Cynthia Adams

  Cynthia Adams


Whether you are a Board member or the Executive Director, part of your leadership job is to initiate candid discussions around the future of your organization. This topic demands a certain clarity of thinking. At some level, none of us want to have this discussion because it threatens the status quo. It reeks of potential change, perhaps even dramatic change, and that can be frightening.

However, engaging in this discussion will help you set bold long-term goals for your organization, and establish bold short-term objectives. Your leadership will then make intentional choices resulting in substantial and sustainable change. This type of innovative and challenging thinking will attract funders to your organization.

An article by Bill Gates (Trend, Pew Charitable Trust, June 2017) talks about being bold in your thinking:

“One of the most indelible examples of a world leader unleashing innovation from both public and private sectors came in 1961 when President John F. Kennedy spoke to the U.S. Congress and challenged the country to put a man on the moon within the decade…That speech didn’t just launch humankind on a successful journey to the moon. It also inspired America to build a satellite network that changed the way we communicate across the globe and produced new forms of weather mapping which made farmers far more productive.”

Part of Mr. Gates’ point was that the moonshot challenge required “a clear, measurable objective that captures the imagination of the nation and fundamentally changes how we view what’s possible.”

Your organization can use that sort of innovative thinking to set it apart from other groups asking funders to support their work. You want to make grantmakers sit up and take notice, and to think of you as a leader, not only for your organization, but in the field in which you work.

Don’t think you have to be a large, well-known nonprofit to do this! You might be a church providing meals for the poor, or a local organization building low-income homes for the needy. The objectives you set for your organization just need to push you to do something beyond your own pre-established boundaries.

Begin by taking a hard look at your mission statement. Then ask if there’s a way to actually accomplish your mission.

Let’s say your mission is this: The Foodbank is committed to relieving hunger through the acquisition and distribution of food to hungry people throughout the Valley.

Look at every phrase in this statement, such as committed to relieving hunger. That probably won’t change. Then look at the next phrase, through the acquisition and distribution of food. Could that change? Discussions around that phrase might lead you to consider developing small agrihoods throughout the Valley.

An agrihood is much like a neighborhood, with the community built around a farm which raises crops and animals to feed local people. Establishing several agrihoods throughout the Valley could, if managed as a cooperative, allow the Foodbank to scale back dramatically, and perhaps reinvent itself and its interactions with the community. It is a bold approach, and could generate numerous grant requests with short-term, relatively bold objectives.

Each grant request submitted will move the Foodbank toward completely addressing its mission and creating substantial and sustainable change. The implementation of this plan could take a decade. However, grantmakers are willing to wait if there is real change in the forecast.

In today’s philanthropic world, moves like this attract grantmakers like bees to honey – especially since grantmakers rarely get requests that push organizations toward fulfilling missions.

I encourage you, as organizational leaders, to be bold. Use the example set by President Kennedy so many years ago, and challenge your organization to think of ways you can fundamentally change how you view possibilities.

Cynthia Adams, President and CEO of GrantStation, has spent the past 40 years helping nonprofits raise the money needed for their good work. GrantStation exists because grantseeking requires a thorough understanding of the variety and scope of grantmakers and sound knowledge of the philanthropic playing field. Her life’s work is to level that playing field, creating an opportunity for all nonprofit organizations to access the wealth of grant opportunities across the U.S. and throughout the world.

This article is reprinted from Issue #10 of Nonprofit Performance Magazine. Subscribe today so that you won’t miss other actionable articles that will help you run your nonprofit organization with less pain and more gain!

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