Avoid the trap of “maybe gifts” and mission drift

I heard it again on my last trip out —  a proposal to expand an organization’s mission packaged as a development strategy. “By launching X, we’ll open the organization to a whole new group of donors,” the executive director said with more conviction than evidence.

Never mind that the organization’s strategic plan included nary a hint of the proposed project. The siren song of potential new dollars (hinted at, but not confirmed by the ED) was too much for the cash-anxious board to resist. My bet? A year from now they’ll be singing a sadder (and more realistic) song.


As the marketing copy for a recent Chronicle of Philanthropy Live Chat warns,

In the mad dash for donor dollars, nonprofits often take money for projects that distract them from their missions. Some donors pitch new programs but provide too little money to pay for a big enough staff to run it, so the charity ends up skimping on efforts that its clients really need. Other nonprofits might think holding a fancy gala will raise tons of money but don’t consider how the time spent planning the event will affect the group’s critical services.

If the organization with which you are associated has been there, done that, and paid the consequences, you’re screaming along with me, “Don’t do it. Stick to your plan.” But hope springs eternal, and there stumbles another nonprofit, on the way to mission drift and economic disaster. In failing to stick to their plan, they’ve stuck the organization with failure.


The temptation to follow the money despite best-laid plans is so strong that Thom Jeavons and I devoted an entire chapter in Growing Givers’ Hearts: Treating Fundraising as Ministry to the topic. We wrote that

A particularly insidious form of inconsistency that can be warded off by good planning is the temptation to ‘chase the money.’ When development staff lack the guidance of an institutional plan, there can be a tendency to make up programs to fit a funder’s passions in lieu of institutional priorities, to position the organization to get what appears to be easy (or at least plentiful) money. Going after money and then creating a program if and when the funds are received can be a legitimate course to take, but only if the new program fits with the organizational mission – and only if the decision to launch out in a new direction is informed by a thorough understanding of the risks and start-up costs involved.

The fact that a funding opportunity has (or possibly could) materialized does not mean that the organization is ready, able, or wise to take the next step. The decision to go after new money must be carefully examined in terms of the intended direction of the organization over the long haul. Sometimes there are very good reasons for preserving the status quo, even if it means forgoing possible funding.

Fundraising that flows from and sticks to an organization’s strategic plan is the surest development strategy. Your long-term donors appreciate consistency and will respond accordingly.

As for those hinted-at new (but off mission) supporters, beware. The bait looks tasty, but the trap has a nasty snap.

For more on this topic, see:

Move your fundraising beyond the insanity of the same-old, same old

Fundraising as ministry begins with a plan

Cadence, the 20 Mile March, and God’s abundance

What's your take on this topic?

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