Aligning Methods With Goals
In these columns I address real-life obstacles and challenges that nonprofits face in creating sustainable funding to deliver their missions and achieve their goals. Readers write via email to receive a quick consultation and perhaps have their particular problem addressed in a future article.
I received an email this week that took me aback. It was from a board member concerned about the financial stability of the nonprofit on whose board she served. As she shared her concerns in her email, I could hardly comprehend what she was saying. In my 35-plus-year career in philanthropy, I don't believe I've ever run across the situation she described.
Conventional wisdom — and experience often supports this — says that board members need to be engaged, persuaded, even cajoled to be actively involved in the fundraising program. We've all been there. I don't believe a day goes by when I don't see the announcement of a course, webinar or article touting the latest "three-step" remedy to fix board fundraising apathy.
The board member of this health-related charity has every reason to passionately believe in her cause. Her family has been personally touched by tragedy related to the mission of the organization she serves. She is always eager to share the organization's mission and successes with anyone she meets.
She also puts her money where her mouth is. She expects nothing less of herself than others. To be honest, the board member sounded almost too good to be true.
So where's the problem?
The executive director and staff see fundraising as an exercise in grant writing with trips to the post office. Eschewing donor contact and outreach, their mortal fear is donor "overinvolvement" — whatever that is. Grant funding accounts for more than 80 percent of the organization's annual revenue.
In recent years institutional funding has become more restrictive and less flexible. Heavily dependent on grants, the organization's financials are increasingly tenuous. Large swings in cash flow have necessitated curtailing — even cancelling — some well-performing programs.