A Tale of Two Non-Profits

by Marcy Heim on June 9, 2017

A tale #2

Everyday you are a leader!

Leaders live life on their own terms. They don’t let circumstances plunge them into contracting. Leaders maximize what they have. They influence others to join in and can persuade others because they are confident they are on the right path.
Let me share a tale of two fictional non-profits.  Let’s say they are about the same size, similar budgets, and focus on educational experiences for youth. Both were looking at a $12 million goal over a period of time – a significant number. Both set out to increase major giving capacity. Both felt there were major donors that had not been engaged. Both were not crystal clear on how some prospective givers would invest. Neither had a history of clear major giving options and regular major gift asks or disciplined major gift practices.

Non Profit A

Non Profit A encountered a massive (almost $2 million) increase in the cost of a building project during the course of a campaign. These costs were explored but quickly we went to “This is the new number.” It’s a small shop. 2.5 people in advancement if you count the CEO.

What Happened?

The goal was increased by $2 Million. From $12.5M to $14.5M at a time when we were just over $9M raised and facing that last hardest final money to secure. This was the real number.

The new goal was announced in the monthly e-news.   This goes out to the Board, all major givers, all prospective givers, and all internal stakeholders. Message simply put, “It’s going to cost more, so we are going to raise more.”

Recommitted to major gift visits. The Chief Development Officer was inexperienced in major gifts and acknowledged getting off track with calls. We identified the distractions – (low-performing activities that seemed urgent) but then moved quickly onto solutions.  Two 3-hour blocks of time each week, away from the distractions of the office, was dedicated to refocus on moving major gifts forward.

Relationship Action Plans were updated and a specific ask date, project and amount noted.  Personal visits were the focus. No looking back, blaming and making up excuses on what didn’t happen prior.

An event and trip were dropped.  Time for personal leave to celebrate a major personal event stayed– life/work harmony is important.

Communicated excitement.  There is always a story to share.

Money already received was used.  This broke traditional “squirreling away” of gifts.  If dollars came in to support a young person and we had one that fit, it was spent and announced. Why give if it’s not used?  Can’t really be needed.

Look for amazing, wonderful surprises.  An unexpected gift came in, a new prospective giver ‘appeared’ during a function who had great capacity.

Volunteer help was embraced. We did not downsize support staff.

More time with counsel.  That’s what we are here for.

Non Profit B

Non-profit B also encountered an unexpected increase of expenses of over $150,000 to manage deferred maintenance, a decline in enrollment, a decline in revenue generated from outside sources, the end of two grants, and an increase in salaries due to some staffing changes. This was on top of an ambitious $12M overall goal that included new projects the Board wanted to pursue. (Many infrastructure costs were not included and some of these projects were added without clear staffing plans.) There were six folks who played some role in development.

What Happened?

Immediate crisis reduction in expenses. The Board panicked and directed the CEO to find immediate cuts to make up for a budget shortfall projected in the next year’s budget.  Support staff was reduced. All hiring, professional development, and travel was frozen.

The signature event that raised $300,000 was celebrated. Numbers were up, but the amount of staff/volunteer time was high and put major giving work on hold.

Development metrics were put into place to coincide with the new database recently up and running. Good move, but met with fear based on loose prior accountability. The board leadership pledged to support the team but the “budget shortfall” message added a feeling of desperation.

There was reluctance to ask. The event, after all, (with few gifts above $5000), was an ask. Options for giving were not clear. Endowments had been managed poorly with little communications to the donors.

Another event was planned. Yikes.

There was this sinking feeling. Key staff were involved in self-drama, personal problems and glued to screen. Bickering and criticism by staff became the norm.

Counsel was terminated with the expense reduction.  Of course – in challenging financial times, cut fundraising staff, hold another event and fire your consultant.

What’s the point?

  • The problem here is not the lack of resources; it’s a lack of resourcefulness.
  • It’s not the lack of solutions; it’s the lack of focus and confidence to pursue solutions.
  • It’s not the lack of a compelling story: it’s a constant undercurrent of negativity and desperation.
  • It’s leadership caring too much about what the board thinks: seeking approval from others reinforces the idea you need external validation.
  • It’s not the lack of opportunities for growth; it’s seeing only shortcomings. Focusing on limitations only builds their strength.
  • It’s not the lack of a bright future, it’s constantly reliving the past “good old days.” Bring your attention to the present moment and start building a better future.

Dial down the drama. Stressing and complaining about problems that don’t really matter just drains valuable energy you could be investing in good actions.

Non-profit A actually has the bigger challenge, but my vote is with them to make up what they lack in resources with a big dose of resourcefulness.

Where are you in this picture?  How are you contributing to your organization’s value and displaying your compelling confidence that you will stay the course and plant the flag on the moon?

Let me know if these tales reflect some of your experiences!

The unexpected tough surprises will always come, but so will the unexpected joys!  I’d look for the joys!

Invest in Joy!

Marcy sign

Leave a Comment

Anti-Spam Quiz:

Previous post:

Next post: