5 Lies to Stop Telling Donors
If nonprofits are going to truly break free from the vicious fundraising cycle, they must find the courage to tell funders how it really is. And since board members are a nonprofit’s closest supporters and (I hope) donors, you need to stop telling them these lies as well.
Here are the top five lies you have to stop telling donors.
1. X percent of your donation goes to the program
The distinction between “program expenses” and “overhead” is, at best, meaningless and, at worst, destructive. You cannot have a program without staff, technology, space, systems, evaluation, research and development. It is magical thinking to say that you can separate money spent on programs from money spent on the support of programs. Donors need to understand, and you need to explain to them, that “overhead” is not a dirty word. A nonprofit exists to deliver programs. And everything the organization does helps make those programs better, stronger, bigger and more effective.
2. We can do the same program with less money
No you can’t. You know you can’t. You are already scraping by. Don’t accept a check from a donor who wants all the bells and whistles you explained in your pitch, but at a lower cost. Explain the true costs, including administrative costs, of getting results. Politely, but firmly, explain to the donor that an inferior investment will yield an inferior result. If the donor simply can’t afford the price tag, then encourage him or her to find fellow funders to co-invest with.
3. We can start a new program that doesn’t fit with our mission or strategy
Yes, that big, fat check a donor is holding in front of you looks very appealing. But if it takes your organization in a different direction than your strategy or your core competencies require, accepting it is a huge mistake. Nonprofits must constantly ensure that money and mission are aligned. Otherwise the organization will be scattered in countless directions with an exhausted staff and confused donor base. Don’t let a donor take you down that road.
4. We can grow without additional staff or other resources
Nonprofit staffers truly excel at working endless hours with very few resources. They have perfected the concept of doing more and more with less and less. But someday that road must end. Nonprofit leaders have to be honest with donors when their staffs and resources are at capacity. Because eventually program results will suffer and the donors will receive little in return for their investment.
5. 100 percent of our board is committed to our organization
If that’s true, then you are a true minority in the nonprofit sector. Every nonprofit board I know has some dead wood. Members who ignore fundraising duties, don’t contribute to meetings, miss meetings or take the organization on tangents are always present. It’s a fact that funders want to see every board member contributing. But instead of perpetuating the myth that 100 percent is an achievable reality, be honest with funders. Tell them that you continually analyze each individual board member’s contributions (financial, intellectual, time) and have a clear plan for addressing deficiency, including coaching, peer pressure, training, asking for resignations, etc. Getting to 100 percent is probably never realistic. It is far better to demonstrate that you are tirelessly working toward 90 percent.
Stop the madness. We need to stop telling funders what they want to hear and then cursing them behind their backs when they set unrealistic expectations. Funders must be made to understand the harsh realities of the nonprofit sector if they are ever to be expected to help bring change.
Nell Edgington is president of Social Velocity.