Nonprofit Strategy First, Tactics Second
Too often, folks look at tactics and forget about strategy and leadership in fundraising. This happens at any size organization when you don’t have a plan grounded in research, with sound strategy and clear, accountable goals.
There are—call them what you will—guiding principles or best practices in fundraising that will keep you from reaching your potential if you violate them.
Recently, a friend called asking for some fundraising advice. Well, more specifically, he asked what platform to use in a campaign. That is a tactic.
As I asked questions and dug deeper, it became apparent that, other than avoiding or prolonging a crisis, there was no rationale for donors to give. The organization he was trying to help had closed due to two factors: First, its facility had fallen into disrepair. Second, its membership had diminished over the years because of poor leadership and a lack of accountability.
A nonprofit corporation held the facility and, therefore, had a fiduciary responsibility for its upkeep. Instead, the building fell into increasing disrepair, and there were no reserves, even to the point of not having funds to keep it. The facility was debt free. However, the leadership was not willing to leverage this with a loan to bring it up to standards.
While well-meaning volunteers had tried to advise this organization, many of the most experienced and capable advisors fled as it languished, creating an even greater vacuum of experienced, insightful leadership.
To address what many deemed a crisis, there was a promise of new leadership. However, this was only partially fulfilled. Leadership in the nonprofit arena—volunteer and staff—needs to be chosen carefully. This organization made an open call on social media (reaching only a small portion of its constituency) for volunteer and even board leadership. The leaders failed to be strategic in identifying those who had the skills, resources and experience to solve their problem. In fact, the few who did have this also fled because their accurate and wise counsel was being disregarded.
For more than a year, it was apparent that this organization had been busy with well-meaning tactics, but not the right strategy or leadership capable of a turnaround. Now, with months to go to avoid losing a substantial asset, it was moving forward to raise funds.
Unfortunately, there was no fundraising plan and no plan to address the overarching operational challenges. In a crisis, an organization must prove to donors that it has a plan for success and leadership capable of fulfilling the plan. Unless you have an angel donor, any fundraising endeavor will languish without the right strategy and leadership.
To be successful in organizations small and large, you must have the right leadership and plans that give other volunteers, and especially donors, confidence in outcomes that get them excited. Short of that, you’ll have a figurative or literal empty building in need of repair.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.