Fundraising Success: Put Mission First (Part 1)
This is Part 1 of my six-part weekly series on achieving fundraising success for your nonprofit agency. In this first installment, I discuss why it's so vital to put mission first!
As I postulate in my book Power Your Organization’s Fundraising: How the Partnership Paradigm Will Change Everything, the greatest lesson I’ve learned is in all my years of asking for funding: It is NOT primarily about the money. “Fundraising not about the money?” you say. “How can that be? Fundraising is all about the money. That’s what we’re asking for.”
True. But the end result is not money for money’s sake. The end result, what motivates people to give, is the impact your organization is making on the world. For example, no one cares that my organization needs money. As a suicide prevention hotline, my donors care that someone is always there to listen. No one cares if I pay the phone bill. But they care that there is a phone line open for someone in crisis. No one cares if I pay my training coordinator’s salary. But they care that my clients are receiving the best and most up-to-date care possible. Fundraising is not about the money – it is about the mission you meet with the money. It is about impact. It is about your organization’s relationship with the community it serves.
Raising money does not begin with your organization needing money. Good fundraisers understand their roles as brokers, matching the needs of the donor with the need for resources to carry out mission. Notice the focus here is on mission, not organizational needs. The fundraising process is about fulfilling mission, not meeting organizational needs. So the first step in raising money is to thoroughly understand your agency’s mission and communicate that mission to prospective donors in a compelling way.
For Fundraising Success, Put Mission First!
An agency’s mission is its reason for existence. People are motivated to give based on mission and mission impact. It is important when fundraising that you always put mission first. Mission fulfillment is the bottom line. Your organization needing money does not motivate anybody. Although contributors might care deeply about your agency, ultimately, it is the impact that your agency makes that is important. It is your ability to meet your mission, the impact your organization has on other people that contributors care most about. Your organization’s existence is just a means to an end.
Fundraising is about establishing a partnership. Donors have money you need and you have programs and services to meet the need they have defined. You are a conduit for them—a way for them to achieve their desired impact on the world. They need someone to help them achieve their goals and you need their funds to do it.
In interviewing seasoned executive directors for my book Moving Up to Executive Director: Lessons Learned from My First 365 Days, it became apparent that successful executive directors have an absolute passion and unfailing dedication to their organizations’ missions. They are fearless in communicating and promoting their missions. They define success in terms of fulfilling the mission. They measure their operations by how they affect people’s lives. They connect organizational purpose to real, relatable consequences in the lives of those they serve. Engaging people in the mission is their all-consuming task.
With all the pressures involved in running an organization and ensuring its viability, it is very easy to focus on agency operations. But successful executive directors and development professionals rise above the operational fray. They maintain a steadfast focus on their mission. They know that steadfast dedication to mission will result in organizational success.
Successful executive directors and fundraisers are, first and foremost, soldiers on a mission. Everything successful executive directors and development staff do—every decision they make and program they build—must be driven by their quest to fulfill the mission. Yes, we need to be proficient managers. But successful executive directors and fundraising professionals, above all, maintain a passion for their organization’s mission.
Fundraising is not about donors giving money – although money is the vehicle. It is about engaging people in helping to meet mission. It is about tapping into their needs to be a part of something bigger than themselves and knowing their contribution make a difference. It is about letting people know how they can be a part and contribute to successful mission fulfillment. And then, once they have contributed, letting them know how their contributions helped fulfill the social contract they support. By giving you money, you promise that donors will be part of something wonderful in the community. Let them know how they are a part of that.
I believe that people in general want to be part of something bigger than themselves. I believe they want to make a positive impact in the world. Your organization’s mission statement should tell them how to do that in broad terms. Your request for funding should tell them how they can do that in a specific way.
Fundraising is about establishing partnerships. Donors have money you need and you have programs to meet the need they care about. You are a conduit for them—a way for them to achieve their desired impact on the world. They need someone to help them achieve their goals and you need their funds to do it.
That’s why when you appeal to donors, you appeal to them based on fulfilling your mission, not on meeting your organizational needs. Your agency needing money should never by the focus of any of your appeals. It is the end result, the impact you make, that must be highlighted. For example, ask donors to feed the hungry or educate a youth or save a life as opposed to asking them to help keep the organization going. Keep your appeals based squarely on mission.
Value mission fulfillment above all else. Structure your revenue generating activities to all have mission components. For example, at my organization our mission is mental wellness and suicide prevention. So my gala includes keynote speakers who share how our mission affects them and saves lives: a person who is successfully living with a mental illness or a suicide survivor. Our honorees are chosen because of their efforts to support our mission, both in their relationship with us as well as their efforts in the community. My run focuses on the alive and well aspect of what our agency does. To both raise funds and promote mission, I only conduct revenue generating activities that relate to our mission.
When I design my budget, looking at revenues and expenses, I analyze each item in terms of mission and whether it is a worthy task. I use mission and values to decide what the budget will look like.
As executive director or fundraising professional, your primary role is to keep the focus on mission. It’s easy to focus on money when you talk about raising it and how much is raised, but that is not what the organization is about. You need to constantly reinforce the message that these resources exist to fulfill mission.
To achieve financial success, to bring in more money that you thought possible, put mission first. It is mission that motivates.