Why Is My Non-Profit Still Struggling Financially?

It is my strong belief, after conversations with hundreds of non-profit executive directors, board members, and development directors, that the number one secret fear among those groups is that the non-profit they are working with will never, ever become a thriving entity. That they are doomed to live hand-to-mouth, check-to-check forever, never fully accomplishing their mission.

I hear things like, “I’ve been doing this for 5 years and we’re still struggling. Will it ever stop?” and “I keep telling myself if we just get that one big gift agreement signed, we’ll never have to worry about money again… but of course, after it’s signed, we’re right back to worrying.”

Fear: The Number One Enemy of Thriving Non-Profits

On The Fundraising Authority, we talk a lot about the strategies successful non-profits use to go from struggling to thriving. Today, I want to talk about just one of those strategies… the strategy that I believe is the number one roadblock non-profits face when trying to move from “I’m not sure if we can afford this” to “Of course we can afford this! Our mission depends on it!” That strategy is a change of mindset from fear to mission-driven confidence.

Fear is the number one enemy of a prevailing non-profit, church, school, or other charity. No, not fear of being turned down for that big grant, or having a donor say no to that life-changing gift. Just the opposite, in fact. Most small and medium sized non-profits are secretly, deep-down and honest to goodness afraid that the foundation will say “yes” to that amazing seven-figure grant, or that the donor will say “yes” to making the largest donation in your organization’s history. Most non-profits are afraid of getting a big “yes!”

Getting that yes is frightening because it means you have to produce. Your organization likely would have to make some big claims and promises in order to get a gift of these proportions. You may have to promise that you will double the number of clients you serve, or triple your program capacity, or launch a major new initiative in a difficult environment. You’ve got to make big promises… and that’s a scary thing.

Because most non-profits are (consciously or subconsciously) afraid of getting a major “yes,” they use excuses for not going after life-changing amounts of money. They say things like, “Oh, we’ll never get that six-figure grant, so there’s no point in applying. Let’s go after that nice, doable, $5,000 grant instead.” Or, “She could give a $500,000 gift, but she was on our board over 10 years ago! That’s too long to still be on her radar. Let’s go after that nice, safe $1,000 annual donor instead.” Don’t sabotage your efforts this way!

Mission-Driven Confidence: A New Mindset for Your Non-Profit

Does your organization do good, important, vital work? If the answer is yes, and you know that the answer is yes, you have to trust that the donors, companies, and foundations you approach for support will know that the answer is yes as well. You have to trust in the strength of your non-profit’s mission. You need to believe that if you properly cultivate a prospect and introduce him or her to your mission, they too will see the value in what you do, and want to be involved in your work.

I call this “mission-driven confidence,” a confidence in your organization based on the goodness of your mission. It’s vital to anyone who wants to raise major gifts and grants.

Mission-driven confidence is important because it gives you the courage and stamina to approach donors for major gifts. It is important because it shines through your ask, and makes your prospects much more likely to give. And mission-driven confidence is important because it leads you to have a big vision about your non-profit.

If your mission matters, then you simply can’t have a small, narrow vision. Your organization’s vision has to be big enough to be worthy of the mission and work you are engaged in. You’ll need to think big… and this is attractive to donors, who will want to get caught up in your vision and in the important work that you do.


Photo Credit: Phoney Nickle