In an article published this week in the Fort Worth Report, reporter Jacob Sanchez details the long, growing divide between Tarrant County College and its philanthropic arm, Tarrant County College Foundation.
Central to this article is an independent development/operations audit performed by nonprofit consultants Project Partners in 2020. This report was commissioned after Tarrant County College communicated the need for the Foundation to raise more than $20 million – or ten times more than it had previously raised in a two year period.
After reading both the Fort Worth Report article and the Project Partners report, I think there are several sector-typical themes that present themselves:
- Mandated Fundraising Goals – Over my career, I have heard many, many fundraisers complain about dictated fundraising goals. Several scenarios are repeated often:
- Balancing the Budget on the Back of Development: Often the organization leadership needs to balance the budget and does so by adding to the fundraising revenue goals. I’ve seen frustrated development leads have to repeatedly defend themselves and their teams when unattainable goals aren’t met.
- Unrealistic Expectations: Organizational leaders often don’t understand that donors are not an ATM. The process of attracting values-aligned donors and developing mutually beneficial philanthropic relationships takes time, consistency and engagement from all levels of the organization.
- Do More with the Same – Contrary to popular thinking, donations just don’t come in on their own. It’s a strong competitive landscape with more charities than ever vying for the hearts and wallets of donors. Your story must be told, must be seen and must generate empathy and action. THIS IS FUNDRAISING. Fundraising is a revenue-generation strategy made up of smaller revenue-generation strategies (some with greater return potential than others). The more you invest, the more revenue you will see. There are some good thoughts on this in the Hands-On Fundraising Blog.
- No Feasibility Study: It is dangerous not to test the philanthropic waters with a professional feasibility study prior to initiating a large fundraising campaign or significantly increasing annual revenue goals. Just because your organization thinks it’s a great project, there are other factors that can affect your success,, including timing, donor interest, and charitable giving . A feasibility study is worth every dime, every time – if you take the advice given.
- Fundraising Staff Turnover – The well-documented development staff revolving door is not new news, and it only grows more costly every year. Established factors affecting fundraising turnover include pay and benefits, but emphasize the importance to fundraisers of working in an environment of attainable expectations, clear priorities, resource support, and leadership engagement. My last article, Nonprofit Talent Deficit, explored additional challenges to staff retention brought on by the pandemic. Add in a reputation for unrest, short-tenures and lack of respect for professional fundraising and you have an even bigger hill to climb.
Those are just a few of my takeaways…what were yours?
Tarrant County College clearly has some work to do. For the sake of their mission, I hope they get it done!