Let's Raise Some Money
Insights from Karen Climer about fundraising and nonprofit organizations

Hope Is Not A Strategy

December 3rd, 2014 by Karen Climer

There is a gag gift item called a parking lot angel.  It’s a plastic angel that sits on your dashboard.  When you get into a crowded parking lot, you wind up the angel.  It will flap its wings and help you find a good parking spot.  I haven’t been able to verify its effectiveness in finding a parking spot.  But I can guarantee that you will have fun watching it while you drive up and down the parking rows.  It reminds me of a nonprofit in town called Do-Gooder Nonprofit.

When you enter a parking lot, the parking lot angel flaps its wings to help you find a good parking spot.  Don't let this be your organizational strategy.

When you enter a parking lot, the parking lot angel flaps its wings to help you find a good parking spot. Don’t let this be your organizational strategy.

The former CEO and the former CFO of Do-Gooder Nonprofit always talked about the Do-Gooder Angel.  Whenever the organization was in a financial bind, they said, “Don’t worry.  Whenever we have financial problems, the Do-Gooder Angel brings us a check.”  I wish I were joking or exaggerating, but sadly I am not.  This was their business strategy.  Do-Gooder Nonprofit had a strategic plan that ended three years earlier.  No one bothered to update it.  Everyone blamed the economy when Do-Gooder Nonprofit laid off nearly half of its staff.  They blamed the economy when they spent all of their endowment.  (Yes, the principle of the endowment.)

In case you haven’t figured it out, the Do-Gooder Angel was about as reliable as my parking lot angel.

Do-Gooder Nonprofit lacked three things: a written overall strategic plan, a written fundraising plan, and a lead fundraiser who could lead, motivate, and get results.

You absolutely must have a strategic plan. Otherwise, it’s like walking into Grand Central Station and getting on a train.  How do you know if you are on the right train or heading in the right destination if you don’t know where you are going?  Even if you are on the right train, you won’t know which stop to get off at if you don’t know where you are going?

You absolutely must have a fundraising plan.  It’s not about making long-range decisions.  It’s about thinking things through so you understand the long-term impact of today’s decisions.  It’s OK to make changes to the plan, but be sure you have a reason for changing.  “Because we felt like it,” is not a reason.  “Because we have new facts that show that B is better than A,” is a reason.

You absolutely must have a fundraiser who can lead, motivate, and get results.  Actually, you need several fundraisers who can do this.  At a minimum, you need the board chair and staff CEO.  Even if you have a development department filled with rock-star fundraiser officers, they will achieve only minimal success if the board chair and the CEO are not interested in fundraising.

I know that you are busy putting together a year-end email campaign, or dreaming up that next Ice Bucket Challenge, or booking a headliner for the next event, but you must make time to develop the plan.  If you do not have a strategic plan, a fundraising plan, and solid leadership, you are wasting your time focusing on tactics.  You might as well be looking up in the sky for the Do-Gooder Angel.

Posted in Planning

2 Responses

  1. Ron Climer

    I hope I find one of those angels in my Christmas stocking.

  2. Amy

    This parking lot angel is hilarious. Such a great story about Do-Gooder non profit. Sad. Particularly sad because their demise meant many people were complicit in the lack of action – the board, employees, advisors, volunteers. If you see something, speak up.

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