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If your story isn’t real, how can the funds you raise make a difference?
Success is what nonprofits are supposed to project. Increased impact. New audiences, more people served, policies changed… Everything is rosy. But what if it isn’t? What if our “successes” blind us to what isn’t working? We might tell a good story, but is it real?
These are hard questions. It’s important to communicate positive impact. But what about the challenges that are difficult to talk about. “Everyone wants to back a winner” is a cliché that can get in the way of both nonprofits and donors.
Here’s the truth: organizations and institutions can face great challenges and still be worthy of investment. It’s not either or. In fact investment might be most needed during times of greatest challenge. Stable funding can support an organization as it repositions itself, implements new technology, changes its staffing configuration, or responds to a crisis.
At the same time there is a demand by donors to see results for their investment. With limited resources people – and foundations – want to know their gifts are being used wisely.
Here’s what we know: sometimes supporting organizational change is the most important investment a donor can make. A recent luncheon hosted by Dr. Tracy Hall, the president of Southwest Tennessee Community College, is an example of transparent change.
Dr. Hall brought together stakeholders, students, and business people for lunch and short presentation on how she is guiding the college through a change process. Her goal: to redesign, reinvent, and reset the student experience. Southwest is to become a student focused culture: “it’s not about how we teach, it’s about how students learn.” She made it clear the college is about change: “this is not another initiative. This is not about tinkering around the edges. This is not another death-by-committee project. This is about fundamentally changing how we do business. It’s about ensuring students and stakeholders have a voice instead of being invited to meetings.”
But she’s not going it alone. At the luncheon President Hall introduced leaders from Achieving the Dream, an education reform network of more than 200 community colleges across the country focused on increasing student success for the nations’ underserved student populations. ATD has a proven methodology for changing students’ futures. With guidance from ATD Southwest will begin a proven change process that benefits students.
This focus on change doesn’t mean students aren’t already successful. They are. Students continue to graduate and attain personal success. But Dr. Hall won’t let the successes obscure the reality that not enough students are securing the education and skills they seek. She is not afraid to tell the truth: “We know we’re doing things wrong.” She is open about the status of the college. More importantly she shared details about the road forward, inviting stakeholders to become part of the solution.
Now that’s a real story.
Think about this as you approach donors: Is your organization telling a real story and inviting donors to become part of the change? Copyright 2016 – Mel and Pearl Shaw
Mel and Pearl Shaw are authors of the new book FUNdraising Good Times Classics Vol. 1 now available on Amazon.com. For help growing your fundraising visit www.saadandshaw.com or call (901) 522-8727.