Many years ago when I was just a colt in the nonprofit world I sat on the board of a local museum. The museum was very popular and we really never had any problem raising money when we needed it. At the time the museum served as the art, natural science and history museum in our city.
One spring we realized that we had designed a full slate of fundraising opportunities for the year. At the board meeting we discussed our plethora of forthcoming fundraisers, both our Annual Campaign and our Capital Campaign we were in the process of launching, and various special exhibits needed funding. The calendar was packed and our board was excited at the opportunity to expand our donor base and increase our visibility throughout our entire region through our vigorous campaigns.
Committees were formed with capable chairmen for each campaign and fundraising event. Those of us who were good at fundraising were asked to help by becoming a member of a group or groups and assigned different donors to approach for donations. I was asked to approach a couple of major donors for the Annual Fund, one or two for the capital campaign and also asked to Co-Chair our annual fundraiser that took place in the fall.
Being Co-Chair meant that I was in charge of both the Silent and Live Auction that brought in huge revenues for our museum. I appointed a committee that went out into the community and asked for small and large items to sell at the Auction. I selected a creative and hard-working committee and immediately started putting together fantasy weekends with airfare to different areas including New York, Puerto Vallarta and Paris, days of pampering in and around our city, special hunts all over Texas, fabulous antique cars, dinners catered for 100, fine hunting dogs, fabulous clothing, you name it…we asked for it! The projected revenues were huge and would definitely be a help to the annual budget. We were determined to set an all time record for the Auctions.
Woops! We Goofed
As we worked on procuring our items, we began to realize that we were crossing the boundaries and approaching people who had already been called upon by several of the other committees for funds for different purposes. Several people we approached had been solicited by both members from the Capital Campaign and the Annual Campaign, only to then be approached by us for underwriting for the gala as well. Embarrassed to say the least, we were creating an angry audience and a big mess.
Crisis Management Leads to Strategic Plan
The board appointed a chairman whose primary responsibility would be to organize and establish an organized fundraising committee that would be an umbrella over all fundraising activities. The Development staff was to spearhead this group and do the necessary record keeping. Among the people who were asked to serve on this committee were the Chairmen of each effort whether a campaign, an exhibit, or an event. Each person was not only responsible for their event but each was strategically involved in creating the lists of who to contact for what. No overlapping was to occur with this method because cross-referencing was going into effect.
Donors were sent apology letters or called to explain how things had gotten out of hand and that we would be more thoughtful in the future of their time and commitment. It was so nice to see how accepting and forgiving they were when we just explained that we were just enthusiastic about our museum! By the time the year ended, many of them not only gave to one project, but decided to participate in several.
A wealthy patron of the museum who owned a large beverage company was chosen as a good prospect for a large pledge to the Capital Campaign and therefore was not approached by the gala committee to underwrite the liquor. Incredibly, they stepped forward and offered to donate the wine without being asked! When we forced ourselves to go through the exercises of who was more appropriate to approach for each project, we found that we were becoming more creative with our contact lists and we were including more potential targets from a wider area of our region.
We got each project put to bed, with record revenues, a new sense of accomplishment, and a larger patron list than ever before. The crisis we faced actually caused us to make changes that were paramount to positive growth for us. We weathered the storm and made many new friends in our community. And ultimately we got stronger.