It’s 62 degrees inside my sister-in-law’s house, but she won’t turn up the heat.  That’s just not the way she does things.  So we are all sitting, huddling under blankets, wearing too many layers, feeling neither warm nor comfortable.

As I sit here, my fingers clumsy on the keyboard, I can’t help but think of nonprofits who continue to fundraise the way they always have, not because these ways are successful but because this is just way they do things. And so these organizations operate without the needed resources and without the ability to grow.

Doing (or not doing) things because it is (or is not) the way things are done is not a great strategy for success. The focus ends up being on how you do things rather than considering the why.

In board retreats, I love having boards consider what changes in the world because they are there. Sometimes I switch it around and ask them to consider what wouldn’t be happening if they no longer existed. Either way, the purpose of the exercise is to reflect on their purpose—why their organization is important.

From that, I want the organization to consider if they are doing enough.  Does enough change happen because of the work they do?

If not, why not?

  • Are you not engaging with enough clients?
  • Is your success rate too low?
  • Are you so under resourced that you cannot accomplish that which you must be accomplishing?

Once you are able to identify the problem, your next step is to find solutions.  And note that I am using the plural of that word.

It’s rare that one thing and one thing alone will make all the changes, enhancements, fixes that are needed.

And this is where it gets hard for a lot of organizations.

Ideally at this point, you would think about what are the best ways to do that?  How do you get to where you need to go?

One way, of course, is to look at what you are doing and see how you might build on those which are successful and change those that are not.  There are a lot of good reasons to go in this direction and one very bad one: It is likely that you will get stuck on the way things are done and not see other, perhaps better, solutions.

A more creative approach would be to consider the white room and into that room place the things that need to change.

Brainstorm ways to accomplish those changes—and think broadly.  Consider solutions you’ve never considered.  And then think all around these.  For example:
if you are under resourced, you undoubtedly need a bigger budget.  How will you get there?

  • Can you charge (higher) fees?
  • Engage more clients?
  • Start a for-profit business
  • Increase your fundraising results?

And because this newsletter is mostly about fundraising, let’s look at the latter: Increasing fundraising results.

At this point, do not fly to ways to raise more money.  First consider the bigger picture.  Should you think about how to:

  • Engage more prospective donors?
  • Increase the average gift size?
  • Decrease donor attrition?
  • Reduce fundraising costs?

Then think about the ways these things could be approached.  To engage more prospective donors do you need to:

  • Enlarge your board?
  • Hire more fundraising staff?
  • Bring a prospect researcher on?
  • Expand your marketing?

Each time you decide what you might want to do, drill down.  And always, always consider if this is something that makes sense for your organization.  For example, if you already are having a hard time getting and retaining good board members, perhaps you are not ready to increase the number of board members. Maybe first you need to improve your standing in the community.

Once you have a pretty comprehensive list of what you want to do, compare it to what you are doing and see in what ways you can make those more effective.  Remember always, you don’t have to do everything, just those things that make the most sense.  That could mean that what you’ve been doing will undergo some drastic changes.

Best of all, this could mean that you are no longer sitting in the cold, but have turned up the heat on some new and exciting ways to make your nonprofit stronger.


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