Ockham's (Fund)Razor

One of the questions that I am often asked by people when they hear that I work in fundraising is “What did you go to school for?”  When they learn I majored in philosophy instead of finance, business, communications, marketing, or another field people would associate with money or development, many people are surprised.


I highly value my philosophy degree for many reasons - it taught me how to write well, think analytically, and explore the ethical dilemmas and social problems that our clients are trying to fix in the world.  All very valuable experience for my current role as a fundraising consultant.

Perhaps the one philosophical principle that I generally think is most applicable to life in general but also to our career as fundraising professionals is Ockham’s Razor, which in layman’s terms states that when there is a problem or question with multiple possible solutions, the simplest solution is probably the correct one.

In fundraising you often see people wondering why their donors are not giving as much as they used to, why a major donor has gone silent, or why the database produces data that doesn’t pass the smell test. In each of these situations, we often want to create complicated answers to the problem or spend more money on advanced solutions before looking at the basics of fundraising.  If recurring donors have started giving less, have they been stewarded, recognized and sent acknowledgements and follow-ups? Has someone from your office called the donor who has gone silent to check up on them and see how they are doing, just to say hello? Have you done an old-fashioned database audit and scrub recently to make sure that your data is the best it can possibly be?

All of these possible solutions are fairly simple and easy to do, and most importantly are very cost effective. We also know that our shops are small, and it is often this simple touch, that could yield the highest results.  For most other issues that arise, there are similar solutions that can be found as well.  While there are indeed some situations that will call for a complex answer or deft fix, often times trying the simple basic fundraising techniques will solve the problem.