The cure for your organization’s paralysis

October 10, 2011

Early this morning as I was finishing up a 5K run on the nature trail near my home I couldn’t help but feel a sense of accomplishment, along with a wee bit of wonder.

You see, about six years ago I woke up one morning and couldn’t walk.

The pain was debilitating and I recall comparing it to childbirth – except that the pain didn’t go away and there was no beautiful baby for the effort.  The next three weeks were spent in doctors’ and chiropractors’ offices and I was, eventually, diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis.

I’d just started a new development director job — located in a fourth floor walk-up of one of those old Philadelphia townhomes.  Once an avid exerciser and runner, it was weeks before I could tackle so much as a slow and painful walk around the block.

My robust health was something that I’d always taken for granted.  Oh, I ate my fair share of vegetables and steered clear of fast food all my life but I also had a huge sweet tooth — one of the reasons I’d gotten to fitness in the first place.  You see, I hail from a midwestern family so sedentary, I used to joke, that they bordered on comatose.  For me to take up running and weight-lifting in my twenties was looked upon as a tad freakish.

And now I was faced with an illness that I didn’t understand.

Doctors were of little help.  I took prednisone once and never again.  I tried an antibiotic therapy for a period of time that offered some relief but destroyed my gut.  Traditional medicine seemed geared to masking the symptoms with any number of medications – medications that carried numerous side-effects.

There were weeks when I was spending two to three days out of the week bed-ridden.

Through it all I remembered how good healthy felt.  And finally I made a decision that was critical.

I took responsibility for my health.

I didn’t turn  my health over to my doctor.  I didn’t give in to the disease.  I accepted responsibility.

So about two years ago, after several abortive attempts at resuming my traditional fitness routine, which included intense high-repetition, low-weight weight home workouts and running, I finally joined a gym.

It took awhile to get back to regular workouts, and even longer to finally resume my running.  Heck I had told myself that my running days were over; that a good walk would suffice.  But I’d loved running since being introduced to it 20 years earlier and secretly always wanted to get back to it.

Running calmed my mind, raised the endorphins and soothed my spirits.  I get wonderful ideas when I’m running.

When I started back, with the podcast Couch to 5K program, I stuck with the first two or three pocasts for quite awhile.  For anyone not familiar with Couch to 5K, you start out with very short runs of around three to five minutes, gradually increasing your running times over the period of eight weeks, the idea being that by the end of the eight weeks you’d be running a full 5 K at a stretch.

I think that I used just the first two podcasts for the entire eight weeks!

Gradually, though, my endurance increased.  I’m now running three to four 5 Ks a week and lifting weights at the gym four days.  I take an occasional yoga class.

Still, it’s still a journey.

Okay, you’ve made it this far and you’re probably wondering “Why in God’s name is she telling me this?  What does this story have to do with the dismal state of affairs of many nonprofit organizations today?”

As you may have noticed, many nonprofit organizations are paralyzed by the economy.  Of course, prior to the economic breakdown they were paralyzed for other reasons.  Organizations are still relying on traditional methods of nonprofit fundraising education, methods where the “Aha” moments and actual implementable tools are few and far between.  They’re afraid to step outside of the box, afraid to go beyond the type of bland communications that practically 99% of nonprofits out there employ.

So what’s the answer?

Simple.  Nonprofit organizations need to accept responsibility and recognize that there is no magic bullet, no “wishing” for the funding you need.  Nonprofit organizations need to be as committed to funding their mission as they are to their mission.

You can’t let paralysis rule and you need to start where you are.

  • No mailing list?  Well you’ve got a board don’t you?  Get a minimum of 5-10 names, address and emails per board member and start your list today.
  • Put an optin box on your website to capture email addresses and start an email newsletter this week.
  • No foundation funding?  Set up a grants system, focusing on weekly (better yet daily) prospect research and building a strong case for general operating support.
  • Focus building on what works works for the long haul.
  • Donor-centered” fundraising isn’t a trend, it’s not a buzzword – it is the only honest way to long-term funding success.  If you still don’t quite understand the concept of donor-centric – and you’d be surprised at how many fundraisers will talk about it without truly understanding the concepts behind it – start by reading a couple of the classics like Ken Burnett’s Relationship Fundraising, Tom Ahern’s  How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money or Penelope Burk’s Donor Centered Fundraising.
  • Then think about how you can apply donor-centered fundraising to your organization’s communications, to your grant proposals and to new  venues including social media and email.

It’s all in the journey.


Are you looking for more ways to get out of the rut you’re in?   Simple Development Systems: Successful fundraising for the one-person shop is on sale now, and it’s jam-packed with useful, donor-centric tips you can put to use today!  “Absolutely recommend this book to anyone who is doing it all!”

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori Jacobwith October 12, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Pam, Thank you for sharing such a personal story AND reminding us that taking action is the best way to success in life and in our work. Tiny steps are fine…just take some action. With my clients I find that the economic challenges for many nonprofits while real can be less if they take some action daily to move forward to growing their funding.

And glad to hear your health issues are something that you manage and they don’t manage you!

Kirsten Bullock, Fundraising Coach October 15, 2011 at 8:54 am

Pam – Thanks for sharing your story – and congratulations on taking your health back! It’s truly an inspiration.

And it clearly illustrates your point – we have the power to change our circumstances by taking small steps forward (and slow and steady is generally the most lasting and sustainable change).

Pamela Grow November 2, 2011 at 4:43 am

Thanks Lori! My grandmother didn’t see a doctor until she was well into her 80’s and lived to three months shy of her 100th birthday.

Amy Crosslin December 17, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Great post, Pam. Take control of your organization and make things happen. Love your site! Lots of useful information for fundraising newbies like myself. Thanks!

Gayle L. Gifford, ACFRE February 4, 2012 at 12:05 pm

Inspiring story, Pam. And great moral. Glad to know that you are well and running!

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