Advancing Philanthropy

Fundraising Tools: Focused Fundraising Solutions — Avoiding Tech Tug Through Focused Fundraising

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Above Photo Credit: ThisisEngineering RAEng

Learn how to RAISE your game and not fall into tech traps

If the experience of mindless scrolling is familiar to you, then you are aware of an extremely powerful and hidden force that drives much of our daily behavior: the tech tug.

We are all familiar with one particular form of the tech tug: social media.

In a June 20, 2022, article in Scientific American MIND, Daisy Yuhas explores the “30-Minute Ick Factor,” a term coined by Alexis Hiniker, a computer scientist at the University of Washington in Seattle. Yuhas explains the social media ick factor like this: “…when people mean to check their social media briefly but then find that 30 minutes have passed, and when they realize how much time they spent, they have this sense of disgust and disappointment in themselves.”

Graduate researcher Amanda Baughan explains how the tech tug and social media grab us. “When people encounter a platform where they can infinitely scroll for more information, it can trigger a similar neurocognitive reward system as anticipating a winning lottery ticket or getting food,” Baughan says.

The tech tug draws us to our phone and the platforms lure us in. In other words, the tech tug is the bait; the platform is the hook.

Of course, we all know social media is an easy villain. What’s harder to see is the extent of the tech tug across all aspects of our personal and professional lives. Harder still is determining what to do about this all-pervasive tech tug in our lives. Its power would be difficult to overstate. We all know we have access to limitless entertainment, news, information, updates, and companionship right in our pockets or our bags. Our devices are always within reach, beckoning to be held, touched, checked, noticed. According to Pew Research, most of us are deeply divided on whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

'The tech tug does not just affect us as individuals, it affects whole teams and departments. Teams and organizations are drawn in by the promise of new tech only to regret it later.

This powerful tech tug may lead to harmless social media time-sucks in our personal lives, but in our professional lives, it has the potential to derail our fundraising work. Here are a few scenes that may be familiar to you:

  • Virtual meetings where team members are drawn off by another device or another screen.
  • Waking up and feeling compelled to check your work email and notifications while you’re still in bed.
  • Finding yourself on your phone in awkward spaces like a hallway or an elevator.

For many of us, this is our everyday life working in hybrid and remote environments.

The tech tug does not just affect us as individuals, it affects whole teams and departments. Teams and organizations are drawn in by the promise of new tech only to regret it later. Here are a few more scenes:

  • An invitation to attend a demo for a super cool product that will revolutionize fundraising.
  • A new practice for AI or machine learning that you have to start immediately.
  • A team member proclaiming the virtues of facial recognition for your next event.

To understand the tech tug in organizational life even better, check out the Gartner Hype Cycle. As whole teams seek compelling ways to reach their constituents, they are pulled in different directions chasing shiny new objects. The “hype” is real and, hopefully, the plateau of productivity is attainable. But sometimes it is not.

Awareness is Key

A first step to harnessing the tech tug is to become more aware. In researching our recent book, Focused Fundraising: How to Raise Your Sights and Overcome Overload, we explored the tech tug, how it’s affecting nonprofits and fundraising teams, and how it’s affecting us as individuals. We found that individuals are besieged by what we call the 4 M’s: Messages, Media, Meetings, and Management.

Because each of these are increasingly digital, immersive experiences, the tech tug is only growing stronger. For example, a workday of offline meetings had less potential for distraction than a day filled with virtual meetings. And, like it or not, a day filled with email has less potential for distraction than a day of texts and instant messages. Though many thought leaders decry email and its effect on productivity, it’s a slower medium and thus less alluring, less distracting, and less overwhelming than newer tools.

Becoming aware of the tech tug personally and organizationally is not about turning back the clock, however. CRM-based fundraising is more effective than Rolodex-based fundraising. Data visualization is more effective than viewing printed reports. Machine learning is more effective than manually rewritten code. On an individual level, texting can be more effective than email. Virtual visits can be more effective than in-person ones. The most focused fundraising teams and environments are aware of the tech tug and choose to be intentional with it.

To be intentional and harness such a powerful force in our organizations, we need to be more than just aware. We also need to outsmart some of our more basic instincts. Recommendations like the following from our book, Focused Fundraising, help avoid the common traps of instinct and herd mentality that cause us to give in to the tech tug.

  • Follow practices that are best instead of best practices. One trick for improving organizational focus is to consider practices that are best rather than best practices. Constructive, learning-oriented retrospectives go much further than imitating best practices, especially when they have to do with technology. This means that using your context and your past experiences to shape your future strategies will matter more than copying from others. There is much to emulate from top shops, but your circumstances and your situation must drive your planning.
  • Forget the Dot.Joneses. Keeping up with the digital Joneses at work is just as unproductive as it is at home. On technology adoption, automation, and AI, emphasize purposeful learning more than must-have urgency. Cool stuff poorly implemented is a bigger waste of time than not doing it at all.
  • To be overwhelmed is the point, not the problem. Rather than avoiding the deluge or bemoaning it, consider embracing the volume. Having too many things to do, too many proposals to write, and too many meetings to set up and attend is partly the point. Our organizations’ missions depend on voluminous expressions of generosity. Once you acknowledge the power of the tech tug, you can begin to prioritize it.

Raise Your Game

One of the most significant ways to corral the tech tug and stay focused is to implement RAISE—an acronym that stands for Recognize, Assess, Inspire, Structure, and Evolve. The tech tug pulls attention away from the direction you want to go. Smartphones are the most powerful distraction ever created, and they are in our hands and available to us 24/7. So, how do you set a direction for yourself and follow it despite the distractions? We found that the five-step RAISE process for setting focused direction is essential in today’s remote and hybrid environments.

  1. Recognize your point of view. What are you trying to do? Why is it important to you? Who else cares? These basic questions are often neglected. Though they only require a moment’s reflection, they are easy to bypass in the buzz of messages and blur of meetings.
  2. Assess your standards. If there’s one critical thing you can do to enhance focus, it is to clarify your standards. Whatever you’re trying to do, how would you know you did a good job? How would you know it’s done? This type of reflective thinking enables a grounded and natural focus.
  3. Inspire your efforts. One of the most powerful questions you can ask amidst the frenzy is, “What is changing that makes the effort worthwhile?” This powerful question cuts right to the heart of inspiration when there’s lots of uncertainty and change.
  4. Structure your work. Work structures are highly personal and idiosyncratic. Consider what boundaries are missing that would be helpful. What structures are supporting the direction you want or need to go? Similar solutions apply at the organization level via great policy, documented procedures, and clear governance.
  5. Evolve your approach. Constant craziness can be confronted with constant learning. Repeat the things that worked. Avoid the things that failed. Say “No, thank you” where possible and important. Living and working in the 21st century in the same way we did in the 20th century—including approaches to work-from-home, hybrid work, and other “novel” models—is a recipe for stress, distraction, and overload.

Perhaps most importantly, consider viewing your work not simply from a productivity lens, but add in purpose everywhere, constantly. This will help you achieve a new perspective on the tech tug, focus, and outcomes: causativity—where the overload you may experience becomes acceptable because it emanates from the cause you support. For details on Focused Fundraising or the idea of causativity, check out and

Smartphones are the most powerful distraction ever created, and they are in our hands and available to us 24/7.

Remember—the tech tug is powerful bait. It’s ever-present and terribly compelling. So, when all else fails, recall our shared humanity. We can follow Baughan’s advice to avoid shaming ourselves. And remember this too from Baughan: “Thousands of people are employed to make you swipe your thumb up on that screen and keep you doing what you’re doing.”

By becoming more aware of the tech tug as individuals and across our organizations, we can all learn, adapt, and thrive.

Christopher M. Cannon iChristopher M. Cannon is Zuri Group’s president of management consulting, which includes many of the world’s top nonprofits that annually raise billions of dollars. He is the author of An Executive’s Guide to Fundraising Operations and co-author of Focused Fundraising: How to Raise Your Sights and Overcome Overload.

Michael FelberbaumMichael Felberbaum is a cofounder of Causativity is a new approach for sustaining thought work. He is the director of advancement systems at Yale University and a long-time mindfulness meditation practitioner and teacher in the New Haven, Connecticut, area.

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