Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Once you get the Development ball rolling, you’ll discover three things:
1) Doing something different does indeed produce different results, although they may be way different from what you expected to happen. And, different doesn’t necessarily mean “better,” either. Different is just, well, different;
2) Once the decision to do something different is made, the decision must be constantly reinforced until some type of desired results are achieved, rather than reverting back to “the way we always did it.” That’s “reversion,” not “advancement;” and
3) Once a system is in place, simple adjustments can happen to ensure the system continues, and continues to develop.
A little over ten years ago, there was great concern over the financial resources of a parent booster organization I worked with. Even though the group was incorporated as a non-profit organization, the board could completely change from one year to the next, and it was the mission of the board to raise enough money for the year so that the organization it supported could achieve the vision for that year as provided by the Director. It was clear, however, that more and more fundraising ideas were met with more and more resistance or apathy…which was nothing compared to the resistance encountered when a new way of thinking was instituted.
We changed the way fundraising dollars were processed, and put financial restrictions on the amount of funds the director could spend without board approval. That led to a leadership transition, as well as finding ways to reach out to the community for support instead of just relying on current parents. Through new leadership and new partnerships with community members and organizations, a spirit of enthusiasm and achievement began to permeate the ad hoc group which studied the need for change. Eventually this enthusiasm spread to the membership, allowing the organization to take those first difficult steps toward building a firm financial foundation. It didn’t happen within a year…or two…or even three. It took about four years to get to the point where everyone was on board with the processes that were in place. Interestingly, since it was an organization based at a public high school, in four years, much of the parent population completely turned over. Those parents who were new to the organization in year five of the transition were not aware of any difficulties the organization experienced. They assumed that’s the way things always were.
In the six years that followed those first four, more goals were set to secure that firm financial foundation for the organization, even during trying economic times. How did it go? Here’s the good news: There are now individuals that support the organization with a four-figure check every year. When you consider that check is equivalent to a previous fundraiser that lasted for two months, the benefit is readily recognized. Here’s the bad news: The board reorganized several years ago, and rather than having a board position which provided oversight to development activities, they eliminated the position and changed it to an Assistant Treasurer position to allow for effective transition when board leadership changed. While the intent was good, more and more fundraisers have crept into mix over the past few years, and more effort is going into finding new fundraising activities rather than increasing development actions and engaging more people in the mission and vision of the organization. Even more bad news is that there was a person in the organization who had significant development experience at the University level, and could continue to guide the board and the organization to continue its Advancement efforts. Unfortunately, as just a committee chair, rather than having a seat at the board, her voice got lost amidst the other committees which coordinate the sales of candy, fruit, wreaths, popcorn and event chairpeople who celebrate fundraisers which generate $2,000 – even though they’ve been raising that amount for decades. Clearly there is no tracking of people who participated in these fundraisers in the past and approaching them with other meaningful ways of supporting the organization. They’d rather start every new fundraising venture with a blank order form instead of calling on those people that have supported the fundraiser the previous year.
A couple of years ago, the organization tried something new – an event at the beginning of December. It was patterned after an event that another organization has now held for the past 11 years to support the students in the organization, and it was held less than a month after that other organization’s most successful event in its then eight-year history! Was the event a success? It depends on one’s perspective. Did it meet the goal? No. Did it raise some money? Yes (at least it didn’t lose money for the organization). Did it engage and bring in new people from the community? No, since it was an event targeted to the parents of the organization. Therefore, the event wasn’t held the next year because it didn’t meet the goals that were outlined. Last year, everything was cancelled because of the pandemic, and this year, things were so different (there’s that word again) in terms of society, public health, leadership transitions and new board membership that what went on four years ago is, once again, completely off the organization’s radar. The learning: perhaps an event a couple of weeks before Christmas isn’t the best time of the year when there are other other holiday celebrations on the calendars of people in the community.
Many fundraising/non-profit organizations reported that 2011 was an awful year because of the economy, and 2012 saw some improvement – but the point is that people were still giving. 2013 showed philanthropic difficulties too, but organizations were still moving forward, and the trend continued through 2014 as well as through 2015 and 2016. In difficult economic times, most people “pull back,” and rather than give to large organizations that have (or at least are thought to have ) a large infrastructure, they focus on the things that are REALLY important to them. For many folks, that means organizations that are close to home and close to their heart. Sometimes, they stop helping organizations and provide assistance to their family members and their friends. They also stop buying those fundraiser things that aren’t really necessary, like popcorn, cookie dough and pizza kits. Realizing this, it’s humbling to know that, even in trying economic times, successful events and a positive spirit in the organization described in this article have encouraged others to place the positive achievements of children in that “REALLY important” category. When the focus is on the students who benefit from the programs, there is support; when the focus is on the organization which needs to have a fundraising event to meet their budget, even though that organization supports the activities of students, the support is very difficult to get.
Development can be likened to churning milk into butter. You have to keep the processes going until one day, a piece of butter floats to the top. Once that happens, more butter will be created, as long as you keep churning the milk. If you stop churning once that first lump of butter surfaces, you won’t have a lot of butter. Similarly, when that first kernel of popcorn pops, it means the oil is finally hot enough to pop the rest of it. You don’t take it off the heat…but you must manage the heat well, lest the popcorn get burned.
Development requires constant reminding, inviting, thanking, and engaging (think of the acronym RITE, for, indeed, it is one) to continue to be successful. You’ll find that these 12 Development Development articles are simply repeated with some tweaking to help keep the message top of mind. Indeed, some folks do get tired of hearing about Development. Guess what? Every non-profit organization has members that tire of hearing about it. The thing to remember is that there are always people who haven’t heard about it, or have heard, but have not yet understood its importance. Further, everyone is at a different place in their life each year. The same message which might have been given last year and largely ignored by certain individuals could have a profound impact on them this year. It’s just like the readings of the Word we hear at worship. The readings don’t change…but the readings change us, simply because we’re hearing them when we’re at a different place in our journey.
As we’ll shortly transition to begin a new year with new challenges and even more unprecedented changes, it’s vital that the message of development is conveyed to the new parents of your school’s community, as well as to those whom you’ll be encouraging to come and see your school to determine if it’s the educational environment of choice for their children. The message must then be carried forth and not forgotten by current parents, alumni and alumni parents to their circles of friends and their social networks.
May your holydays (as indeed they are holy days) season be a time of joy and blessing for you and yours!
© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2010-2021