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Sentimental Miscalculations In Fundraising Are Costly

 

With only minutes to spare until our scheduled appointment, our Executive Director and I were trying to cross the street in rush hour traffic. Hauling oversized photos of smiling program participants. Plus a signature plant grown in their social enterprise. Props to drive home a persuasive point with the foundation's committee reviewing our proposal: their support for the capital improvement request will transform lives.

 

We had submitted a calculated request. Written with warm, expressive language. Emphasizing how the new venture would employ, engage and empower individuals served by our nonprofit. We went in this direction based on our previous interaction with the foundation's director.

 

She happened to be a fan of the mission, volunteered occasionally, and shopped often in the enterprise store. But she was most enamored by the annual holiday play performed by our program participants. A highlight of her year, as she would say. Struck by the theme of the most recent performance, she followed up by sending us a small gift with an inscription. Encouraging us to believe. In the miraculous.

 

All the more that our written proposal in review be further embellished with the oversized photos of smiling program participants. And one of their signature plants.

 

Slightly winded, we entered the conference room just in time for our scheduled appointment. Noticing the foundation's committee members were sitting behind a table, I carefully propped up the oversized photos against the wall they were facing. Our Executive Director placed the signature plant in the center of the table. With many other nonprofits making presentations that afternoon, we were allocated only seven minutes to give an overview of our written request. To be followed by seven minutes of answering questions from the committee. Leaving one minute to wrap things up.

 

Or so we thought.

 

While the foundation director's emotional bond with our mission was a given, we soon discovered her committee was made up of corporate accountants, auditors and attorneys. A group of souls who had little or no interest in sentimental props, much less the warm, expressive language written in our calculated request. Instead, they had a fiduciary duty and obligation to confirm the numbers, metrics and bottom line of proposals under their review.

 

  • What is the anticipated scope and scale of the future capital improvement?

  • Can you share statistics proving the efficacy of your pro forma budget?

  • How do you plan to quantify financial return on a possible philanthropic investment?

 

Unfortunately, these questions caught us by surprise. Then even more detailed questions only our departmental managers planning the capital improvement could have answered. Flustered, we tried our best to answer the committee.

 

The scheduled 15 minute appointment dragged on for 45 minutes. When it ended we were strained and spent. Looking for the nearest exit, I floundered to retrieve the oversized photos. We left the signature plant on the table. As the foundation's director got up to escort us out of the room, she whispered in a slightly scolding tone, "I'm so disappointed in your presentation. Didn't you know the committee would ask these types of questions?" We left humiliated by our sentimental miscalculation. Hauling those oversized photos back with us. Trying, once again, to cross the street in rush hour traffic.

 

The next morning we called the foundation's director and apologized. We admitted that her committee deserved to read and hear an exemplary request. With exact numbers, metrics and bottom line. Prepared by experts on our nonprofit team. Not by members of executive management.

 

She listened.

 

That afternoon she called us back. "You weren't the only nonprofit to flunk the committee's review. But you are one of a few to call us and apologize for not being prepared. The committee is giving you a second chance to resubmit the request." We hung up the phone and immediately lateraled the second chance to our exemplary, exact and expert departmental managers. Grateful for the opportunity extended. Confident that the updated request would now meet the committee's expectation. But doubting, even with our mea culpa and the mercy shown, that we had a competitive chance.

 

Months passed, with no response from the committee. Then we spotted the foundation's director at the annual holiday play performed by our program participants. The highlight of her year. Afterwards we exchanged greetings. "I wish the whole episode with your request had never happened," she sighed. "On the other hand, I'm glad it did. Because our committee decided last night to award your nonprofit the largest grant in its grant-making history. Congratulations!"

 

A calculated decision rectifying a sentimental miscalculation. The highlight of our year. We believed. In the miraculous.

 

 

 

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