I read an article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week written by Joan Garry, a consultant, author, and speaker who has been called the “Dear Abby of Nonprofit Leaders” for her advice. The article, "How to Ask for Money During a Crisis," offers sage advice for those tasked with fundraising during this challenging season of pandemic. I commend this easy read and encourage you to share it with your staff, board members, and volunteers as a quick training piece as you prepare for this all-important, yet unique, end of year giving season.
Garry’s first piece of advice is to build excitement about the destination. Yes, there is a lot to be said for living in the moment and being focused on the work that is in front of you. But she reminds us that donors do not get excited about the process surrounding your campaign, the names on your letterhead, or the countless details of the work it will take to get you to the finish line. They will give, and give generously, when they can see how their gift offers a “bridge from where you are now to what’s possible.”
Focusing on the destination is critical guidance for the fundraising team as it works to build the case for your campaign and train your volunteers in the art of cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding your prospective donors. It is also valuable advice for internally motivating staff, boards, and volunteers as leaders look for effective ways to inspire and energize their teams in the midst of uncertainty surrounding stay at home orders, social distancing mandates, and other COVID restrictions that are affecting staff morale and productivity.
To those leaders charged with motivating others in your organization, I suggest carving out a block of time during your weekly, monthly, or quarterly meeting on Teams, WebEx, GoToMeeting, or Zoom calls to remind yourselves and your teams why you are doing what you do. Pull out a copy of your current strategic plan. At the start of your next board meeting or staff huddle, focus for a few minutes on the vision statement you put forth that imagines the future for which you are striving. Ask participants to imagine themselves sitting in a room 10 years from now, filled with beneficiaries of your organization’s work. Ask them to reflect on the impact your organization will have made in their lives:
I am not suggesting that the busyness of the day-to-day goes away, or the routine tasks are not important, or that the everyday cadence of life is an any way insignificant. In fact, I hope we all find a sense of pride and joy in the accomplishment of important work and that we recognize hard-working team members for the everyday successes as we do what it takes to get the job done. My point is that if we are to inspire our teams to greatness, our donors to greatness, and our communities to greatness, we do so by inviting them to envision how things will improve because of their generosity as donors, and their time and talents as volunteers and staff. Whether you are the chairperson of the board, the executive director, the development director, or the volunteer member of a campaign committee, your job is to bring out the greatness in others. Helping them see what is possible is an important part of getting the most from them.
And if you do not have a vision statement, ask yourself why not – then create one. Because, to quote one of the truly great visionaries of our time, the late co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”