Should you avoid the elephant in the room…or address it? By Ashley Dooley

Fundraising is not always easy. Some causes more easily tug on donors’ or funders’ heartstrings more than others. I am sure you can picture the TV commercial with sad music and malnourished children urging you to donate just $2 per month to help feed them. As a mother, I feel physical empathy for mothers of infants who do not have enough formula, diapers, and clothes to care for their children. Causes like this produce a warm, fuzzy vibe that you just cannot say no to.

Not all organizations naturally evoke such strong emotions. In some cases, the emotions may be negative and that can make fundraising tricky. What if your cause (or organization) is the big elephant in the room blocking funders from seeing the impact you can/do have? Perhaps you are part of a national organization involved in a scandal, a school district that has recently failed accreditation, or a local nonprofit perceived to serve only wealthy people. Each of these situations can make it challenging to raise the money needed, because donors and funders may be blinded by the media or personal bias. How do you overcome that hurdle?

Regardless of what the elephant is, organizational leadership (or those trying to support/help them) have two options: 1) avoid even talking about the issue or 2) address the issue head-on. By avoiding the issue, you are hoping that the decision maker has not heard what the rest of your community has and what they are probably thinking (i.e., I’m not so sure I want to invest in that organization.). In the modern age of technology, not knowing has become increasingly unrealistic.

As an employee or contractor of an organization that has a giant, hairy, stinky elephant, you are intrinsically aware of the public perception based on social media, comments you hear from friends, the questions asked at the community event you recently attended, etc. I urge leadership to address the issue upfront. This is your chance to acknowledge the issue and, most importantly, state what your organization is doing about it. You get to share the facts to support your case and contribute to the narrative. In some cases, this may help discredit some rumors flying around and better inform the funders about your organization. This also helps show how transparent your organization is, which is a characteristic appealing to donors and funders.

In closing, perhaps more times than not we need to heed Robert Frost’s suggestion in The Road Not Taken and take “the one [road] less traveled by” because in his case, and in other organizations who have taken the path of addressing the issue head-on, “that has made all the difference.”

This blog post is aligned with the Grant Professional Certification Institute’s Competencies and Skills.

Competency #2: Knowledge of organizational development as it pertains to grant seeking

Skill 2.7: Identify effects of applicants’ organizational cultures, values, decision-making processes, and norms on the pursuit of grant opportunities

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