Abundance in Fundraising
Manatee County, Florida has a long-standing monthly meeting of nonprofit minds dubbed “The Lunch Bunch”. It is a group of nonprofit fundraisers and CEOs, hosted by the Manatee Community Foundation, getting together to share information. I started attending this event in 2007.
Wait, what? Fundraisers sharing information… with other fundraisers… at other agencies competing for the same funding!?
That is the reaction I received when I told my grad school cohort about The Lunch Bunch three years ago. “No way,” they said. Loosely quoted, “Fundraising in our community is cutthroat and we’d never collaborate or share strategies.” The cohort was made up of people from all over the country – an animal rights organization in New York City, a health care nonprofit in Hawaii, a child protection agency in Chicago, and none of them had ever experienced such collaborative efforts between the nonprofits in their regions.
Wow. Who knew Manatee County was such a leading force for good!? Well… as a matter of fact… we did. Please allow me to brag for a moment (though I am bragging, I am not taking credit for this phenomenon; that wheel was turning long before I joined the local nonprofit community).
The nonprofits in Manatee County long ago adopted what Stephen Covey called an abundance mentality, the model of thought that believes there is “plenty out there for everybody”. (Covey, 2004) Nonprofit leaders in our community realized that for one organization to thrive, the others need not fail.
I can hear people out there thinking – loudly – “But there is a finite amount of funding. We have to look out for ourselves.” Yes, and no. Charitable giving does ebb and flow based on factors like the economy, political climate, and the occurrence of natural disasters. But, in general, people give based on a few things: 1. Passion for a cause; 2. the charity’s ability to connect them with the mission and show the positive results of donor investments; 3. when and how they are asked, and by whom; and 4. how they are stewarded. They don’t give just because you want them to, or because your organization needs funds.
Donors want to feel like they are investing in something that is good for the community – and in an organization that has sound business practices. They don’t want fundraisers fighting against each other to “get” the donor’s dollars. They don’t want sniping and back-stabbing. And they don’t want to feel like a piece of meat in the lion’s enclosure at feeding time at the zoo. And what they really don’t want? Redundant services that arise because nonprofits don’t want to work together.
United Way, The Patterson Foundation, local community foundations, and numerous other grantors have all been vocal about the need for nonprofits to collaborate and create synergistic relationships. The time has long passed for a nonprofit to start a new program, one that is already being delivered by another agency, just because they have the opportunity to secure funding to do it. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
What better way to steward a donor than to be in tune with the community around us, so that we can introduce that donor to others who could also help them feel fulfilled? This can be illustrated by an idea Covey called a Public Victory. “Public Victory does not mean victory over other people. It means success in effective interaction that brings mutually beneficial results to everyone involved. Public Victory means working together, communicating together, making things happen together that even the same people couldn’t make happen by working independently.”
Whether we’re talking about fundraising strategy, sharing knowledge of regulatory changes, announcing event dates so we don’t compete with each other for attendees, or just discussing our programs so the community knows what resources are available, The Lunch Bunch, and other collaborations like it, are working examples of a Public Victory. It does not matter if your nonprofit operates in Florida, New York, or New Zealand, you can begin forging such mutually-beneficial relationships too.
When we work together instead of against each other, the donors win, the nonprofits win, the people we serve win, and our communities are better places for the effort. That sounds pretty good to me.
Tracy Vanderneck, MSM, CFRE
Covey, S. R. (2004). Habit Four Think Win/Win. In The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic (pp. 219-220). New York, NY: Free Press.