Who owns income projections

Who owns the income projections for your organization?

“We just make up the income projections to match the expense projections.  All non profits do it that way.”

“When I was hired as the first fundraiser, they told me that my goal was to raise $200,000 in my first year.  But then when I reached that target, I was told that the REAL gap between income and expenses was $500,000.”

These are actual quotes.  From smart people, at competent organizations.  But each indicate a blind spot, and in my experience, this blind spot is one of the most crushing frustrations of development officers.

It’s a simple truth, but one that evades many: income projections should be based on capacity, not need.

My friend Steve Haddad, a top-notch fundraising consultant in Baltimore, describes the ideal scenario.  The fundraiser figures out what is possible, based on a number of factors (the likelihood of major donors and foundations to increase their gifts incrementally or dramatically, the track record of event and mailings, and the odds of miraculous intervention.)  The head of finance figures out what the organization needs to accomplish its mission.  The two meet, slide their opening bids across the table, and then discuss how to bridge the difference.

The most significant thing about this drama is that the two characters are meeting as equals.  Respectfully.  No one is bandishing ultimatums.

Fundraisers are often described as having “responsibility without authority.”  In other words, they have to accomplish things that are out of their control.  Top-down or arbitrary income targets epitomize that trap.  Fundraisers, say it with me – “I am not going to take it any more!  I own the income projections!”

Fearless Fund raising

Louis Braille’s example for fund raisers

On January 4th, 1809, Louis Braille was born in a small town near Paris.  At the age of 3, he was blinded in one eye by a chisel in his father’s shop.  An infection set in and spread to the other eye.  He was an insatiable learner, and, by the age of 15, he developed the system of raised dots that is still used by blind people around the world.  When he was 20, he published a treatise on representation of music by the use of raised dots.

Louis Braille Many fund raisers, when they first pick up the phone to call a donor, feel like they are suddenly blind.  All of the metrics that make it possible to measure the success of a fund raising event or an appeal letter are useless.  The reference materials that make it possible to research a foundation don’t exist for individual donors.  So how can you feel your way through that first phone call, that first visit, that first solicitation?

  • First, always lean on gratitude.  It’s the oil that lubricates the machinery of philanthropy.
  • Second, ask permission to ask questions.  Most people like to talk about themselves.  If you are uncomfortable inquiring about the personal or family life of one of your donors, start with “Can I ask you a question about…?”
  • Third, remember that you as a solicitor (whether you are a board member, executive director, or professional fund raiser) are on the same team as the donor.  You are both committed to the same cause.  Always include the donor when you say “us” about the organization.

Why people give is a great mystery that we are privileged to be part of.  If you learn to relish it, you will be able to learn about your donors with the same gusto that young Louis Braille learned about the world around him.