Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fundraising when the Bottom Falls Out

Earlier this week, a colleague/collaborator of mine commented that a prospective non-profit client posed this question, “If we were to hire you this week, how soon could launch the campaign?”

These days, in the midst of cuts and economic uncertainty, non-profits are reaching out to fundraising consultants because they need money for basic operations. Political philosophies shift, and government funds that nonprofits rely upon dry up quickly. Boards of directors face difficult choices in working with staff members to increase efficiencies and—in some cases—end beloved programs.

It’s gut-wrenching
Recently, I spoke with members of a board of directors that were considering hiring a professional fundraising consultant because they needed to raise a substantial sum of money in a short amount of time or else the agency would have to close its doors.

This organization is well-loved. The children they care for come from some of the most traumatic family situations, and, after decades of service, staff members wear their passion for their work on thier sleeves. The agency's primary funding came through the state, and because it was adequate, the board and staff hadn't developed a formal fundraising program. Unfortunately, this year, their government funding ended.

But, there's a way forward...
My message: "We can help you develop your fundraising strategies; we can train volunteers; we can organize a system for fundraising accountability. However, preceding any of these steps, we must work through four issues. The board must have consensus on
  • Passion for the mission, demonstrated by volunteer time, advocacy through your connections and network, and a personal stretch financial gift;
  • Evidence that your program works, shown through powerful personal stories AND quantifiable outcomes;
  • Plans and, if possible, solutions for sustainability after the crisis is averted; and
  • Commitment from each board member that you will do your best to overcome any fears or hesitations about asking for money, because you place your clients’ health and safety above personal discomfort.”
The message for successful fundraising is never, “Our needs are so great.” Warren Buffett
won’t invest in a company that doesn’t demonstrate solid evidence of performance as well as great plans for the future. Neither will donors.

Part of our mission at Giving Focus is to work with nonprofits so that they are responsible and transparent in their solicitations and consistent in their stewardship. If you are on a board faced with severe funding cuts, I hope you'll consider these issues carefully when choosing your next steps.

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