It shouldn’t be hard to understand that many nonprofits choose not to conduct public fundraising. Many rely on membership fees, existing endowment fund proceeds, grants, contributions from “well healed” founding members or families or net income annual conferences, symposia or other participant fee generated activities. The Friday Forum is just such an organization. But what happens if this model can no longer be sustained?
In the online publication, The Fundraising Authority, a recent article by Joe Garecht entitled, “The Dark Underbelly of Non-Profit Development,” cites the recent Compass Point Study Undeveloped: A National Study of Challenges Facing Non-Profit Fundraising. The key points are disconcerting and cover the current state of our profession: unhappy and unfulfilled development directors wanting to leave, executive directors who can’t find competent and qualified development directors, non-profits with no written plans or use of databases. A vast majority of organizations reported their boards are not doing enough to support fundraising.
The next statement in the report should not shock anyone who’s been in the field for any significant amount of time: “Many non-profits are ashamed of having to resort to fundraising.” This is true of board members and executive directors alike. It’s the principal rationale for why many organizations steer clear of embracing this important technique. If there is any other possible way available to these leaders, they do not choose the hard work of fundraising. So given the current challenges facing our profession and the lack of leadership and board support for fundraising that exists in many sectors of our industry, why would any existing non-profit want to make this leap? The answer is quite simple, because for a growing number of these organizations, they can no longer sustain themselves as they have in the past. No margin, no mission, right?
Over the last year and a half I have provided counsel to three very different non-profits attempting to cross this bridge. The first, a small local organization over 100 years old but wanting to raise capital funds; the second, a national organization 90 years old realizing its limitations to both sustain and grow its mission and finally; a small four year old non-profit funded exclusively by its founder and sustained in a limited way by its programs. All could spend considerable time better preparing themselves for this important transition.
Some general thoughts/recommendations/lesson’s learned…
#1 Rebuilding or building boards: Board members who have never given, especially over a long period of time, are nearly impossible to convert. Adhere to your governance policy and term of office to move these folks off the board and recruit new members who understand giving and getting is critical to the organization’s long-term viability. Change the bylaws to cover this point and make sure this requirement is prominently highlighted in the board member’s job description and board charter. If recruiting new board members, follow these same steps. If you don’t have a board chair who will passionately execute this effort, work to find someone who will.
#2 Make sure there is universal buy in for this change: Conduct focus groups, establish a communications plan, meet with all stakeholders and by all means, take as much time as is necessary to secure the support of as many members and key advisors as is possible. If the majority do not support this effort, you are either not ready, or it can’t reasonably happen.
#3 Get philanthropic commitments from members and stakeholders. One way to get an organization untracked is to create an initial annual fund, perhaps a genesis or founders’ fund, with a very specific and well-defined (and accepted) purpose. Set a monetary goal for it.
#4 Construct a Case for Support: It should highlight why you are fundraising with as powerful and engaging a message as possible.
#5 Make a full commitment to this effort: Build Expense and Revenue budgets and budget narratives that can be reviewed and refined as you proceed and build a long-term (three to five year) strategic fundraising plan to get there.
Garecht goes on to say, “How many times do we have to say it? Non-profits, listen up: Your mission matters. Without fundraising, you may not be able to carry out that mission. Neglecting your fundraising is neglecting your mission. Businesses like to sell more in order to generate profits. Non-profits should like to fundraise more in order to do more good in the world.”
I could not say it better. If your organization is going to venture into these waters for the first time, there is plenty of upside. Just take the time to do it right.