SPECIFICITY IS NEXT TO GODLINESS
(excerpted from Boards That Love Fundraising by Bob Zimmerman)
Nothing inspires confidence like specificity. The impression you must leave with the donor is that you know how you will use the donor’s money, who will benefit, what the outcomes will be, where the project will be located, and when the project will begin and end. All you need to ensure success is the donor’s money; everything else is in place. Also, always be sure to use the future tense, not the conditional tense, in fundraising writing and speaking. Never say, “We would like to begin this project next June”; always say, “We will begin this project next June.”
Specifics make the world of fundraising go ‘round; vagueness kills fundraising. A lack of clarity about your target population, methodology, or any other aspect of your work leaves the prospective donor wondering, “Why should I invest in something so uncertain?”
As a board member, you should look to staff to give you specific information about every project that your organization currently offers and that it intends to offer in the next three years. Staff will do board members a great service by preparing a “cheat sheet” for them with answers to the most commonly asked questions about your nonprofit.
Vagueness has a cousin—another true undesirable—that we call the “trust-me attitude.” Here bravado overwhelms specificity. Let’s consider a program that provides services to physically disabled children and teenagers in a medium-sized city on the East Coast. The executive director thinks it would be a great idea to expand services to another population that is not currently being served in that city: emotionally disturbed teenagers.
The executive director visits an investment banker who is a prospective major donor. “As you know, Mike,” the executive director says, “emotionally disturbed teenagers are a needy population that isn’t getting a lot of help in our town. This is new territory for us, but our staff are smart and resourceful, and we understand teenagers. We can get the job done.” In response, the prospect asks: “How big is this problem? Do you know how many emotionally disturbed teenagers live in our city? Do you have a project plan and budget? When do you intend to get started? Where?” The embarrassed executive director stammers that she will get back to him with the details.
Our savvy major donor prospect won’t give the organization a penny. You must convince a person of three things when seeking his or her money: there is a need to be addressed, you represent the organization that will address that need, and you know specifically what you’re going to do to address that need and how much it will cost. Our executive director has assumed that her organization’s expertise with one population equips her program to offer services to another population—and she hasn’t made the case.
What a difference if she says: “As you know, Mike, our needs assessment revealed that emotionally disturbed teenagers constitute 15 percent of the teenage population and aren’t getting a lot of help in our town. We need to expand into this new area. Staff has been working on the proposed project plan and what it will cost; here are their findings for your review. I’m also excited that Lola Black, the former executive director of a residential program for emotionally disturbed teenagers, has agreed to head up our new program for this vulnerable population. Lola has twenty years of experience in this field, and if we can secure sufficient funding, we’ll also be able to hire her former assistant.” The executive director has now demonstrated the need and indicated why her program is appropriate to meet that need.
2015 Zimmerman Lehman
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