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See if this article of mine originally published in 1994 by Nonprofit Management Strategies remains relevant today. I am struck by how many of the principles presented here made it into Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges eighteen years later. Can you recognize any organizations you know in the advice below?
Repositioning for Fund Raising
Loss of Government Funding Often Sparks Attempts to Enter the Fundraising Market
You are the executive director of a small agency that historically has not raised much in the way of private funds. You have just been notified that long-held government funding will be lost or curtailed. After the initial panic wears off, you take a deep breath and resolve—once again—to approach the board about the need to raise funds.
Just don’t overlook the need to reposition the agency for fundraising.
Organizations that ask themselves, “Why can’t we raise funds?” often overlook one obvious answer: government funding.
Like an I.V. in a patient’s arm, government funding is an artificial-life support compared to fundraising in the private sector. Yet there’s no problem until it’s cut off.
In the book Nonprofits for Hire (Harvard U Press), authors Steven Rathgeb Smith and Michael Lipsky assert that governmental funding now accounts for roughly half of all social service agency income. They estimate the amount of governmental funding to be in the range of $15 billion a year.
Can this amount of money change nonprofit organizational culture? The answer is, “You bet!”
“Is he knocking government funding?” you ask.
Only to the extent that government funding breeds an organizational culture of indifference to fundraising. And that, unfortunately, is a common occurrence.
The reason not to engage in fundraising is, of course, it’s too hard. And organizations that have failed in past attempts to raise funds know better than anyone how hard it can be.
Repositioning involves three elements:
- Make your own commitment. (You. The executive director.)
- Give volunteer leadership a stake. (Here comes the culture change…)
- Enlist your board of directors. (They may never forgive you, but they will respect you.)
The Executive Director’s Commitment
A note to the executive director: You are the fundraiser in-chief. It’s your responsibility to:
- Educate yourself.
- Get serious about fundraising.
- Develop a realistic plan to reposition the agency.
- Cultivate volunteers everywhere you go.
Volunteer Leaders Are Made Not Born
Certainly one of the most fascinating elements of philanthropy is the human drama of volunteer relations, and the leader of any nonprofit organization has got to be good at it.
Many seasoned professionals will tell you the most satisfying part of their job consists of the many and varied relationships they enjoy with their volunteers. So how do you and your organization take advantage of this? You know the old saying about business—“location, location, and location.” With volunteers, it’s “cultivation, cultivation, and cultivation.”
The Board of Directors: They Really Will Forgive You
Here’s a premise you may not like: It is the responsibility of the executive director to manage the culture and performance of the board of directors.
And a premise they may not like: Repositioning for fundraising nearly always requires significant change at the board level.
Significant change at the board level is accomplished via the Alpha and Omega of board building: the nomination process and evaluation process. These processes belong to the board, but are managed in part by the executive director.
You can be successful without a high-powered board in the traditional sense of the term. There are many wonderful organizations out there proving it every day.
But you cannot be successful without the attention—and involvement—of your board. The trick is in finding the right roles for committed, trained board members to play. And of course, everybody gives.
Here are 12 keys to board success:
- The board must establish the repositioning effort as the number one or two priority of the organization. The effort must be characterized by measurable goals and accountability for performance.
- Find your potential board president and work for his or her advancement to that position. Lobby.
- Educate the board as to the principles of fundraising. Use outside counsel.
- Define “Give, get, or get off” and enforce it. This means offering nonperformers an “out” such as your new “advisory council.”
- Recruit strategically.
- Seek commitment, time, talent, connections, influence, and money.
- Without commitment, the other resources are wasted.
- Define expectations up front. Be firm. Be clear.
- Cultivate those who really interest you. Their time should be worth your time.
- Make a compelling case for the need and the mission.
- Giving begins with the board. Make it your first campaign.
- No one is exempt. All trustees must feel some involvement with the fundraising process.
Ira S. Robbins wrote in Fundraising: A Crucial Role for Board Members:
“The first responsibility of a board member, of course, is for himself or herself to make a contribution. It may be a large amount or small, but giving is of great importance.”
Nine Handy Maxims by Which to Survive & Thrive
- It is not sufficient to preserve the status quo.
- Success on a modest fundraising project is better than failure on a large one.
- Avoid committees where possible.
- Get out of the office.
- Fundraising performed in the context of a cohesive plan wastes no effort.
- Grantwriting is not fundraising.
- Board giving is the cornerstone of all giving.
- Give yourself two years.
- The truth about fundraising is that it’s hard—but it’s worth it!