Fundraising

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Individual vs. Institutional Fundraising: the great divide – or not?

Individuals make funding decisions that correspond with deeply-held values, based on who asks them. Subject, of course, to their capacity to give and other pulls on their resources. Whether they base their decision more on linkage (to the asker) or interest (in the cause) is completely case-specific, although special events contributions tend to be more relationship-based and major donor gifts more cause-related, as a general rule of thumb.

While institutional funding sources weigh these three factors as well, the corporate sector is the closest to mimicking individual donors in terms of their “why.” 

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Someone from the media’s on the phone? The executive director, usually the public face of the organization, speaks with the reporter and shares the ensuing article with board members, supporters, and the like. End of story.

But not always.

When the issue is controversial, behind the executive director must be the board. And it’s the job of the executive director to know when to reach out to the board to think through, as a group, what the organization’s response should be.

The CEO does not stand alone.

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Every time I indicate my agreement with software terms and conditions by checking the box without bothering to read the small print, I'm reminded of how little placing a signature on a document really means in indicating comprehension and agreement. I want the software so I sign, whether I truly agree, in my heart of hearts, or not.

The same, sadly, is true of board agreements, commitment sheets, and other governance documents. If the only choice is to sign or be ostracized, someone will sign without giving a second thought.

And many board members do.

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Janet’s been a reading tutor in Sunrise Community Center’s Book Buddies program for a few years now. She recently did a terrific job organizing a fundraiser to raise some extra cash for the program. She makes her own donation to Book Buddies each year, and seems pretty reliable and involved.

Let’s ask her onto the Sunrise Community Center’s board!

Well, yes, but…

There’s a long journey from program volunteer to organizational board member, and Janet’s board orientation – and training through the whole first year – will need to help her to make that leap. 

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The auctioneer gave a beautiful, rousing speech about the nurturing children receive under the organization’s care. A parent offered a heartfelt thank you from the stage as they discussed their journey. And then the call for bids started – at $5,000 – with no takers.

The reason? No-one wants to be the first to stick their neck out and be exposed as the lone believer. Everyone is watching to see who’ll take the lead.

Which means that if a nonprofit hasn’t stacked the deck with a few bid-starters – they’ll be out of luck in a very embarrassing public display of “chicken.”

Not good for the cause, for the agency’s reputation, or for the kids. 

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