“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
—George Harrison, “Any Road,” paraphrasing Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Always, always, always begin with a plan. Hopefully, you already know this. Throwing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks certainly keeps you busy, yet it can be incredibly time-consuming and ultimately unfruitful. Just because we’re in the midst of an emergency, there’s no good excuse for throwing good, learned experience out the door, let alone common sense. Even Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat knew that without a clearly articulated goal and objectives, it’s difficult to be sure you’re crafting the best strategy to get you where you need to go.
‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
Two ways to look at planning
When I think about planning I like to use metaphors so folks can envision the process. Because any strategy in which you engage should be part of an integrated, progressive methodology, not a one-shot stab in the dark. Pick the metaphor that most appeals to you.
1. The roadmap
What is your destination, and is the direction you’re headed in likely to get you there? If you’re not asking yourself this question, you may be taking a very long walk to nowhere. Sadly, I’m seeing a lot of nonprofit communications appearing to have no roadmap whatsoever. They’re all over the place, and sadly lacking in clarity. Many will have more than one link or action button to click, leaving readers confused as to what the organization most wants them to do. If every option, or multiple options, look good, how does the supporter choose? Often, they don’t. This is called analysis paralysis (based on a famous study of grocery shoppers faced with too many choices of jams to purchase; they ended up buying none).
Begin with the WHY. If you’re planning a vacation it’s hard to pick a destination until you define for yourself why you’re going on vacation. Is it to totally relax, veg out, and read a bunch of books? Then maybe a beach, forest, or other nature journey makes sense. Is it to shop, dance, indulge in entertainment, and hang out in cafes? Then perhaps an urban excursion fits the bill. There’s no one right choice. You just can’t skip the step of making this choice. Everything else—who, what, when, where, and how—flows from the “why.”
What happens when you don’t clarify your purpose? I recently received an email from an arts organization announcing a virtual play reading. That’s lovely, but … why were they doing this? Presumably they wanted to stay connected to their supporters, continue to offer them value in return for their support, and hopefully encourage them to make an additional gift to help them make up some of the earned income they were forgoing now that they could no longer sell tickets. Yet … there was no mention of (1) how grateful they were to supporters and their desire to offer them this gift as a thank-you for their steadfast support; (2) the fact they could no longer perform live; (3) how the inability to offer live performances was affecting artists; (4) how the inability to sell tickets was causing a desperate, specific funding shortfall; and (5) that emergency donations were needed to keep the organization on its feet. Okay, to be fair, they did ask for donations, but only at the bottom of a very long email (I had to scroll down four times until I got to it).
2. The work of art
Paint the picture you need to paint right now, with clarity and vision. I’ve thought about the development profession as art in this way since I first got into the business in 1981. Prior to that time, I’d never heard the term development. I had to define it for myself, so took to using the metaphor of developing a photograph. The process is about collecting the right tools and materials, selecting the most compelling subject, using the best lighting, angle and design, and then creating the most compelling image possible. A “work of art” your donors will want to jump into and become a part of.
Invite donors to be your co-creators! Make it easy for them to insert themselves squarely inside this work of art. Your mission is your creation; something you and your donors make possible together. When you don’t invite donors in, especially during a crisis, they feel like mere observers. Outsiders. Side-liners. Donors want to be included, and counted on, as members of your family (or at least your art-making collaborative).
Implementing your plan
Stay tuned for part 2 of this article, in which we'll explore specific action tips to develop and execute your four-step coronavirus nonprofit fundraising plan.