We often read about “best practices” – those time-tested can’t-lose principles that can improve our chance for success. Fundraising is no different; after all, we’ve been at this discipline for centuries, and have been refining it using data since the early days of the computer age.

But are best practices always the best? Or have they become crutches we lean on to make things easier?

Do an online search for fundraising best practices and you won’t be at a loss for ideas. Best practices for events, online giving, major gifts, foundation proposals, upgrading, thanking donors … and the list goes on….

The problem with best practices is that sometimes, they are based on WEEiD” — what everyone else is doing. That can be good (imagine if you decided to turn left when everyone else was turning right at a busy intersection), but it can also fail to take into consideration something specific to the particular situation in which you find yourself.

For example, a common best practice is to use multi-channel efforts for fundraising. We want to interact with people where there are and not expect it to be a once-and-done request for funding. But that doesn’t mean every channel is right for your audience. What is generating donations?  Where are your donors hanging out? Are they on Twitter, Instagram, YouTube or Facebook, or is it at the postal mailbox? You can have the most exciting news ever, but if you are shouting it to an empty room, nothing changes.

Given today’s communication habits, another practice that is considered by many to be “best” is to avoid the telephone in fundraising. People are call-screening, they consider calls an intrusion, too many people only have a mobile … the list goes on. It is definitely true that the large-scale telemarketing campaign has become far less effective for most fundraisers. But this doesn’t mean the phone is a curse to fundraising. It can be a powerful tool when you use it to build a relationship by calling just to say thank you or give a short update. It can save a monthly donation when you call to remind a donor to update an expiring credit card. It can rebuild a bridge with a former donor when you call to say how much you miss her. And yes, it can raise money when used wisely for a volunteer-led phone-a-thon.

So don’t reject all “best practices,” but don’t be a slave to them, either. Filter them through your donor base and your results and develop best practices that really are best for your organization.

This article is Part 1 of a three-part series about best practices in fundraising. Continue the series by reading Part 2 or  Part 3.