Sunday, March 18, 2012

Avoiding an Expensive Road to Nowhere

During a meeting with a relatively new charity and prospective client last week the question was asked if we could help them craft and deliver a number of Foundation and grant proposals.  The answer was yes, but first I wanted to understand several things. For example,

  1. What were they hoping to achieve (e.g. how were the funds planned to be used)?
  2. Was the rest of the organization prepared / supportive of this (e.g. back of house receipting, recognition plans, Board support, etc.)?
  3. How had they determined that Foundations and grant proposals were the best possible means of achieving these goals (as opposed to major gifts, an annual campaign, events, or any other revenue stream)?

The point I was making with these questions seemed to become very clear when I mentioned a favourite phrase, “if you don’t know where you’re going, then any road will do”.  There are many good reasons why a solid and well thought out Vision and Mission and associated Strategic Plan are helpful, not the least of which is that it forces the organization to critically assess what they want to achieve and how they want to do so.

For newer charities (and new businesses) this is particularly important.  Most don’t have deep financial reserves, or (in the case of charities) Board members who have extensive backgrounds in fundraising or other non-profit work.  For example, as I’ve discussed before your Director with the great sales background may not be well qualified to guide your fundraising efforts.

However, this is not to suggest that every new organization rush out and pay for “outside help” to develop your strategies.  First, no one knows your organization better than you do.  Second, new organizations may be better served in the short-term by using your limited resources to build up your Program and Outcomes (so that when you’re finally ready to start making Asks you have brilliant outcomes to discuss).  And finally, not everyone who provides “outside help” will first ask you where you want to go and how you’re planning to get there… And this could prove to end up being an expensive road to nowhere.

So in case you’re wondering, in the example of the prospective client I mentioned at the beginning, we’re not going to start writing grant proposals.  We’re going to meet next week with some Board members and ask questions about what they want to achieve and how they want to do so.  And that's a good start.