Joe Laur tells me he doesn’t use the word “sustainability” anymore. He nearly loathes it.
A leading consultant in the field of environmental sustainability, Joe is also the co-author—with his wife, Sara—of Necessary Revolution, a book on making organizations and communities more environmentally sustainable.
Wouldn’t it be concerning, Joe asked me, if I described my marriage as “sustainable”? So, why use the work to describe our work in combating climate change? He got me thinking because, even at Rainmaker, we talk about development efforts that will be “sustained.”
Joe gave me new language. He said, “I think of our work as “regenerative,” or even “flourishing.”
I’m going to think of our work in fundraising likewise. Here are five ways you can create flourishing fundraising:
Develop a draft, three-year budget. Organizations do not often have a long-range financial map. This leads them to be caught off guard by changes in funding—even when those changes would have been easy to foresee with a back-of-the-napkin budget prediction. Do yourself and your leaders the service of developing a budget that projects expenses (including anticipated increases in insurance, rent, salaries, etc.) and income (including expiration dates for current grants). Be sure to look at areas of funding that are at high risk, and calculate at least 30 percent of individual contributions needing to replenished (and increased).
Create a development action plan. Using your three-year budget, you can now look at the income side, with a more detailed plan of engagement for foundations, individuals, events, municipal funding, and major donors. When possible, incorporate emerging trends in your plan (e.g. federal funding for most nonprofits will decreases in the next several years). Outline a specific approach for the cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship of your supporters.
“Inch by Inch, Row by Row.” We’ve all seen flourishing gardens, flowers, vegetables. Just as they all require daily care and nurture, so, too, do donors. Sixty-eight percent of donors who did not renew nonprofit funding said they were not properly thanked for their contribution and so did not want to continue their support. Cultivate your garden, one individual at a time.
Also plant trees. The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago; the next best time is today. In creating a flourishing organization, we must think long-term and know that it may take a while for a planted seed to bear fruit. In major gift fundraising, from first contact to first gift can take 18 to 24 months, and 36 months or more is not uncommon.
Believe in abundance. Many people—including many nonprofit professionals—are very cynical about their own possibility of success. Instead of saying things like “We don’t know any more people who would support our cause” or “The Smiths have given us all they are ever going to give,” talk instead about what’s possible.
But don’t be overly optimistic. Successful entrepreneurs all share a healthy dose of skepticism, and keep an eye on internal and external threats. Abundance thinking is not an excuse for creating a completely unrealistic fundraising projection that may have the result of creating inaction. Your planning, planting, harvesting, and re-planting should all be focused on creating a flourishing organization, even in desert conditions.
We all want to work in organizations that have strong, long-term prospects for success. For the sake of our communities, our constituents, and our supporters, it is incumbent on us to have organizations that re-generate and have long-term viability.
Work to increase the likelihood that yours will flourish.