The answer isn’t always “raise more money”

When funds are tight (as is true for the most nonprofits, faith-based included) hopes are pinned on the development program. I hear it all the time in boardroom discussions or as I talk with weary ministry heads. “If we can just raise more money, we can (fill in the blank).”

Fundraising is the non-profit community’s go-to solution for almost every problem.

slot_machine_pull_lever_6291Nine times out of ten, however, pumping up the development effort doesn’t solve an organization’s financial woes. There are almost always bigger issues at play when hard times hit. And that brings me to another of the myths and silly tales that inform the way board members, CEOs, and development staff think about and approach fundraising.

MYTH #2: IT’S POSSIBLE TO FUND RAISE YOUR WAY TO ORGANIZATIONAL HEALTH.

Oh were it so easy to solve an organization’s money problems. Jack up the fundraising goal. Send another fundraising letter. Slap together a couple of special events. Write some proposals. Presto, change-o. All is well. Or so the naïve hope, but not so.

The hard news is this. Although a more aggressive approach to fundraising can be part of a treatment plan, it’s not the cure for what ails a fiscally troubled nonprofit. Organizations have money problems because they have a problem.

It could be a leadership issue – a disengaged board, a revolving door to the C-Suite, or a founder who has held on for too long. Or it might be that the organization’s purpose and programs don’t have much of a wow factor – that there simply aren’t a lot of people likely to “get” the mission. In other places, an aversion to planning leads to ineffective execution of the “big idea.” More often than not, it’s a combination of these and more.

I’m willing to admit that sometimes the fundraising program really is the culprit, and if that’s what you discover, then get to work to make things right. STAT! However, I’m betting that upon closer inspection you’ll discover that problems in the development office are rooted in other places within the organization. If so, then get to work to make those things right as well.

Unless systemic dysfunctions are addressed, fundraisers are limited in what they can achieve, regardless the skill, experience, and dedication development staff bring to the work. Worse, a too-quick diagnosis of fundraising as both problem and cure can make an already bad situation even more so, hurting both the organization and donors to it.

In contrast, leaders committed to fundraising as ministry are careful to safeguard the organization’s worthiness to receive the gifts and goodwill of God’s people. The board, CEO, and staff in such places understand that organizational health begins with good governance and is maintained in both everyday practices and longer-term planning. Most important, they reject making “raise more money” the answer to every question, seeking instead deeper answers as they steward the whole of the Kingdom cause entrusted to them.

Such leaders recognize that when conventional wisdom gets in the way of growing givers’ hearts, it’s time to test long-help assumptions against the principles of fundraising as ministry. It’s time to bust some myths.

You can review (and prepare to bust) Myth # 1 here.

Comments

  1. So true! It’s very hard to raise funds for an organization that isn’t crystal clear on what it is doing, and why. Thanks for exploring a painful but necessary truth.

  2. Lori, Thank you for letting me know that it wasn’t just that I was in a cranky mood from one too many people suggesting that it’s the development officer’s fault — whatever “it” might be. Your comment assured me that at least one other person is with me on wanting to bust this particular myth.

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