Successful nonprofit fundraising doesn’t just happen. It takes planning and preparation. It also requires an understanding and agreement regarding the organization’s mission, vision, strategic direction, goals, and financial position. We know that many times people want to begin fundraising right away. “We need money; we don’t have time to do all that,” is a common cry.
That may be true. And, you may be able to raise money without going through the “trouble” of ensuring understanding and agreement on the above items. But, you can only go so far without doing this work. Here is what we have learned: understanding and agreement, or the lack of these, will inform your fundraising.
Successful fundraising begins long before a fundraising plan is ever created. It starts with your organization’s vision and mission. These two items are at the core of nonprofit operations. It is the vision and mission that drive the strategic direction and goals. And it is the strategic direction that influences fundraising and the use of funds.
Defining the vision and mission can be a group process, but it needs to begin with the chief executive for your organization. He is responsible for ensuring board members, employees and volunteers understand these, and agree with them. He needs to live and breathe the vision and mission. He is also responsible for ensuring the organization’s strategic direction – as documented in the strategic plan – are rooted in the mission and vision.
Your vision and mission should be short and concise. One or two sentences at most, if possible. Your strategic plan can be as simple or as complex as your organization requires. We are partial to a short, clearly written plan that includes easy-to-understand and easy-to-measure goals and objectives.
Sometimes the vision, mission and strategic directions are documented, but they exist primarily on paper and are not the heartbeat of the organization. Things may have changed since they were written. For example, new board members or employees may have joined the organization and may not have participated in an orientation session that communicated these. Or, maybe the needs of the community have changed and the vision and mission need to be updated. You may have achieved the goals of your last strategic plan but not yet created a new one. These are good things to know – and to take action on.
If your vision, mission and strategic plan need revising, take the time to do so. Once these are in place, it is the chief executive’s responsibility to ensure they are understood, that the board and employees are in agreement with them, and that they are put into action.
Working in this way contributes to fundraising success, as fundraising goals need to tie to your strategic plan and its implementation.
For example, when you begin discussing how much money your organization needs to raise you should refer to your strategic plan to map out what you are seeking to achieve over the coming years. From there you can begin to map out costs and fundraising goals.
Here’s some more detail, some things to consider. When the leadership of your organization fully understands your vision and mission they are in a strong position to evaluate – and as necessary modify – the strategic plan. Understanding the strategic plan allows your leadership to make informed financial projections that impact programs and operations. An understanding of the financial position and projections informs fundraising. These can help ensure the organization is engaged in proactive fundraising instead of “emergency fundraising.”
Here are a few questions which can help define what we mean by the term financial position. Is your organization operating in the black? Does it run a deficit? Are there upcoming, required, but unfunded capital improvements or expenditures? Are programs being cut (despite increasing need) because of decreased funding? Does your organization have a pipeline of potential donors and funders who could be solicited should projected donations or revenue decrease? Are there multiple revenue streams, or do the majority of funds come from one source?
Take the time to ensure board members understand the implications of the financial statements they are asked to review. Encourage open discussion and questions regarding the organization’s finances. Discuss the variables that could impact your organization’s financial position, for better or for worse. Ensure that plans are put in place to address these possibilities should they arise. Review the size of the reserve fund and what expenses it could cover. If your organization doesn’t have a reserve fund, put plans in place to create and grow one. A reserve fund provides options for addressing an unanticipated increase in demand or services, or a decrease in revenue.
The economy may change without notice, and donors and funders may change their giving priorities – these are situations beyond anyone’s control. But, with proper planning, they do not need to jeopardize your organization’s financial health. Consistent monitoring and assessment of finances contributes to organizational stability and growth.
Your organization’s vision, mission, strategic plan and financial position will impact your fundraising success. Take the time you need to discuss and review these and to ensure there is full understanding and agreement amongst your organization’s leadership. This is your starting point for fundraising. Special events, online giving and major donor appeals are strategies that will be impacted by your foundation – or lack of one. Take your time; be prepared.