Throw Caution To The Wind; At Least Change It Up In 2016

2015-2016By Avrum Lapin

As we turn the page to 2016 I am struck by the number of nonprofits, inside the Jewish community and outside, who are continuing to do things the “old fashioned way.” These may include:

  • Considering only your nonprofit’s most loyal donors and focus exclusively on those
  • Approaching the notion of mining connections through and integrated approach of relationship-building and donor research with a casual “if we only could.”
  • Seeing fundraising as somehow below the high mindedness of the mission and thus seeing your donors not as people but as items on a spreadsheet to be counted and renewed and checked off.
  • Resisting the shift your “selling proposition” from support of the organization and its capacity to operate, to the results that you are achieving in the community and the impact that they are having on the quality of life of real people.

So, at the risk of sounding too provocative, my suggestion to my colleagues in the ever evolving philanthropic marketplace is to change it up in 2016. Find the courage and the determination to take risks, even small ones, to make the coming year different, if for no other reason than other are doing it and succeeding – within their missions and cultures and personae. Your nonprofit will not be undermined if you adopt a different or more contemporary fund development strategy. The response will likely be “what took you so long?”

So get out in front of that and make a difference for your organization. Here are some suggestions and thoughts:

  1. Understand your organization and its supporters. Most importantly, to volunteer and professional leaders … don’t raise money from your desk, get out into the field and make it happen. With all of the communication tools available to us today, we often take the “path of least resistance” because we are busy and keeping many balls in the air, relying on email and social media alone to get our messages across. The reality is that the largest and most significant, and most sustainable, gifts are still obtained through personal face-to-face contact. People want to be heard and acknowledged, supported by the consistent electronic presence. Getting out into the field and meeting with donors is the best and most reliable way to do it.
  2. We are in a competitive environment – let’s act like it. Not one donor owes us anything. He or she is literally bombarded by many, equally worthwhile options every week. By leaving the field open to others by considering any donor safe – even the longest standing ones – is at your own peril. There is no need to panic – and that’s a button you can push only once – but understand the world that we live in and navigate is multi-faceted and loyalty is unfortunately less reliable.
  3. Raising money is not “selling out!” It is a necessary and positive activity. It requires personal contact, discussing your mission and vision with people who can make a difference, creating or reinforcing buy-in on the part of those who know you the longest. Similarly, it secures the belief in your purpose by those who may be newer to your cause and inclined and interested, but perhaps not yet intellectually or emotionally there yet. As I tell all those whom I work with, fundraising campaigns are only half about the money – the other half is about building connections and securing your community of friends and supporters so that they will be there for you going forward. Remember that nobody can be taken for granted, nor should they be.
  4. Read the literature and the data – stay up-to-date. Read Giving USA, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes and other numerous publications that are researching, presenting and commenting on the significance of data and developments in the marketplace that impact on philanthropy. Understand that how you do business, and having a clear and easily understood Business Plan – projecting your nonprofit’s capability to confidently make a difference into the future – will be important to your ability to raise the funds necessary to advance and continue to get results.
  5. I reiterate a point that I made in a posting in October 2015 in discussing generational shifts and their effect on approaches to giving. The point then was to understand the emergence of Generation X, 35-50 year old entrepreneurs and business and idea creators, as the lead and major donors of today and tomorrow. We talked then about engaged philanthropy, making a difference, generating results, focusing on the problem, not the “solution du jour,” and making people feel essential. I mentioned then that doing that will undoubtedly yield success, continuity, and growth. I truly believe that.

Bottom line, 2015 was a year of reflection and seemingly incremental growth. The market was tentative and donors were bolder only if prompted and incented by a story that made sense, had a vision, and had a strong and sustainable business model behind it. These are not things for “the other guys,” and you are going to stick with what you know. In this competitive philanthropic marketplace going that route will likely put you at a disadvantage. Get out there, change it up, and make it happen.

My colleagues and I welcome your comments and emails. Let us know what you think.

Avrum Lapin is President at The Lapin Group, LLC, a full service fundraising and management consulting firm for nonprofits in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. The Lapin Group inspires and leads US-based and international nonprofits seeking fund, organizational, leadership, and business development solutions, offering contemporary and leading edge approaches and strategies. Avrum is a frequent contributor to and speaker in the US and in Israel on opportunities and challenges in today’s nonprofit marketplace.

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