Dealing with Unrealistic Fundraising Expectations

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Dealing with the Blue-Sky Revenue Number

At my presentation to the Association of Fundraising Professionals chapter, the audience asked some excellent questions. Here is one and my answer. It will be beneficial to you when you encounter high fundraising expectations.

How do you handle a board or CEO who sets astronomical fundraising goals they expect you to raise?


First, take the “you” out of it. Focus instead on the origin of the goal. Rarely will the goal’s history include a thoughtful analysis of giving patterns, considerations of the marketplace, and other investments such as PR, marketing, and development. If you discover this kind of history, you may find that the goal isn’t a blue sky, after all. The target often stems from the funds needed to close a budget deficit, the funds raised by another envied nonprofit, or the development staff’s salary multiplied by ten. In this case, move on to teach.

Ask: How was that goal determined?


Compared to your board, you are a fundraising expert. Ask questions to help other leaders better understand how to develop realistic income and fundraising goals that everyone can enthusiastically support. Their answers will help them understand that blue-sky number goals don’t serve the nonprofit and that better options exist.

Ask: How does the goal compare to what was raised last year? What percent of growth does it represent? Has the organization ever achieved this kind of growth?


Offer to help the nonprofit to set realistic-stretch goals. If they accept the offer, establish a small group to meet once. Your objective will be to educate them about setting income goals and creating budgets. Before the meeting, develop a process to establish a range that you can use every year. Once you meet and establish a realistic goal, share how the group reached it with others, such as the CEO and board of directors.*

Ask: Would you be interested in having outside help to determine realistic revenue forecasts?

*At yearend, evaluate your success, tweak the process, and set a new goal.


More Resources

5 Ways to Turn Off Your Nonprofit Board Members

Guilty As Charged: Prove Your Board Supports Your Organization

How to Help Your Board to Take Smart Risks

Create the Board of Your Dreams

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Karen Eber Davis

Karen Eber Davis Consulting guides executive directors and CEOs to generate the resources, boards, and support they need to make remarkable progress on their missions. As the award-winning thought-leader, advisor, and founding principal of Karen Eber Davis Consulting, Karen helps nonprofit leaders get answers, generate revenue, and grow their mission. Davis is known for her innovation and practicality based on her work with or visits to over 1,000 nonprofit organizations and her experience leading board and team events. She is the author of 7 Nonprofit Income Streams and Let's Raise Nonprofit Millions Together.