “with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, max.”).

As you might imagine, setting up the venue for the performance required enormous attention to detail, much of it done in advance of the band’s arrival.  According to Chip and Dan Heath, in their book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Van Halen and their crew “lived in fear that the venues’ stagehands would screw up something and leave the band exposed to injury.”  Given their crazy touring schedule, however, there was rarely time to do a thorough quality check at every venue.

What to do?

As the Heath brothers report, Van Halen’s backstage shenanigans were legendary.  “The most egregious rumor about the band was that its contract rider demanded a bowl of M&Ms backstage –with all the brown ones removed.  There were tales of Roth walking backstage, spotting a single brown M&M, and freaking out, trashing the dressing room.”

And, yes, the rumor was true.

But did Van Halen make outrageous demands...simply because they could?

Turns out there was a method behind the madness that accounted for much more than pure rock star egomania.

From Decisive:  “The band’s “M&M clause” was written into its contract to serve a very specific purpose.  It was called Article 126, and it read as follows:  “There will be no brown M&M’s in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”  The article was buried in the middle of countless technical specifications.”

In other words, if brown M&M’s appeared backstage, chances were good that the contract itself had neither been fully read or fully executed.  Any technical error in such a highly technical show could spell serious injury.  Brown M&M’s were the band’s tripwire…and David Lee Roth was, in his own way, an operations genius.

Going forward, think of your donor stewardship system as your organization’s tripwire.  You must act as if your organization’s future depends upon it.

It does.

As Bloomerang notes, according to the annual AFP Fundraising Effectiveness Project survey, nonprofit organizations are continuing to lose donors faster than the speed of light.    “Every 100 donors gained in 2012 was offset by 105 donors lost through attrition.

Donor retention, donor loyalty, donor love…this is what leads to your monthly donors, your major donors, your bequest donors, your capital campaign donors…in short, your organization’s funding.

Get your systems right, ensure that they support a focus on donor service, and you’ll be surprised at the ease in which everything else falls into place.

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