The biggest detriment to fundraising is not a small budget; it is…

… small ideas; small vision; small passion; small commitment; small dreams; and small thinking.

About 20 years ago, a university president told me that no development leader is satisfied with their budgets, and then he laughed. It wasn’t a pleasant laugh. Had I not had a family to support, I could have said, “And I’ve never met a university president satisfied with his office’s budget either.”

Over the years, I learned that, while budgets do matter, it is not a small budget that is the most crippling impediment for a development operation. I say this, having never led a university advancement operation that was nearly sufficiently funded or supported by any measure or algorithm you choose. I was encouraged to attend a workshop titled “Leading Without Authority.” I had a lot of practice swimming upstream to the current of administrative thinking. But, I raised millions and millions of dollars. Budgets may help make a huge impact by sheer force and organizational weight, but success is not determined by budget size. I always had to develop creative solutions that enabled areas of “bigness” to develop and connect to donors and their big ideas, vision, passion, commitment, dreams and thinking.

When interviewing for a university advancement leadership job, I asked a dean what his hopes were for me and my office if I were to get the job. He said, “About $10,000 a year in discretionary funds for my college.” I replied, “You don’t need me. You need postage stamps.” A few years later, his college received a million-dollar anonymous gift. There is no room for smallness.

Small- to mid-sized nonprofits don’t have the advantage of an obviously ready pool of potential donors (like alumni), or revenue streams with which to support fundraising programs (like student fees, state funds, tuition, or contributions). They need to be really creative. It is in the focus of being small that bigness happens. And fundraising success.

Think big. Think as big as your organization is, and then bigger. Not just in your plans and dreams, but in how you integrate all programs, processes and plans to reinforce fundraising success. Think holistically. Think “systems” (“a group of related parts that move or work together.”—Merriam-Webster). Think of complementary actions. Now, you are finding the magic.

Every phone call, email, greeting by the receptionist; every hire, performance evaluation, promotion or transfer; every solicitation letter, proposal or thank you letter; every board appointment, committee meeting and plan; every media release, post, tweet or web page; every thing … everything … can, and should, reinforce your nonprofit’s fundraising efforts that have been vaccinated against smallness.

It’s almost 2016, a new year that can provide you a new way of looking at things. See differently; change perspectives; grow authentically. It will be a challenging year, more the reason to abolish smallness before worrying about small budgets.




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