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More Good Advice for Nonprofits

January 06, 2009

(Carl Richardson is the owner, president, and chief bottle washer at Richardson Development. This post first appeared on our PND Talk message board, a vibrant online community for development professionals. You can e-mail Carl at carl@cvrdevelopment.com.)

Recently, I had the opportunity to offer a workshop on building a "fundraising board." While preparing the talk, I asked the sponsor if he wanted me to speak to the current economic environment and he said, "Someone might have a question or two about it. Yes." After I prepared my last slide, I realized that these statements were my best advice for any board, in any climate. They are not new or earth-shattering or pie-in-the-sky. They're simply true.

1. Be grateful for what you have. Things can, and often do, get worse; but for right now, you have what you have, and with that you can make a start.

2. Grow your mission. Many nonprofit organizations that were founded between 1929 and 1935 are still in existence. Focus your attention on growing your mission. If you focus on excellence, money will follow. If you focus on money, excellence never happens. As in the best of times, let your mission dictate management decisions.

3. "Dance with the ones who brung ya." Even as you explore all possible sources of revenue, pay special attention to your loyal donors. Be committed to maintaining old relationships while developing new ones. Have "friend-making" be a criteria for success this year. If loyal donors are forced to cut or reduce the size of their gifts, be gracious and genuinely grateful. When good times return, your donors will remember your integrity and flexibility during the dark days. Re-evaluate all gift goals and budgets accordingly.

4. Base organizational decisions on policy, not fear or personalities. Strong policies will protect your organization regardless of the state of the economy. Charismatic, strong-willed board members or CEOs do not always know their way out of the woods; often, they're just listening to the sound of their own voices.

5. Focus on planning your next three years. You need time to let the dust settle. Strategic planning will give you that time while keeping you busy with a task, planning, that is essential to moving forward. Be deliberate about your actions by planning them first. A caveat: Do not base your plans on what is; base them on what will be. Conceive how your organization might realistically grow and plan to realize that vision.

6. Actively hope. Know that things change. Hope always leads to action, action always causes change, and change either leads the way out or teaches us to take a new path.

7. Stop worrying. The act of worrying is a lot like teaching a pig to sing -- it wastes your time and annoys the pig. Focus on finding solutions rather than more ways to stress.

8. Take the next step. Leaders are people who can review options, make a decision, and, above all else, take action. Action always leads to another decision, which will lead to another action in turn. By putting one foot in front of the other, you can walk your organization out of the woods.

I'm curious whether any of these resonate with you. For me, they are concrete, tried-and-true approaches that must be cultivated every day. What do you think?

-- Carl Richardson

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Posted by Scott Rooks  |   January 08, 2009 at 06:15 PM


This is without a doubt a must see post for all those that doubt their existence in an economy in chaos.

I have said before in this new year that I plan on success because I believe in my ability to stay the course.

I still believe, as you do, in tried and true principles that have with stood the trials of decades. Which is why we pass those policy's down so others can benefit from both our success and our failure.

Thanks for a truly remarkable post!

Posted by Renee Westmoreland  |   January 08, 2009 at 10:26 PM

Hey Scott. Thanks for the comment -- and for being a regular reader of the blog. Wishing you the best in 2009!

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