- do nothing that isn’t absolutely necessary to survive:
hunker down and conserve resources until times improve
- react with a sense of urgency: launch an appeal filled with dire predictions about your organization’s future viability
- stretch and bend your mission and programs: seek to become eligible for previously untapped sources of funding
- none of the above
see below for our answer…
THREE KEY MISTAKES NONPROFITS MAKE IN TROUBLED TIMES
Answer: none of the above. Why? Each of the strategies on the previous page involves being reactive rather than proactive. Here are some of the hidden costs of each:
Sitting It Out On the Sidelines. The belief that there is nothing to be done but wait for better times costs many organizations valuable opportunities. Certainly there are events, including dramatic shifts in the economy and other unforeseen circumstances, where it may be wise to postpone, for example, the launching of a capital campaign. This doesn’t mean that it is wise to do nothing. In fact, it may be an ideal time to attend to internal matters without the demands and distractions of a major fundraising initiative.
Gearing Up For the Crisis. Crisis fundraising may bring in big money from a few significant donors. However, it usually turns out to be short money – that is, not a transaction that builds long-term connection and loyalty to the organization. The donor who bailed out your organization because it felt like the right thing to do in a moment of crisis is likely to feel down the road that it ought to be someone else’s turn. Furthermore, short of a stunning turn around these donor-rescuers often lose confidence and then interest and ultimately move on. At its worst, crisis fundraising is devoid of any long-term vision or strategy and, for this very reason, tends to become self-perpetuating.
Changing Course Mid-Stream. Shifting programmatic emphasis can have significant unintended consequences when the sole or primary purpose is to line up for funding dollars. Mission creep can cost an organization the loyalty of key supporters and constituents. It can also cost the staff within an organization their vision, a loss associated with a decrease in motivation and, ultimately, productivity. Even the funders themselves become wary of organizations that don’t seem to demonstrate a solid commitment to core vision and programming. Just as the power of a vision evokes respect and commitment, the perceived lack of a vision erodes commitment and ultimately support.
HOW CAN TCI MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Our consulting solutions have been developed to fit within the limits of time and resources that constrain most nonprofits, particularly in troubled economic times. We get right into understanding your situation so that we can help you anticipate and avoid the common missteps that are often discovered only when it is too late or too costly to repair the damage. In most cases the investment will more than pay for itself because our services are time-limited, of fairly short duration, highly targeted and affordable.
SIX SOLUTIONS TO INCREASING FUNDRAISING EFFECTIVENESS
“Our staff is working harder and harder but our philanthropic dollars just keep shrinking.”
Your philanthropic contributions have been falling off for reasons that are not entirely clear. What is clear is that if things don’t turn around soon, your core programs will be at risk. What you do not want to do is rush to judgment. In most cases the problem is not with the professional staff or volunteers, but with the strategies being used. We can determine with you what changes in positioning and new initiatives would be important to turning the situation around.
GETTING BACK TO THE BASICS
“If building loyalty among supporters is a goal – and for the stake of stability it should be – then the basics of hands-on involvement and personal relationships have to remain an essential priority. Supporting your organization with the click of an online donation or a cause-related purchase are momentary acts that may have nothing to do with future loyalty.”
The level of commitment a donor has is determined to a great extent by the degree of their personal connection to the organization. Newly available technology such as Internet fundraising may promise to reach large numbers of donors with a minimum of expense, but there is a hidden cost – it does little to build investment or enhance the sense of connectedness that are so crucial to cultivating depth with major donors and prospects. While cultivation and stewardship are important even when charitable dollars are plentiful, they are absolutely critical during tough economic times.
LOOKING BEFORE YOU LEAP
“A capital campaign is about much more than just asking for money. If you don’t light a candle before you start, you’ll have no idea what obstacles might be lurking in the darkness of the uncharted territory that lies ahead.”
Few nonprofits enjoy enough cash flow to cover construction, special projects or endowment, which is why major gift or capital campaigns are increasingly common. Even though more and more organizations are undertaking campaigns, few receive guidance early enough in the process because there hasn’t been enough emphasis placed on the critical nature of the pre-campaign work. Our experience is that any nonprofit seriously thinking about a capital campaign should start the planning, preparation and cultivation process several years in advance. It is often a very economical step in the end, because the foundation that is laid can significantly reduce the overall cost of raising the campaign funds.
CULTIVATING LOYALTY AMONG MAJOR DONORS
“Getting a major gift is easier than keeping a major donor, especially when the initial approach is asking for help in a crisis. The second or third time around, it takes a strong connection to get that gift, not just another crisis.”
The financial wellbeing of most nonprofits is ultimately determined by the strength or weakness of its major donor program. For some organizations, this work may be seen as a continuation of “Getting Back To the Basics.” In other situations, it may be done as a stand-alone project. The goal is to develop and/or strengthen very specific elements of the organization’s major donor program.
TUNING UP A DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
“When the conductor notices that the piano is out of tune, he would be both foolish and extravagant to fire the pianist or buy a new piano when all that may be needed are the services of a good piano tuner.”
Not all development programs look alike. Programs can vary enormously not only in size, but in how they approach and emphasize different aspects of fundraising. Yet there is something universal among them – the energy and excitement that are generated when all of the interrelated aspects of a development program work harmoniously to create synergy. Success in creating synergy waxes and wanes, at times remaining elusive. When synergy is absent or on the wane it can be essential to have someone outside the organization conduct a review to determine which aspects of the development program have gotten “out of tune.” At TCI we know that our ability to conduct an objective evaluation and recommend changes or adjustments may be all that is needed to re-energize a basically sound program.
VISIONING AND STRATEGIC POSITIONING
“We keep our heads above water, but going from crisis to crisis we lose sight of our vision.”
You never give up the hope of reaching a level of financial stability that allows you the time to become more proactive and less reactive when it comes to setting priorities for the future of your organization. Maybe you even know what those priorities would be, but never have the time or resources to focus on them. We firmly believe that every organization needs to clarify its core purposes, constituents and strategies for securing success every five years.