If you are still grooving to Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca or your car cassette player, we have your back.
The rest of us know that the world has changed in linear and unforeseen ways, creating a different environment for nonprofits since the days of shiny gold suits. Looking forward, we know that the world will continue to change, so how do we prepare for both the logical progressions and the unexpected? In an era of uncertainty and abundant choice, nonprofits can maintain the status quo and hope for the best, quickly pick one path and stick with it, or suffer the paralysis of analysis in perpetual hesitation. All are dangerous.
There is a better way to plan for your nonprofit’s future that has a vital impact on fundraising.
Having raised over $800,000,000 for our clients, we at Fairmount Ventures have come to realize that organizations are most successful in fundraising when they create lucid, often inspiring, strategic plans. And – spoiler alert – the information and thinking required to develop a powerful strategic plan are the same insights that funders seek. Fairmount finds three observations fundamental to catalyzing your fundraising:
Participation builds buy-in. Engage funders and donors in your strategic planning to nurture interest in your success. Authentically ask what they think; they often have observed what works and what doesn’t in other organizations they support. Don’t be afraid to discuss your need to change; growing pains and the willingness to address them candidly are signs of success.
Case and point: At a recent dinner with a philanthropic advisor to major donors, her eyes lit up when discussing one of our environmental education clients. She became animated when describing their vision and plans, and conveyed a sense of ownership in the organization’s future.
Match money to mission, not the obverse. Fearlessly interrogate your mission: who do you want to serve, how will you support them, and what will be different? Then, determine the types of philanthropic supporters with whom this will resonate and tell your story. This can mean educating current donors and funders about the need for change, or finding new ones excited by your new vision.
Case and point: A multi-service provider client clarified its mission to focus on empowering individuals and families to determine their own paths to reduce the inter-generational transfer of poverty. They stopped providing some services in favor of building others. This required letting go of the safety of ongoing government contracts in favor of pursuing a broader range of funders motivated to support lasting impact – and philanthropy has responded with enthusiasm.
Know when to let go. If you do not recalibrate in a changing environment, you will be thrown off course. Consider what environmental factors will most affect your organization and the implications for both programs and fundraising.
Case and point: A data analysis revealing a rising number of low-income people with adult onset blindness due to poor access to healthcare led a more than century-old human service client to consider what to scale back in order to focus on new service approaches that reach quantumly more people. This, in turn, has generated more avenues to funding.
In short, nonprofits in pursuit of long-term sustainability should develop a cogent strategic plan grounded in mission and organizational values, and informed by quantitative and qualitative data from both internal and external inquiry. Determine what you can know and control, and for what you need to remain flexible. Don’t just create plan “A”; generate plans “B” and “C” for viable options if your optimal scenario doesn’t pan out. Establish a shared definition of risk and your tolerance for it. Cultivate a generative process of introspection to ask yourselves hard questions about stuff that really matters. In so doing, your organization will plant the seeds for more successful, engaged, and sustainable fundraising from philanthropists who view themselves as partners in advancing your mission.