Setting Expectations

Nonprofits constantly struggle developing the capacity to sustain and grow their work. I discussed a little bit of this struggle in one of my last posts Annual Fund Science and Major Gifts Artistry.

Part of planning for the future with your organization involves setting realistic expectations and providing your fundraising department the room it needs to grow. What does that mean?

In your major gifts office it means that if you have 25 major gifts donors it is probably not realistic for you to grow that number to 100 in one year. If you raise $1 million each year it is really not reasonable for you to expect to be raising $2 million next year.

You know how important it is for your nonprofit to be able to do more. This is often the driving force as to why we set high budgets and push our staff to the very end of their ability. It is important that we don’t forget to push for longterm sustainability. If you push to raise really big numbers today, make sure you are not doing it at the cost of future fundraising dollars. Most of your top donors will have a regular giving schedule. If you ask them to change that schedule, it will often effect the other gifts they give throughout the year.

Starting a program focused on major gifts, planned gifts, or grants is not a silver bullet that will result in immediate dollars.

Major Gifts: It will take at least a 3 year investment of time and dollars before you see a major gifts program start to bring in good revenue. Unless you’ve had some other way of building personal 1-to-1 relationships with your key donors you will not see big money come in during your first year.

Grants: Foundation and grants programs usually take about 18 months before you start seeing grants come in. You will not receive any money at all from a grants program in the first 6 to 10 months. Foundations run on a cycle of applications meaning their funding comes after a foundation has had a chance to review applications and meet with their trustees to make funding decisions. Groups of trustees often only meet annually or quarterly to make these kind of decisions.

Planned Giving: Planned giving programs can take decades before they bringing any money at all. They are probably the most upfront cost heavy of any of these programs. This is because the majority of your gifts come after your donor has died and their estate has been sold.

As you set your strategic plan think about it in terms of five and ten year segments. Too many organizations try to grow too quickly and set goals that are too lofty for their programs. When your goals are too high your fundraisers lose the flexibility & time to do their work. Growing too fast results in false starts with your programs. I’ve seen many programs shut down within the first year or two because expectations and goals were not adequately set.


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