No matter what kind of nonprofit we are working with it is imperative that we understand that our actions are as much about tomorrow as about today.
by Stephen Donshik
About two weeks ago I received a call from a colleague who is the director of resource development for the umbrella organization of post-high school educational programs in Israel. She asked me if I could be the keynote speaker at a full-day conference for the directors of the individual programs. The purpose of the seminar was to help the participants develop a different, more proactive attitude toward fundraising and resource development. She said a speaker from outside the system was needed to frame the issue. She asked me if I could help the directors understand their responsibility and crucial role in setting the stage for the individual programs to develop their own financial resources.
For many years the programs had received allocations from the national umbrella organization that had assumed responsibility for their budgets and was able to meet the needs of their entire system. However, in recent years it has been harder and harder for the umbrella organization to meet its own financial needs as well as provide the funds for the participating programs. My colleague thought that a day-long conference that was focused on the need to change course would help move the directors to take a more active part in fundraising efforts.
Unfortunately I was not available on the day the conference was being held and could not accept the honor of being the keynote speaker. Yet I was curious about my colleague’s expectations, and so I engaged her in a conversation about her goals and objectives for the day. She told me that a few of the directors had developed successful fundraising events, and she was hoping that this minority could serve as positive role models and influence the rest to begin thinking differently about fundraising.
I was struck by the weight my colleague was giving to this one-time meeting consisting of an inspirational keynote speaker and a panel discussion later in the day. I suggested to her that developing financial sustainability is an ongoing process and does not begin and end with a one-day seminar. I urged her to create a follow-up process that would assist the program directors in changing their self-perceptions from educators who just focus on their education program to organizational professionals who have a larger responsibility for the entire post-high school effort.
I suggested that her organization take the following steps to move the process along and to keep the momentum going as it attempts this important professional transition. This process can be used by most nonprofit organizations that are part of a network and are beginning to assume responsibility for their own fundraising.
Step I: The one-day conference should be seen as an opportunity to introduce a new way of thinking about resource development. It should begin with an exciting, uplifting, and enthusiastic opening presentation. The panel discussion should allow program directors to share their success stories; it should also be a time to begin to communicate the investment needed by the directors and their staff in developing a new approach. However, there needs to be modest expectations about the impact of a one-day seminar.
Step II: Given that there are more than 100 educational programs in the network, follow-up discussions should be held in smaller groups. The make-up of these groups could be based either on program size or location, but each one should include no more than 20-25 people. Participants in these groups should have the opportunity to discuss their responses to the one-day conference, as well as their own hopes, expectations, challenges and resistance to playing a role in developing financial resources for their programs.
Step III: There should be an ongoing educational process for the program directors. It might be a monthly seminar or a series of discussions with people who have been successful in developing fundraising programs. This process should help the directors understand that resource development aims to increase both social capital and financial resources. In most cases the entire staff of the school will need to be oriented to the new approach to fundraising. You might want to take a look at a posting I wrote a while ago that focuses on the culture of the organization and who is involved in resource development: “Whose Responsibility is Fundraising Anyway?”
Step IV: A mentoring system should be developed that pairs those directors who have begun a resource development program in their schools with those who have not yet initiated one. This will provide a safe environment in which to share difficulties, fears, and challenges.
Step V: Each director should understand the influence of the board in enhancing the program’s financial sustainability and therefore the importance of board development. The more that volunteer leaders are involved, the stronger will be the organizational and financial fabric of the program. For example, graduates who are now established professionals would likely be willing to assist the educational program that they felt gave them so much at an earlier time in their lives; so should parents of alumni. Directors should be encouraged to involve graduates and their families in resource development efforts, capitalizing on their enthusiasm about the program and sense of pride in what their children accomplished during their time learning in the program.
Developing financial sustainability will not occur even with the most meaningful one-day seminar if there is no follow-up. No matter what kind of nonprofit we are working with it is imperative that we understand that our actions are as much about tomorrow as about today. I hope my colleague will heed my message and initiate a successful development program based on her conceptualization of the conference and all that comes the next day.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.