In this series of three articles we follow Jackie, an Executive Director, committed to end her organization’s pattern of needing emergency funding appeals every year. Her work for change includes three phases: clarity of vision (Part I), an understanding of where she is now (Part II), and a bridge she designs and builds to link the two (this step, Part III).
7. Bridge The Gap. The bridging the gap step is key to your efforts to earn more funds next year. How will you move from here to the place you seek? What strategies will you use; that is, what frameworks for decision-making will set the nature and direction of your work? What specific actions must be done to move toward your vision? To complete this step, determine a sequence of events that moves you from where you are now to the income you seek. You cannot successfully assign this to a committee, although a committee’s advice can help. Personally write a sequence of achievable and realistic steps that are needed.
After her preparations, Jackie outlines a triple approach to reach the three percent funding increases established earlier. She decides to close the funding gap with one-percent funding increase in:
1. Individual fundraising
2. Fees for services, and
3. Grants that help them streamline operations.
8. Reality Test. Check The Plan. Will the bridge to your vision really bring you to your desired destination? Or, are you building a bridge to nowhere? Will the bridge, as designed, carry adequate traffic? A bridge made out of marshmallows may be pretty and interesting, but it will fail with the first rain. What is a marshmallow bridge? One made of sweet ideas that vaguely resemble reality, like a plan to build a $10 million dollar structure when you’ve not raised your first $100,000.
Jackie knows it is not only necessary to do the right thing; it is necessary to first know what the right thing is. Jackie needs information on their fees for service in order to implement changes soon. Aware of her limits and the benefits of an outside perspective, she approaches a board member with a passion for “making good business decisions” to underwrite a consultant to advise her on the reality of her plan, coach her, study their fees, and help them to identify their best new funding opportunities. The feedback from the consultant’s analysis confirms the plan. Her bridge is solid. It will lead the organization to more money next year.
9. The North Star. You will be busy. Your busyness is the reason it’s critical to know your essentials; your North Star. When you pause and gaze up, knowing the essentials will help you to know immediately if you are on track. What are your essentials? Be specific. One organization that sought to increase individual funding identified these “musts.” The number of contacts added to the mailing list, people “touched,” and individuals asked face-to-face for specific donations.
Jackie develops three touchstones. These are movement on the fee for services project, dollars of requested grants that will help her to reduce operating costs long-term, and the number of donors she thanks, touches, or requests funding from.
10. Schedule and Do. Schedule time on your calendar. Invest resources. Once scheduled, follow Nike, and Just Do It. One expert, for example, advises that planned giving can be accomplished in two hours a week. I find this brief period a challenge. Nonetheless, in one personal project, to date, two hours consistently applied over three months has yielded consistent weekly marketing to 200 people and a committee with growing planned giving skills.
As the year begins, Jackie’s plan to earn more money next year becomes earning more this year. Jackie schedules four one-hour blocks of time in her calendar each week. While over time these hours gets nibbled at like a cheese block surrounded by hungry mice, her consistent effort is enough to create improvement.
11. Evaluate Often. Are you on track? How will you know? Evaluate often—but simply. Do not wait until the end of the quarter, like school grades. Instead assess your progress at least monthly. What do you check? Focus on your North Star essentials. Schedule 30 minutes once per month. Then, for fun, challenge yourself to complete it in 20. Record this time in your calendar now, for the next twelve months.
Jackie sets up a monthly chart that she sends to her board and shares with her staff. It takes her an hour to develop, and fifteen minutes a month to complete it. She measures and reports on her North Star essentials. As the year continues, she add details: the amount of time invested with donors individually, the number of telephone calls made, whether successful or not. She also includes an “ask for money” — indicating conversations that proceeded deep enough to request funding. Staff copies her model and creates similar charts. Not only does this keep them on track, but also it changes the conversations in the organization. They focus on mission and funding, instead of budget fears.
By mid-year, Jackie’s non-profit organization doubles its requests for grants. One funded grant provides resources to reach fifty new paying customers. The consultant’s recommendations regarding earned revenue are underway. Jackie and she continue to explore ideas and small important changes. While Jackie never dedicates as much time as she would like to individual donors, her hours are greater and more consistent now. The mailing list and volunteers continue to grow.
12. Gain Knowledge. To fulfill your plan or any great endeavor, you must learn more. For example, if you seek corporate sponsorship, identify the industries most likely to sponsor your efforts. Talk to people in that industry. Read their trade journal. Subscribe to e-newsletters that focus on sponsorship activities. More generically, gain knowledge for now and in the future. How do others obtain a source of funding? What has succeeded? Obtain new knowledge, think, and decide how you apply it.
As the swift moving stream of information flows by her, Jackie reads, highlights, and takes notes on everything about individual giving that crosses her desk. At yearend, she has a notebook full of tips that she is using and an idea list about growing a culture of philanthropy.
13. Celebrate Success. Do you need help with this? Most groups don’t. Many do need to slow down, appreciate their accomplishments, and thank (again) everyone who helped. The destination is lovely, but the journey is important, too.
At yearend, Jackie’s organization reaches its funding goals. Jackie sends a handwritten thank-you note to everyone and a general letter with a request for a yearend gift to celebrate the success. The letter raises $5,000 over their budget. Jackie dedicates every penny of it to raise more money next year.
For more help with creating dynamic strategies, see Month By Month, the Strategic Organization. To learn which tools you need in your funding tool kit, read Want Money: Karen’s Basic Tool Kit for the New Year. To dig deeper into the nonprofit funding opportunities, buy the Money-tastic series here. To read the rest of the series, start here with More Money Next Year, Part I.