How to Know If You'll Be Successful
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 quick consultations and perhaps have their particular problems addressed in future articles.
Recently, the membership/development director of a nonprofit professional association emailed me of her concern that her current efforts may not be sufficient to meet the financial goals handed to her. She wanted to know what else she could do and how to garner the support of her leadership along the way.
Two issues are at play here:
- Knowing your real chances of meeting a goal
- Communicating that probability to your leadership and enlisting its support in achieving ultimate success
Although fundraising is part art and part science and the outcomes of any given fundraising effort cannot be known with absolute certainty, assessing the probability of success isn't entirely guesswork, either.
When constructing a fundraising plan — and you should definitely have a plan — you can often use data you already possess to determine your relative chances of success.
Donor-conversion rates, gift-renewal rates and upgrade rates are, most likely, readily at hand. If they're not, taking the raw gift data from past efforts and doing a few quick calculations will give you what you need.
Let's say your history with a particular outreach vehicle is a 20 percent conversion rate. You have 500 potential new donors, and your mean first-time gift is $50. When the goal you've been given by your executive or governing board is $10,000, using what you already know will immediately tell you that such a figure is just not reachable. The capacity of the system described is about $5,000, give or take a few dollars.
Now comes the hard part: communicating to your leadership that the goal is just not doable given the capacity of your fundraising program — no matter how "critical" the funds are to your organization's success. Many fundraising goals are set from a needs perspective rather than a capacity perspective. Therein lies the inherent conflict between wishful thinking and reality.
Leadership is responsible for leading an organization. This is fundamental. Wherever your leadership — board and executive — lead, others will follow. If your leadership has set a fundraising objective to achieve, that very act places the ultimate responsibility for achieving that end upon the leaders.
Demonstrating that the numbers simply don't "add up" in a fundraising effort is the first step in getting leadership's attention. The next step — the one most critical in moving to a place of "challenging but doable" — is to create shared ownership for the results through the identification of self-interest.
What is in the direct interest of the leadership? What will have the greatest impact upon it?
The best time to confront this is in the beginning. When receiving any goal in which you weren't a party in its determination, run the numbers first to see if success is even a possibility. If not, seek to obtain the buy-in of leadership through first demonstrating the simple unlikelihood of being successful, then appealing to the individual and corporate self-interest of leadership to move to a place of realism for both goal and program.
I want to thank the thoughtful and well-motivated fund development director for her query.
Please let me hear from you concerning your particular situation and the difficulties you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me, and I'll give you a quick response. I'll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
Whether your organization is small or large, well-heeled or struggling from day to day, you'll benefit immeasurably from taking a good, hard look at whether it spends more of its time in the fundraising emergency room or makes planned visits to the wellness clinic. You'll learn what sends you to the emergency room and how not to go there — anymore than you absolutely must.
An internationally recognized philanthropy and fundraising thought leader, Larry C. Johnson trains the staff and volunteers of worthy causes to achieve real impact through the creation of reliable, growing revenue streams. He emphasizes principles before methods as the key to long-lasting success. He stresses the simple, the practical and the joyful.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles, the premier brand for educational products and services in relational fundraising and philanthropy. The Eight Principles provides digital education, live workshops and structured coaching to nonprofit organizations.
Author of the award-winning book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising," AFP named Larry Outstanding Development Executive in 2010. The Wall Street Business Network ranks him in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the USA. Larry is a graduate of Yale University. Larry speaks widely and serves on numerous nonprofit and corporate boards, including The Philanthropy Council of The Carter Center, the philanthropy of the 39th President of the U.S.