For over ten years I have worked with organizations of all sizes, raising millions of dollars through capital campaigns, events, and personal relationships. What I have learned is that there is no “one size fits all” for raising money. However, there are fundamentals in the work that can be applied to all organizations. I like to think of organizational development as the 4 Ps: philosophy, people, process, and partnerships. I am convinced that development doesn’t hang on the sheer ability or personality of “the development guy.” It is a system that can be learned and implemented. It isn’t an either/or. It isn’t personality versus process. It is both art and science.
You may want the quick fix or the silver bullet, but they don’t exist. There is an order and rhythm to this work, and if it is done right it is sustainable and profitable. If it is done wrong, it eventually turns upside down. Getting it right from the beginning is the key to managing your organization’s resources in the best way possible.
When you get your oil changed, the shop usually tells you that the air filter is awfully close to time for replacement. They even demonstrate the gunk clogging up the system with great gusto, wanting you to feel guilty at the very idea of driving away with such an atrocious piece of equipment in your car. I certainly appreciate the value of having filters—they are the gatekeepers, whether in the car, the furnace, or the water faucet. Filters allow the good stuff to get through and hold the bad stuff back.
A philosophy statement for an organization does exactly the same thing. It is a grid for decision making that allows the suitable decisions to get through, while the unsuitable decisions are filtered out. It is an absolute requirement for an organization that will make an important difference for a long time. It clearly defines the core values of fundraising for everyone involved: the board, leadership, staff, volunteers, and even donors.
Filtering questions are a great way to get an organization to get to the heart of their philosophy statement. Here is a list of questions you can ask of the leadership in your organization:
- What methods of fundraising fit your organization?
- What will you do when you are pushed against the wall and need funds for payroll and operating expenses?
- How do you know what fits you and what doesn’t?
- Who defines suitability?
- Who makes the final call on the fundraising programs?
- What will you say yes to? No?
- How does your mission statement line up with prospective programs for fundraising?
- Are you consistent in your approach to donors?
- Are you designing a strategy that will be comfortable for your donor base?
- How do you manage the pressure to try the latest and greatest ideas?
You should also be clear on what your donors expect from you in return for their gifts. You need to know if these expectations fit your philosophy. Gifts can strangle an organization with golden cords. After the elation over a large gift settles down, what is the reality? Will you ultimately be hindered by accepting someone else’s goal for your organization along with their gift? Some additional questions you can ask around the subject of motivation and donor expectations are:
- How do we handle gifts with strings?
- What about the mutual benefit of fund raising?
- Will we be expected to reciprocate with other organizations?
- What if a restricted gift stops the flow of operations?
- How do we manage donors who control with their funding?
These filtering questions allow the organization’s leadership to set parameters and guidelines. A philosophical base gives direction for the organization to hold the course. Get your philosophy statement on paper and make it a part of everything your organization says or does.