Before, not after

We have lots of reminders about what has to happen before we achieve desired responses.  

  • Crawl before you walk
  • Think before you speak
  • Work before play
  • Look both ways before crossing the road
  • You have to dream before your dreams can come true

Those things that come before typically don’t feel as fun, exciting or interesting as the things that come next. Yet without the before, the after usually isn’t as easy, effective, or rewarding.

I’ve been reminded of this a lot lately as we visit with nonprofit clients who are eager to build new buildings, add new programs, hire more staff, expand into other communities, or build their endowments.  All of these are the big, important things we want to achieve.  The challenge is that most of them require new financial resources that are not yet secured. So the most obvious thing that must be done before any of the new things happen is an effort to raise the money through greater annual fundraising, a capital or endowment campaign, or special major or planned giving efforts.

That’s what seems to aggravate, frustrate, or befuddle a lot of well-intentioned and visionary leaders who know that this "before" work needs to happen, but who become downright impatient and unwilling to put in the effort.  I’ve walked into many conversations with executive directors and board members of nonprofits who scratch their heads when we suggest that a strong culture of philanthropy (giving) must be in place before major investments come.  And building a strong culture of philanthropy takes important prospect identification, education, engagement and cultivation before donors can envision making major investments in the mission of their organization.

So the next time you are sitting in a board meeting or a staff leadership team meeting and someone begins to champion something more, or new that will require significant funding, remind them that there is important fundraising to be done before anyone can realize that exciting next thing.  Then make sure that your organization is putting in the important campaign planning and preparation work necessary before launching a new fundraising initiative.  I suggest starting by considering these five questions:

  1. Do you have a strong case for support that will resonate with donors?  In other words, is the vision and impact of your project and the campaign needed to support it clear and compelling?
  2. Do you have a strong core of volunteers who are ready and willing to lead your campaign effort?  Will they be champions and solicitors?  Will they be the first to give and give generously?  This should include all board members as well as other identified leaders.
  3. Do you have enough well-cultivated donors and giving prospects at all of the levels of giving necessary to achieve success? An important starting point is making sure you have relationships with the top 5 to 10 donors who you believe have the interest and capacity to provide leadership gifts. After that, make sure you have at least 3 to 4 prospects for every gift you expect, especially at the high and mid-range giving levels.  
  4. Do you have good information on your donors (giving history, relevant prospect research, etc.) along with effective gift acknowledgment and gift management systems?  Your development staff should be well-equipped and well-prepared for the work ahead.
  5. Do you have momentum?  Are your board and staff leaders excited about the project you want to fund? Does everyone agree that the project is a top priority of the organization, fits within the mission, and will successfully help realize your short or long-range vision?


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