1.       I only want big name artists for the board, not anyone no one has heard of??.

2.       We should net $100K after our very first fundraiser??.

3.       I?d like to build a $40 million facility here on the west side of Los Angeles?..

4.       They got the postcard, so their order should be coming in this week??

While it is a great idea of aim high and have lofty goals, it is another thing entirely to have utterly unrealistic expectations for your work. Why? Because it is so rare that you will actually realize those goals on your first outing, it can lead to disappointment at best, and a loss of time, resources and enthusiasm at worst.

1/  Cold Calling Famous People to be on Your Board

The first situation is a well-established nonprofit providing arts education to at-risk kids. No doubt about it, it is a wonderful program; offering inner city children the chance to express themselves through art and avoid many other less positive choices.  The vitality of this nonprofit is directly due to the energy and commitment of the founder. But he has been there for over 30 years and is experiencing some of the pitfalls of founderitis.  He runs the program with an iron hand, with a little micromanaging thrown into the mix for fun.

The board membership is made up of caring people, however the more idealistic members tend to leave the board once they realize they will have so little say in how the organization is managed.  No argument is tolerated and it really is his show.  But he is tired and frustrated with the board members he does have as they are not the powerful, wealthy and connected members he seeks.

The very type of board member he wants so desperately are the ones who, after meeting with him, step back. His requirement that new members only be of a certain level of profile and reputation.    ? If they don?t have a name, we don?t want them.?

The people he wants do not have any connection or knowledge of this organization, so it is a cold call to introduce them and seek board participation. This is going to be a tough sell to anticipate the commitment and support the organization needs from someone new to the program. 

2/  The Only Goal is $100,000

The second situation is a 5 year old after school program for special needs kids and teenagers. The E.D. is amazingly good at what she does, teaching and supporting and guiding the children. The achievements the kids show after working with her are really tangible and measurable. But while she is a wonderful teacher and mentor, her business skills are not on the same level.  The business has struggled financially from the start, and she is always playing a fast game of catch up due to no planning or budgeting and shaky management.

She has hosted a few smaller events, and they were fun and nice and all that, but didn?t bring in much money.  Now that the business has survived 5 years and it has won several community accolades, she wants to produce a gala dinner, silent auction, raffle and the whole nine yards, despite the fact she has never produced an event of this size, has only given herself 5 months ( over summer!) and has her heart set on a net income of $100,000. When she was asked if that amount were not reached, what amount would she consider a ?successful? event, her answer was ? No, we have to make that much?.

 3/  We Only Need $40 Million

While it may not reach the numbers of New York City or Bel Air, real estate on the west side of Los Angeles is simply ridiculously priced. Whether it is foreign buyers parking money in houses they never live in, or Silicon beachers willing to pay huge sums for essentially a closet, the financial completion for space is brutal. This organization also serves the special needs population with a larger concept goal: a single location that can offer physical and development education, life and job training and a transitional residence as the children age out of school care.  An absolutely fantastic idea, but a very expensive one. The requirements of finding the space, buying it with taxes and fees, staffing, equipment, certifications and insurances are going to be stratospheric, even if they were able to start tomorrow.

The idea is spectacular, as will be the amount of work required to produce this location, building, programs, and all the other requirements the project will incur.

4/ Any orders coming in today?

The print shop is nice, well established and has good staff.  Their product is reliable, most of the time. But margins grow thinner every day as competition has skyrocketed. Local businesses used to compete locally, but now there are always many options both near and far. Getting clients is one thing, keeping them in another. Loyalty is often limited to price at the cost of quality, but sometimes clients only learn that the hard way, after the cheapest company doesn?t deliver.

In an era of caller ID, cold calling is a poor selling approach; phones don?t get answered and calls are not returned. Reaching out to new clients and reminding previous ones of the reliability and quality of the work product is an ongoing project. The key to anything is follow up, and thoughtful planning.

The owner of this firm was always on the hunt for new business, but as a smaller shop couldn?t always compete on money, but the quality was unsurpassed. His idea was to send out postcards to firms he wanted to do business with highlighting the high profile companies he did work for and the awards the shop had received for the work they had done.

 His postcard was cluttered and hard to read, he had included pretty much every high profile company he had worked for on it. After laboriously collecting the names of the people he wanted to reach, the oversized postcards were sent to each potential client, hand addressed and stamped. And then, nothing.  No, that is not correct, and then, ? Any orders come in today; any orders coming in this week??

He made no provision for following up on the cards, even though he knew who  to contact. He believed that once the potential client saw the names of some of his client firms and his years of awards, that the phone would begin to ring with orders.  For some strange reason, this didn?t happen??

What is the takeaway?

?         Would you be surprised that each of the above stories ended in disappointment?

?         Could you have seen the flaw in the thinking?

?         How or what would you have done differently?

The moral of the story is that it is important to be realistic about your goals. Thoreau did say it was important to aim high, but it is equally important to survey your surroundings, know your strengths and weaknesses and plan realistically.

?         If a famous artist has never heard of you, why would they commit to board meetings, dues and events and the responsibility of board leadership?

?         If the largest single gift your organization has ever received is $25,000, why would you believe that an event never held before would generate 4 times that amount?

?         If you have no long term planning and projections, hope to be in the one the most expensive areas of an expensive city,  and struggle to meet annual development goals, why would you set yourself up for such a gigantic project?

?         If you know customers and clients call when they need you and forget about you when they don?t, why would you invest in the design and expense of a large postcard mailing and not follow it up with any contact whatsoever?

Don?t set yourself up for disappointment and frustration. Let?s give your goals a reality check and improve the odds you really will get what you are seeking.


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