Several years ago, I took an Executive Director position at a nonprofit that serves several counties in Northeast Georgia. When I took the position, the organization was in trouble. The organization had ended several years in the red and had become overly reliant on a handful of dwindling government grants.
In self-defeating fashion, the organization’s board members had, become convinced that they couldn’t fundraise. Their last attempt to hold a fundraising event had resulted in a group of about 15 people—almost all board or staff—awkwardly hovering around the refreshments as the band played to an empty hall.
I wasn’t there long before I found myself on the phone, asking the Board Chair, “So what’s the plan if we can’t meet payroll?” Turns out there was no plan. There were no reserves, no foundation, no endowment, and no credit line. There were only some brutal truths.
A cash flow analysis made clear that if the organization continued on its current path, the doors would have to close in about two and a half months.
I am very proud to say that we ended that year fiscally in the black and that the organization is still going strong today. Making that turn-around was painful, but we did it. We made draconian cuts to the budget—which meant heart-breaking, painful lay-offs—and then we re-built, growing a much more balanced, fundraising program, not entirely dependent on government grants. We rebuilt during the recession. While other nonprofits were making cuts, we grew.
One of the things that had happened during those lean years before my arrival was that board members had developed enormous anxiety about fundraising. Invariably, discussions about planning, programs, mission, and vision became conversations about whether or not there was funding. Repeatedly, I heard those words I hate “we can’t.”
I’m not a believer in “can’t.”
I am a believer in planning. The first year I was there, to guide myself, I drafted a fundraising plan and shared it briefly with the board. The second year and every year after, the board and I developed the plan together.
In my third year, the board decided to engage in strategic planning. As we began discussion on the first day of our board retreat, it wasn’t long before financial anxiety began to bubble up. As we outlined the topics we intended to talk about that day, a couple of members began saying that we needed to talk about fundraising and how we were going to raise the funds we needed and whether or not we had the funding to consider anything new. As these board members spoke, I could feel the tension in the room grow.
Gently, I reminded them that we had talked extensively about fundraising during the time of creating the annual fundraising plan and that our projections showed that we had strategies in place to exceed our budget. I reminded them that we were growing, that we had adequate donor prospects to make our plan happen and so we knew how we were going to raise the funds we needed. It was an awesome moment. I could audibly hear people exhale. The tension in the room dissipated. The board members in the room knew that I was right and that we didn’t have to spend the day talking about where money was going to come from. We already knew.
That realization gave us the freedom to talk about other things, things that the board, during the years of financial struggle had not felt it had time to adequately discuss.
That’s the beauty of a fundraising plan. It takes away the anxiety and uncertainty about how we’ll get to goal. It gives us the freedom to talk about that most important of things: mission.
If your organization wants help creating a fundraising plan, contact us. We can help you develop strategies to meet your fundraising goals.
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