Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Swift-kick your nonprofit board into action--or fail!

“The Fundraising Guru”
Nonprofit Board x 10 = “Your Fundraising Threshold”
by Stephen L. Goldstein

Ask (too) many people associated with (too) many nonprofits how much money they think they can raise in a fundraising cycle and usually they’ll smile and answer, “As much as we can.” How silly!

Typically, nonprofits operate on a wing-and-a-prayer and live out of hope—that “the money will somehow come.” After all, they think, “we’re doing good so somehow good things should happen to us.” Right!

In addition, my guess is that even if they know better, most nonprofit boards resist anything to do with establishing realistic goals for fear of under-motivating paid staff. Even worse, too often, when boards put a number on how much they need or want to raise, they set an unrealistic, “stretch” goal. Then, having set pie-in-the-sky parameters for their success, they give marching orders to paid staff to meet it. And staff are afraid to challenge their board’s unrealistic expectations.

In other words, fundraising is typically based upon unrealistic assumptions and expectations. No one thinks that there may actually be a formula to apply to answer the question, “How much money can we raise?”

So here is a standard against which every nonprofit can set a realistic yearly fundraising goal. An organization’s “Fundraising Threshold” (FT) is equal to the amount of money its board personally donates annually times 10. In other words, if the board of nonprofit X collectively contributes $100,000, it is reasonable to expect that it can raise $1 million yearly.
Of course, in some years, an organization may have a windfall—a major gift from an estate, for example. That’s always good, just not predictable. By contrast, an organization’s FT establishes the parameters of its ongoing activities, putting it on a reliable, solid footing.

The FT formula is based upon two important assumptions. First, the board of every nonprofit must understand that it is the key the organization’s successful fundraising. The bucks begin and end with them. As fiduciaries, board members are responsible for their nonprofit’s financial health and well-being. They are its prime fundraisers. Paid staff guide and assist them in their fundraising role; they cannot and should not replace board members as prime fundraisers.

Second, board members “worth” anything should be able to get at least 10 others to donate as much as they do. Of course, they may have to approach many more than 10 people to reach their goal, so they have to be willing to pull out the stops. They agreed to be on the board presumably because they were committed to the mission and goals of the organization. So what’s the big deal?

Before even considering making a major gift, potential donors should ask the board member asking them how much he or she gives, how much the board donates as a whole, and at what levels board members give, without naming names. The reason is simple: Why should a potential donor bankroll an organization, when the people who are supposed to be committed enough to it to be on the board don’t ante up?

So, to increase your fundraising goal, determine your current FT, motivate your board to give more—then score a perfect 10!

E-mail your questions and comments to Stephen Goldstein at Buy your copy of his national bestseller, 30 Days to Successful Fundraising, at