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EmilyPetty
Emily Petty

Nov 20, 2019, 9:14 AM

Week 4 - Re-energise: Sometimes we all need to switch off and start again

In the last of her four-part series on overcoming the cultural barriers to fundraising, Action Planning Associate Emily Petty applies the jump leads.

The world of fundraising is an ever-changing landscape. Fundraisers are having to adapt and think of new ideas and innovative solutions to problems every day. Fundraising leaders need to make sure their teams have the tools to help them solve problems, innovate and re-energise when things get hard.

In the three previous articles I’ve talked about the need to reboot, reconnect and grow. Re-energise is about taking that foundation and setting yourselves up as a team to move forward – to get unstuck and have clarity.

How to re-energise your team

One really simple way to re-energise is to have fun. Laughter is the most fundamental sign of safety and connection. You can’t create an action or worksheet for having fun but you can observe:

  • How often do I laugh in the office, in meetings and with who?
  • How often do others laugh in meetings, in the office, in the kitchen?

As a leader, your role is to facilitate and coach your team to come up with answers. You can make this an exercise that everyone buys into by using tools that free their minds and produce answers in a fun and collaborative way.

The ladder of abstraction

One tool that is really helpful for this is the Ladder of Abstraction (see diagram). This is a useful tool to help describe your language and thoughts and to re-label a problem. It can be used in many different ways but I have found it useful for problem solving and evaluating activity.

To move up the ladder you ask WHY? To move down you ask HOW? Take your problem and start at the bottom of the ladder. For each statement you keep asking WHY? Eventually you get to a root cause of the problem and then you can work your way back down the ladder asking HOW?

As you go up the ladder, the thinking becomes more abstract and as you go down, the thinking becomes more concrete. But if you start with HOW? you miss the opportunity to re-label the problem and you take it at face value.

The Ladder of Abstraction image

In the example shown here, the team are a challenge event stewardship team and the problem is “We do not have enough capacity”. Without the ladder, you might jump to “We need to recruit more staff” or “Maybe we need to change a process or reduce workload”. But you would be unsure which process to change and simply providing more capacity might not actually solve the problem. Exploring the WHY helps you get to grips with this.

Learning from hindsight

As well as using the ladder to help solve a problem, I have also found it useful to reflect on the success or failure of a particular project or piece of work. In fact, it’s particularly useful for projects that you feel have failed in some way.

The Ladder of Abstraction helps you to explore more deeply WHY things went wrong and then HOW you would do things differently in the future. It also makes the analysis less personal, because you can look at it objectively from a more abstract viewpoint.

This simple tool can help you unlock your thinking, solve problems and learn from failure. Use it often enough and asking WHY? becomes second nature. I work with fundraising teams to help develop new positive habits like this and take ownership for the outcomes and actions. I do this through one day workshops to introduce the themes and kick-start thinking, a leader’s programme to give you the tools to use yourself, and a bespoke programme over two to three months, to help embed learning and the approach.

Do get in touch if you would like to talk more about how to use these themes to help re-energise and bring about cultural change where you work.


Read the rest of the series

Part 1: Reboot: Overcoming cultural barriers to fundraising

Part 2: Reconnect: Overcoming cultural barriers to fundraising

Part 3: Grow: Give your team the confidence to tap into their talents

Part 4:  Re-energise: Sometimes we all need to switch off and start again


Emily Petty

Emily Petty is a fundraising and charity consultant, helping charities explore challenges and prepare solutions. Having drawn her experience from over 19 years working in communications, marketing and fundraising, Emily works with leaders and teams to identify how to manage change and maximise fundraising potential.

To request an initial chat with Emily about overcoming your cultural barriers, call Action Planning.