Transformational gifts are not always the largest gifts. Sometimes a commitment made at the right time – early in a project, or perhaps when a campaign is stalled – can be transformational.
When funding for a project is unclear, or when funders are not coming through with commitments, confidence can decline. On a team this often manifests itself in the form of more meetings, lack of team cohesion, and increased turnover. We cannot overstate the importance of confidence – for individuals, for your advancement team, for your complete enterprise.
The nonprofit sector is the largest sector of our economy. We would love to be able to calculate the lost productivity, or lost output, due to uncertainty, fear, or simply a lack of clarity that arises from (or, in many cases, produces) a lack of funding.
We’ve witnessed how a gift commitment at the right time can provide more than just momentum – it can transform a team and an enterprise. It can validate the vision and trigger a state of flow in an organization. In the funding function, this translates into increased confidence in the story, more presentations, more asks, and more revenue.
There are times when we can share the internal uncertainty with a funder – to talk about the impact the commitment could have on the psychology of the team. Any funder that’s ever had to lead will understand the importance of validation, clarity, and the morale boost that follows.
In a way we’re saying, “Your impact is not only going to be on the kids, or homes, or projects. It’s going to have a very, very real impact on our team. They have been putting in long hours, fighting for this plan.”
It takes a particular command and control to share this kind of message with a funder. It’s not about showing weakness. It’s… a real opportunity to transform. This is the kind of thing we mean when we talk about being ‘a real partner’ with the funder and standing ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’.
So, transformational gifts can be about something other than huge gifts that give scale; they can be about well-timed funding commitments that give confidence. Confidence and team-cohesion is TRANSFORMATIONAL.
This month’s print edition of HBR makes mention of a new study supporting ‘the purpose-profit’ connection (p32). The study looks at the relationship between strong purpose and public company financial performance. I believe the insights apply to all organizations – That is, any organization with a strong purpose will see increased performance. The study finds there is a strong link between PURPOSE and PERFORMANCE (or, in my adjusted language, IMPACT). Researchers make a distinction in two types of high purpose organizations. The first is what it calls ‘high camaraderie’ where everyone simply has a sense that they are doing something great, TOGETHER. The second type of purpose is ‘high clarity’ from management. This is noted as the type where managers excel at translating purpose into action. The statistically significant performance bump was only found with organizations that have ‘purpose clarity.’
As a leader, think not just about PURPOSE, but ‘PURPOSE CLARITY.’ To help you with this, I would bridge some of the findings of the research with some of the For Impact teaching. Think about PURPOSE as an anchor for your STORY. And, by story, I don’t mean a narrative with a beginning-middle-end. I mean how you FRAME the organization. A GREAT STORY…
Some of the writing in the research study further supports thinking about placing PURPOSE inside of STORY. “The company’s primary purpose – the real one, which isn’t necessarily the one written in the official documents or etched in the wall plaques – [that] guides its actions and decisions.”
———————– Gartenberg, Claudine Madras and Prat, Andrea and Serafeim, George, Corporate Purpose and Financial Performance (June 30, 2016). Columbia Business School Research Paper No. 16-69. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2840005
Have you ever finished a great visit and had the prospect say, “This is great – Can you get me a proposal?”
If someone asks this we need to simplify on the spot – “Sure thing. Are you an email person?” (Everyone is.) “Would it be okay if I summarized our conversation in bullet point form and shot that back by email?”
Save yourself HOURS by converting ‘proposals’ to ‘bullet points.’
The vision for your organization must live in one person’s head.
The vision can’t sit with a committee. Many can contribute to the building of a clear vision but, there must be one person that holds that vision. This ultimate vision keeper could be the CEO or it could be the Board Chair.
We use this nugget often as the first step toward strategic clarity – many leaders don’t realize they’re trying to juggle or navigate 3-4 visions.
The ultimate vision keeper is often trying to make room for others – inviting them to contribute to the vision. This can be great, so long as it’s clear that there will be one person that ultimately owns the vision.
When a Qualified Prospect asks, “How can I help?” you need to have a clear answer.
The fact that most organizations don’t have a clear answer is one of the biggest funding challenges in the ‘not-for-profit sector.’
I’ve heard many default responses that fall into these categories:
“I’ll get back to you.” The fundraiser then heads back to the office, calls a meeting and says, “Prospect X is willing to help! What should we ask for?” The team then makes up something that they think might be most attractive.
“Maybe you could come to our event?” The moves management route… “Would you consider joining our board?” Or [insert other ‘move.’] The prospect has already ASKED how they can help – You need an answer, not a chess gambit!
“How do YOU want to help?” This is just a weak way of engaging. I think too many in this sector are afraid of coming off as too aggressive if they answer truthfully. If you are authentically representing your IMPACT, and they have asked to help, then it is your responsibility to Present the Opportunity.
In self-assessments, most organizations can identify challenges with prospecting, messaging or board support. But rarely do they say, “Everyone always asks me how they can help… And I don’t have a clear answer!”
Simply bringing attention to this could have a tremendous impact.
On my last three visits I’ve heard this from prospects, verbatim:
“Tell me concretely, how I can help.”
“I’m not ready to make a commitment today, but what do you need?”
From a foundation: “What’s a way we can be most helpful to this work?”
Here are some ideas and resources to help you answer the question “How can I help?” – all of which fall under our Just Ask! philosophy:
Have a simple (major gift level) ask that works in every situation with every person. We’re a big fan of the Leadership Circle for this reason. It represents your simplest ask around the most compelling (and general) areas of your case. It’s not used to maximize a relationship, but it offers a clear answer. E.g. “Our Leadership Circle is a group of people – like you – who GET the mission and are invested in our cause at the $10,000 level. Collectively, all the Leadership Circle members generate $1M a year that’s used for unbudgeted and timely priorities. Would you be willing to join?”
Use the “Champion-Invite-Invest” framework. This is a great way of making the ask multidimensional. On its own it’s no more clear than ‘give or get,’ however, you can use the framework to ask for specific help as a champion… specific referrals… and specific opportunities for investment. (Watch 3 minute video.)
Develop a specific ask around a project, priority or plan. This allows you to ask for support around a specific project (and corresponding funding number) OR a funding plan. (Watch 3 minute video.)
We use a Leadership Consensus Building (LCB) framework on nearly every project. At the highest level, this is a versatile framework to:
Create clarity around vision, message, priorities and plan,
Get others ‘on board’ with these elements, and
Build (funding) momentum.
This visual illustrates the LCB Framework:
I often describe Leadership Consensus Building as similar to coalition-building – You’re bringing people together around an idea, cause or vision and creating priorities, goals and buy-in. A natural result of this process is that everyone becomes invested in the outcome!
Leadership Consensus Building can be used in many ways and can help with these specific challenges:
Getting a board ‘on board.’ Think about strategically engaging each board member one-on-one (or in small groups) as part of this framework. (This is much better than holding a retreat and herding cats.) And, you can use a team gathering to start or conclude the process – We often do this in the form of a Vision Day!
Determining (funding) priorities. We often employ the framework to help with organizational development and strategic planning – facilitating this process to engage key leaders and stakeholders, listen to key issues and keep framing toward a common goal. The framework is essential to effective strategic planning with a team.
Predisposing prospects for campaign funding. This a great way to test and strengthen your message with your best prospects. Depending on the prospect you can say, with authenticity, “We want you to be our lead funder on this so it makes sense to sit down and talk through the priorities and plan well in advance of that conversation.”
Testing feasibility math. Leadership Consensus Building is about engaging key stakeholders with a working version of your message, model and math. It brings ‘to the market’ a real message and plan for discussion – versus a hypothetical! This is an alternative to a traditional feasibility study which means you can be…
Building funding momentum (while you figure out ‘the next big thing.’) I see too many teams who are waiting to engage in a funding conversation until _____ . While you get stakeholders on board with a vision and plan, this framework allows you to be sharing a future project AND asking for a commitment for a CURRENT project.
Because we spend so much time teaching this to leaders, I’m going to record a seminar on the subject this Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Blog readers can participate for free – More info and registration. On the call, I will walk through this visual and illustrate how it can be used in various ways, giving examples you can model. Actions:
Download and use the LCB Visual above
Send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know how you’re using it.
And, email me if you want to talk about how we can facilitate this process for you and your organization.