During the years I spent as a full-time fundraiser, my friends often claimed they “would rather eat glass” than ask anyone for money. It’s no wonder there are reams of articles and books as well as workshops on how to raise money – whether from individuals, major donors, foundations, or corporations.
Because, unless you are an endurance performer, eating glass would not be a revenue model you would seriously consider.
The reluctance many nonprofit leaders have for fundraising also informs their attitudes about strategic planning. Without a strategic plan, how and why could a nonprofit hope to secure support from allies and advocates for their vision and mission, let alone cultivate and solicit funds from major donors and foundations? It’s easy to see why fundraisers burn out and turn over every 18 months.
When a nonprofit engages me to organize a development department or plan a fundraising campaign, the first thing I do after checking the nonprofit monitoring sites is request the organization’s strategic plan and Form 990. If there isn’t a strategic plan, or the reply is a cavalier comment that it’s in a binder or “on the hard drive somewhere” I become alarmed. And so do donors.
When I suggest with courtesy that a strategic plan should come before implementing a fundraising campaign, the replies I receive often shock me. On one such occasion, an executive director of a struggling nonprofit glared at me and asserted, “Look, we need money for operations, right now. We don’t have time to write a plan.” In another case, the executive director of a smaller nonprofit insisted, “But, we only need someone to help us get grants.”
Over the past year I have encountered seasoned nonprofit directors as well as new founders who cannot articulate their mission, vision, and values effectively – even in an informal email or LinkedIn post, let alone a funding proposal. For a start-up, some semblance of a plan is essential even to raise seed money from friends and family. For an existing nonprofit assessing new priorities after a challenging year, a strategic plan is just as essential, maybe even more so.
Any professional nonprofit that wants to attract funding and be taken seriously by donors, staff, constituencies served, media, board members, and other volunteers, needs an operational strategic plan. Even if it’s an adaptive plan for the short run – e.g., 12-to-18 months – a plan communicates focus, clarity, and a sense of urgency. On the other hand, eating glass, unless you are good at that, and love doing that, is a far more painful option.
© Liz DiMarco Weinmann – July 7, 2021. All rights reserved. firstname.lastname@example.org