Wishful Thinking is Not a Fund Development Strategy: A Tale of Two Boards

The Board of Best Intentions

There’s a stock nonprofit response to “we don’t have enough money,” which is to say “I wish the board could be more effective at fundraising.”

Because of this response, some board members have internalized the message: “We’d be healthy if I did my job better.” So in times of financial stress they tend to say, “I’ll just do my job better by finding the money.”

But there are reasons in every organization why the best intentions of board members to be more effective fundraisers haven’t yielded results. It usually isn’t due to a lack of passion or commitment to the issue. More often, it’s because competition for funding is fierce, and because building an effective fundraising system takes time and specialized skills, which may not be present in the organization.

The “Not Me” Board

Other board members facing the realization that “we need to raise more money” don’t necessarily include themselves as part of that “we.”

It may be that the board has grown complacent, and it is only recently that state and federal cuts have left major gaps in the organization’s budget. The sudden realization that funding is now in short supply poses a problem they’re not ready to solve because board members don’t see their own role as part of the solution. Assuming that staff will somehow take care of it is really another form of wishful thinking.

Getting Beyond Wishful Thinking

In fact, effective fundraising is a partnership between management and board members. The systems, skills, and attitudes needed to plan and execute a sound fund development strategy take time to build and instill in an organization. In the meantime, nonprofits must be more effective at managing, rather than at wishful thinking, by assuming worst-case revenue scenarios until they have built staff and board fundraising capacity and a proven track record.

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