Does Your Nonprofit have a Future: Change or Risk Extinction?

Rationale: Now is the time for your nonprofit to step back and talk about how to continue operations in turbulent times. Since the economy is so dynamic and the social malaise has not been this great in decades.

Can We Talk: The first step in this process of moving beyond survival to a new level of sustainability is to do some genuine “soul-searching” with regard to your organization’s existence… its reason for being. Note that a business-as-usual approach to daily operations is unlikely to endure and might be seen as tone-deaf in this unprecedented era.

Consider hosting a virtual meeting, small team discussion, or even a large virtual town hall with your leadership, board, staff, and volunteers, as appropriate! Now start a discussion about your sustainability in a Post-Covid World. Below are a few questions to consider (with an open mind) based on this Sustainability “Formula:

Relevancy + Credibility + Visibility = Financial Sustainability

• Relevancy Will we still be seen as essential in the future? Where do we fit in the larger fabric of our community? Is our mission still important? Do we make a difference?

• Credibility – Do others trust us? Are we seen as the go-to expert? How transparent are we? Do we need new partners? Should we merge or close? What is our Guidestar status?

• Visibility Are we top-of-mind in the community? Do others seek us out for our expertise? Are we leaders in contributing to the common good?

Answering these questions may be unsettling if you have been deceiving yourself about the organization’s performance. However, the outcome might reveal or reaffirm why you (still need to) exist. Regardless, it is time to evolve or risk extinction.

“The #1 stumbling block to self-development is self-deception!” 

Once you have answered these questions… the responses should inform your plans for fundraising going forward. Your existing development activities might include mailings, online appeals, silent auctions, galas, or golf tournaments… however, these are all transactional and technique-driven and not based on the donor’s needs. 

What’s Next? 

During your existential discussions, as cited above, you may have come to the realization that few of your fundraising activities are donor-driven.

  1. Many events are often stale, overused, and vulnerable to unforeseen occurrences
  2. They are counterproductive to building long-term relationships with donors
  3. They keep fundraising transactional and technique-focused
  4. Events can create unintended consequences and increased risk
  5. The upfront costs keep rising and often have questionable ROI
  6. Many are out of step with younger, more sophisticated, and often skeptical donors
  7. They may “bruise” new relationships and offend existing donors

If you have successful in-person fundraising events, stick with them… just don’t let them drive your philosophy of fundraising in the future. Instead, it is time to fully embrace a Donor-Driven approach.

What is Donor-Driven Fundraising?

Donor-Driven means determining how you can help a donor achieve their philanthropic goals, fulfill their personal values or continue their family tradition by making an investment in your organization. Donor-Driven also means “earning the right” to ask for a major gift and transforms giving from a transaction to an investment!

As a pre-requisite, you need to consider what tasks you must perform, and what systems and processes you need to put in place to build long-term relationships with new and existing donors. This approach is a breakthrough from techniques that are typically all about you and not the donor!

Note: Our next post will detail how to Host a Successful Donor-Driven Fundraising Event!


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John Curtis, Ph.D

John founded IOD, Inc. in 1986 and has 30+ years experience providing a wide array of consulting services to nonprofits of all types and sizes. He also teaches fundraising, strategic planning, board development, and change management for the Edyth Bush Institute for Philanthropy at Rollins College in Orlando, the Georgia Center for Nonprofits in Atlanta, and the Duke Nonprofit Management Program in North Carolina and Virginia.
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