See Your Fund-raising Budget Clearly, Especially Now

Nonprofit fund-raising budgets benefit from new lenses.

If you want a lens that provides great clarity, detail, color and contrast, you will likely acquire one that has multiple elements.  Though hidden from the viewer, the elements make all the difference in the world.  So, too, should be your look at maximizing and making more efficient your fund-raising budget:  the many things not normally seen will provide clarity, detail, color and contrast.

Even though most everyone wants a larger budget and proclaims “You have to spend money to make money” (which is true to some extent), the first step in budget reviews vis a vis fundraising success is to look at efficiencies and possible cuts.  (For the purpose of this conversation, “fundraising” includes gifts, sponsorships and grants.)  If you can succeed there, you will absolutely flourish when conditions permit an increase in budget.  Don’t decrease your goals, change how you look at using your budget.  “See differently, change perspectives and grow authentically,” works for individuals in their lives, and organizations’ budgets, too.


Take a clear view of your goals, objectives and expectations before analyzing your fundraising budget.  Be very clear in understanding the overall goals as well as program-specific goals, e.g., annual fund, sponsorships, major gifts, etc.

Also, get a clear view of the conditions in which these goals are to be achieved, including economic conditions, community needs and/or urgencies, leadership, staffing, board and even political climate, to name a few.  Your budget decisions should allow you to tack to the winds or ride the wave, depending on whether you are addressing challenges or maximizing opportunities.

You can now better review your budget to maximize its effectiveness and efficiency, and to make cost-cutting decisions, if need be.


Every action and decision in your work should support and complement your cause, mission and vision.  Look at the details to see if your organization is doing so.

Consider staff (number, talents, experiences, etc.), programs, supplies, services, giveaways, promotional materials … everything.  Look at the details.  Closely.  Does everything support fund-raising success?  (Everything your organization does affects fundraising and vice versa … or it should.)

I often guided my teams’ focus with a simple statement:  “Why before how.”

Once you fully understand why something is done, a decision is made or an action is taken, you can determine with great specificity how they should be done.  This clarity alone could significantly affect your planning and budgeting decisions.


The world is not black and white. Very few decisions or options are; likewise, your organization’s success cannot, and should not, be measured only by red or black at the bottom of a column.  Now is the time to look at the full color gamut.  Is there a program or a team member that you expected to be bold and bright but is actually a subtle watercolor at best?  Is there an expenditure for which you expected a calm, blue return, but you are getting chaotic orange-yellow-red explosions?

I could paint color metaphors all day.  Look at the items in your budget lines for what they are and for what they should produce.  Sometimes bold expenditures are intended to produce calming results, e.g., investments in software or training that makes team members more successful and efficient, therefor happier and more productive.  Likewise, a simple innocuous investment can have bold, explosive effects.


In photography, contrast is the difference between the light and dark areas of a scene or image.  It also affects the perception of sharpness.  Using contrast as a concept will also help you make decisions leading to efficiency and effectiveness with programs, people and resources.

Contrast is a function of comparison. Compare different expenditures, noting the difference between them and their effectiveness to help make decisions.  Making your comparisons based on rate of return can be short sighted, so be careful not expect return too soon.  Compare the “light” expenses (the ones that are visible and stand out) with the “dark” expenses (those less visible).  Try different comparisons to be help improve the sharpness of your decisions when making cuts or changes for efficiency.



No one wants to cut fund-raising budgets, but at times it is necessary.  Current economic conditions may be one of those times for your organization.  Before you cut or re-allocate funds, use the elements of clarity, detail, color and contrast to see clearly how to make your organization effective, efficient and successful.

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