By Dr. Schatzle
About the author: Matt Schatzle is not a doctor, nor does he play one on TV, and although his use of cultural references intimates a man of advanced education, he has instead earned his self-awarded certification in the School of Professional Experience. His byline is Dr. Schatzle. but prefers to go by Matt; however, if it makes you feel better, you can call him doctor.
How you can circumvent the death spiral.
Association Flatline: Membership is declining, as are dues and association budgets; the publication is loved and hated and losing money and advertisers are losing interest; the conference and meetings registration and sponsorships are shrinking, programs are bloated and off mission, the membership composition looks more like your grandfather than your grandson–overall prognosis is not good. Once you admit to yourself you have a chronic problem, you can get started on the treatment.
The following is our 7-step ICU (Intensive Change Undertaking) treatment regimen.
- Follow the Possible Money.
In decades of experience successfully reviving, guiding and driving non-profits and associations forward, we have seen some interesting and common threads from staff and board members. Let’s just disabuse ourselves of the first delusion right away: the Forbes list of the top 100 wealthiest people is not a real prospect list for your organization. If a staff member or a board member suggests you call Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg for a donation, it is time for an orientation and may be time to find a new staff or board member. Your next best donor is your last donor.
Speaking of money, remove the rose-colored glasses and take a hard look at your publications—better yet, get a pro to help you. If you are losing money in your publications, significant amounts of money, and you almost certainly are, strap your courage to the sticking post and make the courageous cultural change. Audit the efficiency—printing and production; audit the efficacy—readership and impact. And for the love of all things holy, do not allow a magazine to be the albatross around your organizational neck.
- You know better.
Just because a donor prospect has enjoyed his or her massive accumulation of wealth does not equal their massive accumulation of understanding of your issues. You are the expert. Talk to your major donors like regular people. Major donors operate on information and action, they want to see instant impact, and respond to confidence. You can’t afford to be intimidated. Own the meeting.
- Give or Get Off.
Your board should be donating 50% of your annual operating needs. Not your total budget, but 50% of the basic salaries and light bills. And all board members should be aggressive net promoters of your cause and mission. Board members should each have their own fundraising goal, and they should own it as a group and individually. Don’t solicit Board members for an annual gift – you have enough to do without having to babysit your own board, who are more responsible than anyone for the financial health of the organization.
Wealthy people are generally friends with other wealthy people. If a board member does not have the capacity to give a significant gift to the organization, neither do his or her friends. Additionally, unless you are selling skin products or multilevel marketing schemes, this kind of ask is a network-killing approach.
(Dr.’s Note: You can test this theory yourself by soliciting all your friends for one year. You may be very lonely in 12 months.)
- Abandon Alchemy
Some people are “hard-wired” to give, others are not. You cannot change a person’s chemistry. Ensure you are cultivating someone who is already charitable and donating – it is hard enough convincing someone to make their first gift to your organization, never mind their first gift. Do the wealth screening, do the predictive modeling, make your approach as scientific as possible.
Let other organization’s fundraisers explain to them about the sad fate of their immortal soul if they don’t contribute, or the possible life altering joy of giving if they do. Find the folks who already know about the joy, and deeply fear the fate.
(Dr.’s Note: The wealth screening and predictive modeling will cost you money, but they will pay for themselves if used properly and if your value proposition is well designed and articulated. If this is not true, and your story is not clear and compelling, there are 7 other steps we should discuss.)
- Size Matters.
Serving on a Board of Trustees, or Governors is an important privilege and a personal responsibility. An easy guideline for expected gift size from each Board member: the gift to your association or cause should match their other highest philanthropic gift. If a Board member is giving $100k to his or her college or church, and they serve on your Board, you should expect a similar size of gift for your organization.
- Engagement begins at home.
You can’t completely outsource development; your staff must be engaged.
A prospect or donor of any size is looking to be convinced. They need to hear that out of all the organizations who are operating in your space that your team is the dynamic, passionate and engaged thought leader. And that you are addressing the issue in the right way and can have the most impact. Your programs will lead, your people will lead, your ideas will lead, and your impact will lead to greater giving. For major gifts you must demonstrate a desire to do “big, hairy, audacious” things and to do them right away. Just wanting to have a “bigger budget” is not a case for support.
- Steady diet and exercise.
Once you have completed all 6 steps and your association has been revived and zapped back into financial health by experts in institutional advancement—like The Zodiac Group—the organizational and volunteer leadership and staff must be provided incentive to continue to challenge the new status quo. Sometimes that means do more, most times it means do less, but to choose and do what you do better. Always seek new directions, new solutions, new programs, revisit everything routinely. Identify a line item in the budget for 10-15% to be focused on investing in big, truly innovative ideas (BTIs). Then identify 50% of all future campaign or major gifts to be used to fund the BTIs that show efficacy.
(Dr.’s Note: An endowment campaign to endow your current operations is not a BTI and may be the worst idea ever. Do not try this at home, or work. Donors have no interest in euthanizing their money.)
By Grabthar’s Hammer, an operational endowment is a wonderful fantasy, but we live in the real world, and in this world, like Doctor Lazarus, I am not a medical doctor, but this 7-point prescription can help you bring your organization back to life.
Matt Schatzle is the Principal for Institutional Advancement for The Zodiac Group. Matt and his partners are committed to building financially healthier futures for associations and non-profits. Matt is a USNA graduate and has been building money making and culture changing campaigns for clients and organizations for more than 20 years.
You can reach Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
See more at www.thezodiacgroup.com.