Anne W. Ackerson
My belief is that an organization is only as donor-worthy as the strength of its mission and the focus of its program -- both have to be compelling, of high quality, serving a defined need, and measurable in their outcomes. This requires an organizational commitment to building and enhancing internal capacity as well as being responsive to members and community stakeholders, including funders and oversight or regulatory agencies.
The competition for dollars and audience is great, and getting greater. There are nearly 2000 museums and historical societies and more than 2000 arts organizations in New York State. Think of all the nonprofits in your community or region -- schools, hospitals, religious organizations, libraries, social service organizations. Each one has a mission, a need, and to greater or lesser degrees, each is seeking funding.
Now think of all the fundraising material you personally receive each week or month. What appeals came in the mail or over the telephone last week? How many of them came from local or regional arts, cultural or educational organizations?
How can your organization compete, and even flourish, in this type of environment? Funding opportunities are more easily identified, and partnerships for funding more readily or appropriately created, when you know and understand the environment in which you operate and the niche your organization fills.
Becoming “donor-worthy” begins long before you ask anyone for money. It begins with the basics:
- knowing and understanding roles, responsibilities, and liabilities
Boards have responsibility: everybody on the board has a role to play in providing for financial security from signing solicitation letters to working fundraising events to making direct asks. Recent polls have shown that staff leaders value boards for their community networks – it is these networks that lead to financial support.
Staff have a responsibility: staff provide a combination of support and leadership; depending on the confidence of a board, the staff may need to give extra attention to training board members, setting overall fundraising directions and perhaps specific goals.
- board, staff, and key volunteers must have a clear understanding of the organization's mission, its implications, and its impact. It must establish the organization’s uniqueness and niche in a compelling way.
- your organization must be willing to undertake internal and external assessment, and make it an ongoing activity: does the organization have a strong, identifiable mission? Is it dedicated to public accountability? Can it make a case for support that goes beyond “we need money”?; does it have a network of stakeholders already in place or will it have to build a network? does the organization have the capacity to raise more money than it does already? what must be in place to move to the next level of fundraising? who can help you figure these things out?
- your organization must engage in regular planning that addresses not only programmatic activities, but integrates the fundraising elements throughout. Be mindful that planning will undoubtedly involve some change and this will not be welcomed by all.
- finally, your organization must walk the talk by putting the plan in motion and structuring the work of board, committees, staff and volunteers to implement the plan; this may mean that the way you do business could change.
Anne W. Ackerson, Independent Consultant
Providing Management, Development & Creative Services to Cultural Organizations
1914 Burdett Ave., Troy, NY 12180;
T: 518-271-2455 E: email@example.com