As a nonprofit founder or Executive Director, you have to keep hold of your vision. Your donors and supporters do not know what’s best, you do.
Counterintuitive to most fundraising methods, you don’t want to abide by the usual strategy that says, “The customer is always right.” Instead, start with this in mind: They (your financial supporters!) don’t know what they’re looking for until you give it to them. Or, as Steve Jobs puts it, “The customer is not right, I am.”
Steve knew his ideas were beyond what people could imagine. He could envision how his products, his ideas, and his concepts would not only bring in profit, but change how we communicate.
Protect the vision & don’t cave
Part of the Executive Director’s role is to protect the vision. Everyone’s going to have an opinion about your nonprofit– the Board, your community, your closest friends, business partners and even your family. Death by committee and listening to everything your Board tells you to do will kill how you get donations.
The one with the initial vision (whether that is you or one of your co-workers) is responsible for protecting that vision. This means you can’t allow everyone’s opinions to compromise the core of the vision that you had from the outset. If you find yourself grieving over what your nonprofit has become revisit the vision and find where it is “off” from the original idea.
Preserve the core of your vision
The founder is the only one who knows the vision well enough to preserve it. As I’ve said in a previous post, passion is what you’re willing to endure for what you believe in, or others might call it conviction.
Decide to be great at only a few things, and as Good to Great (Jim Collins, 2001) puts it: “protect the hedgehog”. (Maybe I’ll write a post later on the concepts from this book – but until then, check out the diagnostic tool in the hyperlink). This can help fine-tune your vision so you don’t wiggle on your vision to get funds.
Own your vision with conviction
In other words, don’t spread yourself too thin. Shave away all the services and ideas that your agency does not purport to do. And beyond that, don’t commit to providing a service that is outside what you set out to be great at just to receive the funding you need.
This takes conviction to know the whats and whys of your nonprofit, which can often lead to saying “no” to a lot of good financial offers or ideas. Conviction will be apparent in your fundraising strategies the more you weigh the pros and cons of adding to your vision and taking away from it.
Improve your vision
There’s power in being laser focused on your message and not diluting it with a whole bunch of things you learn along the way, but there are always ways to make your vision better. As a director, try not to be hypersensitive to others’ input and ideas and instead, embrace ideas as potential ways to enhance the vision.
One way is to invest in internal research to monitor and watch the current engagement level so that you know what you’re up against as you fundraise.
Think outside the box. Try new things and expand your knowledge across other fields and don’t be afraid to reinvent if it’s that time. You can reinvent your nonprofit without compromising the core, and your fundraising strategy will reflect the improvements you’ve made.
Write out your vision
All of this is irrelevant if you’re not clear on what the vision is! The director should have the clearest idea of the vision. Write out your vision, make sure it’s very clear to you because you will meet people along the way who may want to financially support you on their terms, but if it’s clear to you – you will know the difference between ‘green lights’ and when to proceed with caution.
You’re a visionary. Don’t be bashful as you protect your vision even though it could mean saying ‘no’ to lots of good funding streams.
Reevaluate your fundraising strategy and make sure it aligns with your vision. Get started now!