Why Walt Disney Paved a Path and Why Your Nonprofit Should Too

Our thanks to Wayne Olson for contributing this guest article. We look forward to having Wayne as a guest on our upcoming webinar, May 3.

If you have ever marveled at the beautiful plants and gardens at Disneyland or Walt Disney World, you should know the man who designed it: Bill Evans. In the early history of both parks, if something is green or grows, then Bill Evans is the one responsible for it. And he did it all on a limited budget.

One day Evans approached Walt Disney and complained to the boss that guests kept cutting through one of his beautiful flower beds, trampling the plants and ruining them. He asked Walt to build a fence to keep the guests out.

Walt shook his head, and told Bill there was no way he would build a fence. He would pave the pathway instead. Walt saw that his guests wanted to go in a direction designers had not planned, so he changed the plans. How do we respond to donors? If we are building fences, we need to start paving pathways.

1. Listen to donors. Rather than ask them to make a larger gift, ask them why they made their last gift. They will tell you what motivated them. Donors will tell us what they are willing to do, if only we pay attention to the paths they have already taken.

2. While many of us don’t have gardens, we do have rules. If any response to any donor question includes the words “that’s our policy,” then think about it carefully. If a donor wants to do something and the only response we have is “our policy,” then we have built a fence where a path may be more appropriate.

3. Watch donors rather than asking them to watch you. Walt would spend hours in the park watching his guests and taking notes. Rather than figure out ways of getting them to do things they were not doing, he would watch the good things they were doing and figure out how he could make it easier for them to do it more often.

The key to succeeding like Disney is to find what donors want and give it to them. Disney would never look at what he had and figure out a way to sell it. He would see things from the guest point of view, and create products to match existing demands. If we want donors to give more, then we have to do more for them, and make their lives easier. People will give. We only have to pave their pathways rather than build fences.

Don’t miss our exclusive free webinar with Wayne on Tuesday May 3rd at 12 noon CST. Wayne will dive into the secrets behind Walt Disney’s success and how you can apply his philosophy, creativity and approach to fundraising.

Wayne Olson is the President of Wayne Olson Consulting LLC and is a frequent speaker and motivational leader on fundraising, donor relations and planned giving. The author of two books on fundraising, with a third publishing this year, Wayne can be reached at Wayneolson.com.

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