About growing your cause?
As sustainability consultants, we’re more often called into action when an organization is facing a funding crisis than when a cause is growing or getting established. When a major reality check arrives, we are called in to save, restructure, reinvent, or bear witness to a quiet withering away of some really good work. The frustrating part of this for me is that many of these crises are avoidable. Which is not too surprising as many organizations get started as accidental nonprofits.
During the heady days of growth and expansion while an organization is getting established, a board of trustees or directors is recruited.
Usually, the board is recruited to grow the cause’s programs and is made up of family members and a close friend or two. The cause is steaming along and the board members are engaged figuring out how to deliver the programs and implement the solutions that are needed in the community. As the array of programs grows, so does the involvement at the leadership levels.
Sooner or later the cause lands upon its Big Mama Project.
Excitement is high as the vision unfolds and the impact on such a great scale is determined. The organization commits to the Big Mama Project and work is underway!
But soon the cause needs more funds than they can generate from their existing sources and something must be done in short order or the project will stall, or fail to complete.
Suddenly the organizational growing pains are excruciating as now the risk of failure hangs over the board members – who have just as suddenly discovered that they must become fundraising experts and produce bags of money to keep the project from falling apart.
Will the founder, the board members, the very leadership undertake the seismic change needed to fundraise?
The change is of such a monumental nature for the organization because fundraising is something that hasn’t really been developed…
Yes, the cause has recruited supporters,
Yes, they may have received in-kind gifts,
Yes, they have probably established some fundraising events or set up a “donate now” button on their website.
But a focused, deliberate approach at the leadership level to developing fundraising as a specific strategy hasn’t happened.
And now the success of the Big Mama Project is at stake.
Without the additional needed funds it means that the project will STOP – the hospital or clinic that is being built will grind to a halt and sit as a half-finished empty project – a testament of lost hope in the community.
It means no community development programs, no empowering individuals through education to provide a better life, abandoning the hopes of those who have come to believe in the cause.
Building fundraising skills is a nerve-wracking, sometimes terrifying thing to consider. Fundraising is more than writing proposals. It’s more than sending letters and emails. It’s pulling together your passion for a cause that may be the result of years of involvement with a labor of love, sharing that passion and asking for help.
The level of commitment needed is huge.
It may mean a capital campaign, hiring fundraising staff, or working with a consulting company to build the ongoing fundraising programs. It means incremental growth in revenues won’t sustain you so risks must be taken to build new big revenue generators. It is now a question of building something that is bigger than you.
It is at this point that I ask founders and board members – “Are you serious?” Serious about seeing your project succeed? Serious about building a sustainable nonprofit? Serious about reliably providing the programs or services in the community and to the people who need them?
If the answer is yes, there is a lot of courage needed to see that through. The idea of fundraising is scary! But at its heart fundraising is about asking people to make a significant investment in something important.
So if you’re serious about your organization, you’ll be serious about fundraising.
You’ll be standing up for your cause, face-to-face and heart-to-heart.
You know the impact you’re having. You’ve seen it in action. And telling someone else about the effect they too, could have, is wonderful!