Torpedo the Ratio
Yesterday I heard a highly respected peer-to-peer fundraising professional say out loud, "If we had $500 million I believe my organization could cure 'X' based on the research in our pipeline to fund."
My brain did a back flip.
My kid has "X." Seriously, she does. Suddenly, I don't care about the expense-to-income ratio of achieving $500 million in net income. I just want $500 million so my kid won't have "X" anymore. Launch the freaking torpedoes and to hell with GuideStar (just kidding).
I recognize the inherent risks associated with letting go of tight financial controls. I see the awkwardness of talking to donors about the cost of raising a dollar. I see our industry playing Twister—Semantic Version with expense allocation, coming out with legal structures that allow us to say, "100 precent of your donation goes to the cause." We all know that offices, desks, computers, employees, etc., are not free. We know a marketing-minded visionary donor agreed to "0 percent of your donation goes to the cause" to allow us to make that other statement legally, though not logically.
Maybe we need to talk to our donors a different way. Maybe we need to brace up and make a very educated projection on what it is going to take to achieve a mission goal and publish it. And, if we can't make that educated mission projection on what it is going to take, should we be taking anybody's money anyway? Should I take a donation because "I want the world to be free of "X"? No, I should take a donation because I have a plan to make the world free of "X" and my plan is going to cost this much.
Would a venture capitalist fund anything based on an entrepreneur's firm conviction that "somebody ought to buy my product"? Or, would the venture capitalist want to hear, "Here's what it is going to take to achieve $X million in sales"?
Katrina VanHuss is the CEO of Turnkey, a U.S.-based strategy and execution firm for nonprofit fundraising campaigns. Katrina has been instilling passion in volunteer fundraisers since 1989 when she founded the company. Turnkey’s clients include most of the top thirty U.S. peer-to-peer campaigns — Susan G. Komen, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the ALS Association, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, as well as some international organizations, like UNICEF.
Otis Fulton is a psychologist who joined Turnkey in 2013 as its consumer behavior expert. He works with clients to apply psychological principles to fundraising. He is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit messaging. He has written campaigns for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The March of Dimes, the USO and dozens of other organizations.
Now as a married couple, Katrina and Otis almost never stop talking about fundraising, volunteerism, and human decision-making – much to the chagrin of most dinner companions.
Katrina and Otis present regularly at clients’ national conferences, as well as at BBCon, NonProfit Pro P2P, Peer to Peer Forum, and others. They write a weekly column for NonProfit PRO and are the co-authors of the 2017 book, "Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising." They live in Richmond, Virginia, USA.