Time after time I hear the same big wish when I talk to nonprofit boards, their search for the ‘silver bullet solution’. It seems many are convinced that by finding a development director that ‘has a big rolodex’ their fundraising issues will be solved. As with murder defense strategies, the SEDI* approach to asking for money( that is what fundraising is, in case you thought avoiding direct language would make it less distasteful) seems to be the preferred way to support important work.
No doubt this issue is deeply embedded in our personal and collective upbringing; we are taught not to be direct about money and in our society, bargaining is not part of our daily commerce. Those who are terrifically talented at aggressive acquisition are set apart, either as aggressive salespeople we tend to avoid or the oleaginous gladhander who inevitably shows up on CNBC’s American Greed. We admire those with huge fortunes who do nothing for others, yet criticize the choices of those with immense wealth when they set boundaries on their causes.
The paradox extends through the charitable workplace: staff members are asked to do urgent, important work that no one else will do, for less than their for-profit peers; yet expected to provide far greater transparency and reporting. Executive Directors are expected to earn substantially less than their peers for handling equivalent amounts of money and programs, yet do it with greater skill and grace and oversight than a for- profit company.
Do more, for more, and for less. No wonder there is such upheaval amongst development personnel. The lack of clarity, participation and support that any organization struggles to overcome in public is frequently a reflection of what occurs inside that organization. It often appears that the solution to ALL these problems is money, and “if we could only find that one development person who can just get on the phone and get us some money, we could do this, this and this.”
Your board wants to raise $1 million NEW dollars in one year: you need energy, clarity, planning, effort, follow-through and recording. It takes money to make money, it always has. Grants are not going to get this done, especially as a side effort along other fundraising plans. Someone has to know what they are doing, and as importantly, sit down and do it.
Who’s gonna do it?
- Will it be that one magical person, with irresistible charm and big database?
- Will it be that angel donor, sitting on piles of money and not knowing, so far, to whom to donate?
- Will it be that A list celebrity, the one everyone wants to get next to?
Maybe, and if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast out our nets. Development requires hard work, thoughtful and realistic evaluations of where you are, where you want to be and how you can get there. Handwaving about good deeds will not do it, nor will the casino night.
When you find a professional, listen to what they have to say, not what you want to hear. The success of any program for finding and raising money requires diligence, respect for the donor and providing what they need to come along with you. It the health and strength of the nonprofit, along with the involvement of board, staff and members, that will position you to bring in money. It requires boring things like reports and metrics and thank you letters out within 48 hours. And it requires asking.
The 7th Cavalry is not going to ride over the hill, Superman is not going to swoop in from above and the single new Development Director is not going to fix everything. Successful fundraising is a contact sport, and requires all players on the field.
You can make contact by getting in touch here or calling on 310 828 6979.
*SEDI = someone else did it.
Cindy Lauren is the Principal of Lauren Associates – non profit consulting
As well as advising Executives and Boards on all aspects of nonprofit management, the firm specializes in developing fundraising solutions for all sizes of organizations.