Power of Storytelling | Is your organization living a hand-to-mouth existence?

May 7, 2018

Ladies and gentlemen, fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride! The story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.


Early in my consulting career, I met with a prospective client. Her nonprofit was an organization serving senior citizens, and it was primarily run by senior citizens. Early on in our meeting, I asked the executive director, Adele Wilkins, a delightful sexagenarian, how much money she was looking to raise.

Fair question, wouldn’t you say?

She was vague. “Enough to continue the programming already in place and grow new programs,” she told me.

I noticed during our tour of the facilities that the computer center was unused. Adele explained to me that they’d received a grant to create the program several years earlier. But they had received no funding to maintain the technology, or the classes.

The programs they did have were funded by insignificant earned income. Bake sales, spaghetti dinners and small grants from a handful of local business sponsors and foundation funders.

What they were really excited about, according to Adele (and what they hoped to bring me on board to plan), was an idea one of their board members had shared for creating a signature event. They envisioned it as a local “Antiques Roadshow” that would become an annual occurrence.

“What a charming idea,” I responded. “How did you come up with that?”

“One of the regular appraisers from the PBS Antiques Roadshow series recently moved into the area,” Adele responded excitedly.

“Do you know him personally?” I asked.

“No,” she admitted.

“Well then, one of your board members must know him?”

“Well, no…” Adele replied, her voice trailing off. Despite this, she seemed convinced that the gentleman in question would be delighted to share his years of hard-won expertise for free in order to raise money for their organization. She had the utmost confidence in her plan.

The organization wasn’t working with concrete numbers or any attention to the reality of fundraising.

Do you have a plan for how much money you’ll be raising this year? A reasonable dollar goal for grants, for individual giving, for online giving? You know it’s not a one-sided relationship. It’s between you and your donors, and you’ve got to put your donors at the heart and center.

Could it be that you’re operating like the senior center? Living hand-to-mouth?

Your board member’s cousin knows someone who is friends with the brother of Bill Gate’s wife! Let’s drop everything and spend the rest of the week writing a grant proposal for the Gates Foundation. And of course you’ve got to sign up for the Amazon Smile program. EVERYONE shops on Amazon. And when they buy through your link, you’ll make money!

Break away from living a hand-to-mouth existence. From wishing and hoping and latching on to every bright shiny object that comes your way.

When you focus on a plan, centered around building genuine relationships in a strategic, consistent way, you’ll find your fundraising results will follow. And only then.

Fundraising will become easier, steadier, and more reliable when you’ve got a plan – one that puts donor service front and center. Because nonprofits are dynamic, they’re always in flux. Though you may need to make changes to your plan along your journey, you must nonetheless begin with one. I have faith that when you consistently focus on the things that matter, and when you know that it goes around and comes back to your donors every single time, you’ll get there.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Elaine Fogel May 8, 2018 at 12:23 pm

Unfortunately, too common.

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