Accept Fundraising Feasibility Study Results
No Matter How Painful

As I was in the midst of writing this article, my wife entered the room modeling a dress she thought would be perfect for an upcoming special event. She asked my opinion. I looked her up and down, examined the garment, and then suggested that it might be a bit too dressy for the event. When will I ever learn? It wasn’t the first time she had rejected what I had to say. Nor is she the only one to ever do so. As someone who has been asked by nonprofit organizations to produce campaign feasibility studies, I’m familiar with what often happens when you tell people what they don’t want to hear. We perform feasibility studies to determine whether to go ahead with major fundraising campaigns such as capital or endowment. A feasibility study is essential for an organization in order to assess the likelihood of success before entering into a campaign. An organization that doesn’t conduct a feasibility study puts at risk the campaign, the project for which the money is to be raised, and sometimes even the organization itself. Things You Don’t Want to Hear from Your Feasibility Study but Need to It’s a sad fact however that all too often when a finished feasibility study is presented to an organization, board members and staff leadership balk. They resist implementing the recommendations simply because they find themselves being told what they don’t want to hear. It’s hard to believe that the friends of their organization—people they themselves put forth as knowledgeable and caring about the organization—may be critical of the organization’s operation and their leadership. To those...

How Long Should Donors Have to Fulfill Fundraising Pledges?

In my hands is a slick, well done brochure for a capital campaign. The nonprofit organization that has produced it wants to build a new $6.5 million facility. Dates are given for ground breaking, commencement of construction, building completion, and dedication of the new facility. It tells of several encouraging, pacesetting donations that have already been received. An impressive campaign leadership group is identified. Attractive naming opportunities are listed. Everything in the brochure speaks to a well thought out project. It’s a great brochure touting a well planned project and campaign. All looks good, except for one thing—one sentence: “Pledged donations may be paid over three years.” Eight words, such a small thing, but those eight words are the seeds for potential disappointment, even failure. Let’s suppose I’m a prospective donor, a supporter able and quite likely willing to make a gift of $100,000. But, for a variety of reasons I will want to pay my pledge over five years not three. I’ve got taxes, personal obligations, and commitments to other worthwhile organizations to think about and plan around. Think about how being put on notice that I cannot make my gift according to my timetable is likely to impact my receptivity to solicitation by the organization.  But the Money Is Needed Now Organizations raise money because they need it to meet expenses. Annual-fund campaigns designed to cover operational shortfalls are the best example of the need for explicit payment schedules. The money they raise is needed to cover anticipated expenses in the coming year. In many ways the same holds true for capital campaigns such as the building...

Should an Organization Have a
Formal Gift-Acceptance Policy?

I am often asked—and it is a recurring topic in fund-raising forums—about whether non-profits should have a formal gift-acceptance policy. My questioners aren’t just concerned about the rare donation that may come with a tinge of doubt about the donor or a level of concern that acceptance of a specific gift may shine a less than favorable light on the organization. Some seem to have a desire to delineate in writing what an organization will and will not accept as a donation. On one hand, it sounds like a good idea for an organization to know what type of gift, from what sources, with what strings attached it is not willing to accept. On the other, a rigid policy can get in the way of working with an unusual donor or gift, and nothing makes a policy more rigid its existence in the form of a formalized written statement. A gift-acceptance policy that is less than well thought out can be a strong negative communication to prospective donors, particularly if that policy is public—published on an organization’s website or included in an annual report or other printed documentation. No matter how you look at it, a gift-acceptance policy is a judgment by the organization of the worthiness of gift and giver. If prospective donors are aware of the content of the policy, they are likely to feel categorized and prejudged. They may feel that the things that make their situation or gift special and therefore an exception to the hard and fast rules will be ignored. They may very well turn away from the organization in order to avoid...

How Large Should A Development Staff Be?

The core of the question, in any of those settings, is a search for an “ideal” or industry standard. Such an animal doesn’t exist. There are just too many variables for an across-the-board approach to organizing a development office, especially in terms of how many staff should be employed before we know what they should be employed to do. That would truly be a backward approach. Before the how many, you need to know the what for. Too many questions need to be answered about an organization and its fund-raising intent before you can determine how many people are needed. How old is the organization? What is the size of its annual operating budget? Is the organization and its annual budget expected to expand, contract, or remain about the same size? Is the organization planning to add new functionality or service areas? Does the organization have an earned income stream? What percentage of the organization’s annual operating budget relies upon contributed income? Is there an existing fundraising operation? If so, how long has that fund-raising operation been in existence? What are the principal sources of contributed income at this time–small donors, large donors, grant-making organizations and corporations? Does the organization want to change the weighting of that sourcing? How well known is the organization and its work to the community which it serves? Has there been a change in the fund-raising environment in the community of donors from which the organization requests or will request funding? Have there been any events that impact the organization’s credibility in the fundraising marketplace The above list makes it clear that attempting to...

Do You Really “Know” Your
Corporate Donors And Prospects?

We should–and usually do–work hard to make our best possible case for support to corporations. We of course want them to know as much as possible about us. But what we know about them is just as likely to determine the outcome of a request. I was recently thinking about the extent to which we need to know our corporate prospects in order to make the assessments, ratings, and evaluations that should precede requests for funding. That brought to mind the annual fund-raising conferences for our geographic area that I would attend each year. The conferences usually included three or four contributions managers from large corporations and banks. A common theme for the contributions managers was to cite their most important requirements in order for attracting their attention. Universally these stewards of corporate funding hit the same top three awareness areas and asked that contribution seekers be able to answer the same specific questions: Know Who We Are Have you read our corporation's annual report? Have you looked at our website? What do we make and/or sell? Who are our customers? How many employees do we have? Where are we located? Who are our corporate officers, and are any of them involved in your organization? Understand Our Concerns  What are our policies regarding endowments, capital campaigns, annual operating support, giving to projects and services, and United Way supported agencies? If you wish to "double dip" and obtain our support for a specific campaign, do you know whether it is our policy and practice to support a special fundraising event or project for an organization already receiving donations? Does everyone...