An inquiry through one of my websites brought about a consultation covering a dilemma many nonprofit leaders have faced — how to scale-up a nonprofit organization with no money, no staff, no work-force of volunteers, and no board members willing to roll up their sleeves and work.
A brief discussion with the executive director brought to mind an exercise I use in my “introduction to fundraising” workshop. I have students list as many ways they can think of by which a nonprofit can raise funds. I then add any ways they miss. We usually end up with between 20 and 30 distinct ways to raise money, pending how students lump or split fundraising actions. I then ask students,” with so many ways to raise money, why are nonprofits always claiming to be so poor?”
About half the time students figure out the answer. It’s not a hard question, but the answer is one many practicing professionals seem to miss. Students who don’t get it learn from fellow classmates, but professionals who don’t get it may fail to scale-up their organization.
What’s the answer? While there may be many ways to raise money, one person can only do so many things at once.
* * *
One must choose among fundraising options
Among the many ways to raise money, select only those few that are likely to yield the greatest net return. Which will be best will vary from organization to organization, staff to staff, board to board, and so on.
For the busy nonprofit executive there is also mission work to be done, so time is further divided. I make sure students understand the focus of a nonprofit must be on the mission, with fundraising simply one of the means whereby mission can be accomplished. Even with several staff, a few active board members, and willing volunteers, spreading human resources across too many fundraising initiatives can result in too little attention to any to truly be successful.
After discussion with the executive director about the many different ways she could raise funds I suggested that only she could answer her question about which one or ones she should employ. She was trying to do too many things at once, spending time doing fundraising that was not very successful. This was taking time away from doing the fundraising at which she was most successful.
For the beleaguered nonprofit leader, with no one to help, she needed to focus on the one or two ways she could raise the most money for the least amount of time or existing funds. They should be the ways in which she has had past success and feels most competent doing.