While Paying Close Attention to Historic Donors, Organizations Need to Simultaneously Cultivate New Audiences, Build Relationships, and Grow New Donors

Part two of a two-part series – Organizational changes in governance, culture and fundraising start at the board. Staff and funders can play an important role in challenging who governs and who provides funding, but ultimately it is the board’s responsibility to set the tone and make policy that informs culture. It is a balancing act: how does an organization deliver on its mission while in the midst of change that may not be embraced by all. Especially when “all” includes members of the board or funders.

Here are a few suggestions for walking into change. Make diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities for the board. Allocate time to ongoing conversations on the meaning and impact of diversity at all levels within your organization. Define what these terms mean for your nonprofit; take a baseline measurement of where you are today; and reach agreement on quantifiable milestones. Importantly, engage someone from outside your board who has experience to facilitate conversations and help you see what you may not being seeing.

This is about racial equity. It’s also about addressing sexism, anti-LGBT sentiment; the intersection of religion and public policy; changing demographics, and more. Nonprofits have to balance the power and voices of funders, board members, people served, and those not served. It’s about change, and how change impacts our economics.

Organizational leaders need to analyze what the financial impact of a specific change might be. They need to look at how to increase gifts, grants and donations as they grow, and how to mitigate an anticipated or unanticipated loss of funding.

One way to do this is to examine who is giving to your organization and at what levels; that includes paying close attention to major donors. These are individuals, foundations, or institutions that provide a majority of funding and who can be difficult to replace. They can represent years, if not generations, of cultivation and relationship building. Most didn’t become major donors overnight. Many have also given time, resources and relationships.

At the same time we all have to focus on cultivating tomorrow’s leaders and major donors. That means allocating time and resources to this work even if it won’t “pay off” for years or generations. And it starts with the board.

An organization cannot “demand” that fundraisers diversify their fundraising. They must first build diversity and equity into the very DNA of the nonprofit. This should be done with care and the goal of keeping all parties at the table including long-term donors and those new to the organization.

Fundraising – and diversity and equity – must be grounded in an organization’s strategic plan and the very core of its programming, leadership, and community engagement: building a diverse donor base is a strategic priority and not something communicated and driven by fundraisers without full organizational support. The board is ultimately responsible for the financial health of the organization – it’s a challenge but one that all of us are up.

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