by Jeff Small
At JGA, we serve a wide range of clients with a wide range of aspirations and needs. Periodically, we will help small to mid-sized organizations that are facing the daunting task of raising money for something that is thoroughly uninspiring. It is one thing to put a rendering of a shiny new building in front of a donor, or to paint a glowing picture of the impact a new program, or scholarship fund, or any number of exciting tangible new developments that an organization might have planned, but what about when you have real needs that are dare I say boring!
Think repaving parking lots, upgrading the HVAC systems, bringing sprinkler systems up to code, or worse yet debt reduction!
These are real issues for organizations that have a significant impact on their operations and missions, but they are anything but exciting for most donors. These are essentially the brussels sprouts of the charitable food pyramid. Grown up donors are sure they are supposed to support them, but they just don’t taste right.
So how can your organization address these critical needs? Here are some tips that I’ve learned in my time in the sector:
1. Focus on your mission.
So the specific need might not be that exciting, that doesn’t make your organization less exciting. Remind donors of the critical work that you are accomplishing and how this mundane stuff fits into your larger mission.
2. Make it tangible.
I once conducted a site visit while reviewing a grant request from a community organization that housed men in need. They were requesting assistance replacing their furnace which couldn’t heat the historic home where they were located. I was not overly moved by the request on paper. When I took a tour I found out that they were forced to use old space heaters to keep the men warm and a volunteer would have to stay up each night and serve as the “fire monitor” because of the in inherent risks of such a setup. I couldn’t get out of that firetrap fast enough, and I wrote a strong endorsement of the grant request for the board of trustees, with which they agreed.
3. Be the ant, not the grasshopper.
Just as the fable suggests, the hard working ant ends up better off than the grasshopper who ignores the coming winter. Every organization has mundane needs that at times can become a threat to their operations. The best way to prepare is to plan ahead for these situations, and to focus on the fundamentals of fundraising and grow your unrestricted donor base through consistent donor contact, assertive (but respectful) solicitation, and impeccable stewardship of gifts. Organizations with strong annual fund efforts and consistent donors who give unrestricted gifts can address their needs as they arise. Over the long term, this is the healthiest way to deal with “boring” needs. Just as you might get away with serving brussels sprouts at a dinner party once, you’ll probably start lose dinner guests/donors if you make it a center piece of every meal you serve.