A Tale of Two Nonprofits: Which One Represents Yours?

May 5, 2020

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, ten years ago, two women started two nonprofit organizations. They both had similar dreams for their missions. They both started out in similar mid-sized American cities.

Last year, these two women met at a National conference.

They were surprised to learn how much they had in common. Both were happily partnered. Both had two children. And the organizations they both had founded were very much alike.

With a few crucial differences.

Today, the first woman’s organization has grown tremendously. The programming she helped develop is celebrated (one of their initiatives even featured in a recent New York Times piece!).

Their annual operating budget is just shy of $4 million.

The other woman’s organization has started (and abandoned) numerous programs over the years. Often the programs were created with the sole purpose of seeking foundation funding. This organization maintains an annual operating budget of $250k — barely. And over 60% of that funding is from grants and events.

As you might imagine, the loss of a recent canceled event that usually raises as much as $50,000 of their yearly budget proved catastrophic.

Last week, at the start of a global pandemic, the first woman’s organization raised $350,000 through an emergency appeal.

But the second woman’s agency is scrambling. They’re mired in board arguments about whether they should be engaged in fundraising right now. While they’re caught up in analysis paralysis, their development director frantically attends every *free* GivingTuesdayNow webinar.

The difference between these two nonprofits?

The first woman made the unwavering commitment 10 years ago to focus on her agency’s individual giving program. She followed the advice of their original consultant. And she invested in a solid donor database, donor acquisition, donor communications, and most importantly, donor care.

In fact, her first fundraising hire was not a development director, but a director of stewardship.

I’m not here to point fingers. But I’m also not going to sugarcoat this. These are tough times. Already I’m hearing of organizations letting fundraising staff go (talk about biting off your nose to spite your face!).

The uncertainty, the sheer stupidity of what we’re witnessing on a daily basis can be mind-numbing.

If you’ve been engaged in what I call “fits and starts” fundraising in the past, now is the time for a fresh direction. The direction of love, empathy, compassion, and — yes — putting your donors first.

I strongly urge you to read Mark Phillips’ thread on Twitter here.

The above story was modeled after the famous Wall Street Journal letter. And, while it isn’t true, the first woman in the story describes one of my earliest students and members. Woman #2 is an amalgamation of what I’ve viewed first-hand in my 20some years in the sector.

But here’s the reality. Those organizations that have built genuine donor relationships will indeed weather this storm. They’ve been there for their donors. And their donors will be there for them now.

If you haven’t, it’s never too late.

Lastly, before you participate in yet another giving day, make sure that your processes for recognizing and thanking your donors are nailed down tight.

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