No One Wants to Save a Sinking Ship

In Board Development, Fundraising, Start-ups, Strategic Planning by Geoff Burns

Every organization thinks that they have an important mission and that everyone should support their work. The truth is that not everyone will support your mission, and that is especially true if you are struggling. Furthermore, no one wants to spend their hard earned money supporting an organization that is dying. Asking potential donors to “save” this or that will not inspire them to get out their check books with very few exceptions.

When you want to solicit donations, you should be prepared to show what your organization is doing and how you plan to increase your impact with every gift received. If your organization is having troubles for any reason, and it looks like you may have to close your doors if the situation doesn’t change, don’t ask people to “save” you. Most people are not willing to give you funds if you are going to fail anyway. Chances are that you won’t find a single wealthy person to get you out of the predicament you are in.

Now, before you start arguing with me and saying, “didn’t you just right a book called Rescuing the Mission?Don’t you help organizations that are struggling?” Yes, yes. I did write the book and yes, I do consult with organizations which are struggling. But even though the results are positive, we don’t focus on “saving” the organization. If you want to turn your organization around or build support for your mission, you have to focus on what you have done, what you are doing, and what you are going to do with the funds you have to work with.

Organizations that are able to raise significant funds even when they are struggling to survive are those that focus on where they are going. If you want donors to trust that you are going to be efficient and responsible with their funds, you must be able to explain the reasons you are struggling and how you are going to overcome and improve the operation. Think of donors as investors in your mission. While they may support your cause, they need to know that you make good business decisions and can maximize the impact of every dollar.

Long histories of poor management and ineffective governance make for a very long and difficult road ahead, but not impassable. Take charge of the organization and don’t make excuses. In the meantime, keep a positive attitude even if you don’t know what is going to happen. Actions speak louder than words. Any lack of sincerity in your demeanor will cause flags to go up to potential donors. Saving an organization means treating the situation at hand as a difficult time. Failure to believe that your organization will get through the tough times will likely result in failure to get through the tough times.

To get a better understanding of this concept, you should pick up a copy of my book, Rescuing the Mission. It provides a wealth of knowledge about what you need to have to keep a mission alive and shows the true story of a non-profit organization in my home town that was able to adapt and overcome. The donors and investors didn’t “save” Geneva Hills, they supported the mission and understood the difficult time as a transition.

Stay positive. Make a plan and be prepared for many difficult days. You can keep your mission alive if you have a worthwhile and viable mission, beneficiaries of the products or services of your organization, and support from the community in which you work and serve. Finding help from a qualified consultant who has helped organizations transition through difficult times could also prove beneficial. You will need to make that decision for yourselves. Just remember that it sometimes takes money to make money. If your mission is worth keeping, do whatever it takes to make sure that it not only survives, but thrives in years to come!