Race to the Top.
I’ve been listening to a noise that non-profits are making, and it’s troubling me. It sounds something like this:

“We’re going to have to cut back our services because the budget is too tight.”

“We can’t afford to spend money on another major gift officer – our fundraising ratios seem too high.”

“We can’t think about hiring a donor-relations manager, so we’ll just have all staff pitch in and figure out how best to thank donors.”

“We can’t invest in planned giving right now. The return takes too long to make any net revenue in the first couple of years.”

“I’m not sure our donors really care about impact, so I’m not going to invest in someone to help us understand how effective our programs are.”

This is what some non-profits are saying. It feels like many of them are in a “race to the bottom” when it comes to thinking big and being donor-centered.
I was reading one of Seth Godin’s blog posts a couple of weeks ago, entitled “A Dollar More vs. A Dollar Less.” It got me thinking about the mindset of a non-profit. Are you in a race to the bottom, or do you want to be the best? Do you think in terms of abundance, or scarcity?
My fear is that many non-profits are going with scarcity. This causes them not to be forward-thinking – and worse, it causes them to cut budgets. Just getting a non-profit to invest in major gifts and planned giving (the two programs with the highest ROI) is like pulling teeth. Why? Because you have to have vision to invest in those programs. You have to think beyond 6-12 months.
I want you to do a little visioning with me for a bit. This is what a non-profit does if it believes in abundance and thinking long-term:

  1. You pay your staff well. You hire good people, and you pay them higher than normal wages because you want them for the long term. In the long term you know this saves you money.
  2. Your projects and programs are the best. You don’t cut corners, because you want to deliver a quality service or product to fulfill your mission.
  3. You invest in showing impact. You know donors will give more and more often if they know the impact they are making; so your organization invests in people and infrastructure to show that impact to donors in a meaningful way.
  4. You cultivate a robust fundraising program. You are always acquiring new donors, and you have invested in a mid-level and major gift program. And you have an aggressive planned giving program. You have all this because you know that in the long term, you will reap tremendous benefits. You ignore the naysayers (board, staff) who are worried about short-term ROI.
  5. You have high overhead …and you don’t apologize for it. Because you have effective programs and higher-paid staff, your overhead ratios are actually higher than the average non-profit. But you present that with pride to your donors, because you are more effective in meeting the needs you serve.

Now, because you have invested in people, infrastructure, programs, and fundraising, you have a flourishing major gift and planned giving program. Why? Because you have high-quality people working with donors – smart people who know how to match donors’ interests and passions with the incredible, effective and high-impact programs you have. What good MGO would not want to work for that type of organization?
You see how this all works together. Instead of a race to the bottom, what if more non-profits had the mindset and vision to race to the top?