If You Got a Million Dollar Donation…

A Million Dollars

Recently I found a fascinating article online I had missed about a community foundation in Elkhart, Indiana, that received a very lucrative surprise. A Hollywood producer and native son who died suddenly had included the foundation in his will, multiplying the organization’s modest assets overnight with $125 million.

This nonprofit version of winning the lottery brings to mind trends in fundraising that I’ve been watching – and observations of organizational prioritizing and decision making that make me wonder how prepared many nonprofits are in real terms for this kind of bonanza.

Willing Donors to Remember You

Seeking donor bequests is a fundraising approach on the rise. Of course, it’s always been done, but from my perch in the field, more organizations are recognizing that donor generosity actually can continue for eternity. Where and how to begin? I cite my number-one fundraising mantra: the essential need to build strong relationships with donors. If there’s ever a time to embrace the concept of donors as partners, this is it. You can’t begin this kind of discussion without deeply established mutual respect and a shared vision for your organization and how it can serve, now and in the future.

Certainly unexpected windfalls do occur. In the Indiana story, the producer’s own mother was unaware of his intentions. Still, it’s a powerful reminder of the literal value of an organization’s reputation in a community. What supporters, volunteers, vendors and other folks have to say about how a nonprofit is run and how they are treated can be a boon or a bust. I’m not suggesting you have to handle everyone with kid gloves. More so, that reputation matters and working to be an efficient operation and good organizational citizen can pay off in multiple ways.

Thinking Clearly on Donations of All Sizes

But let’s be honest: it doesn’t matter how much an organization has to work with if it’s not clear on its purpose and priorities. If you don’t know where to put a hundred dollars to maximize its impact, how would you know where to put a million?

I’ve witnessed the fumbling and stumbling of organizations that can’t articulate what they’re about and what they have in mind to accomplish. That’s why I argue endlessly for creating a written case for support. It’s an exercise in clear thinking – explaining who you are, what you do, what you’ve done and what you want to do better or more of with donor support. It’s why a mission statement is essential, as is expressing your vision and values – and using them daily to guide decision making. Yes, funding matters, absolutely. So do good sense and solid planning. And if they’re not applied to the small gifts, the odds get fewer of attracting the big ones.

Looking for guidance on fundraising resources? Let’s talk. If you missed my dashboards on vision and values, email to request the links.