Monday, August 20, 2007

Fundraising Isn't Optional, Non Profits..."...Put[ing] the Word Out and Bow[ing Your] Heads"...Is Not Fundraising, BendFilm

Here's another example of non profit management expecting donations and putting the responsibility for the organization's fiscal health on others' shoulders - not their own.

In this week's The Source Weekly I read another article about another American non profit organization that doesn't mind demonstrating that it has no idea that for the organization's mission to be successful...heck, for the organization's existence, they have to fundraise.

If they do understand that they need to fundraise, they definitely have no idea what modern-day fundraising is or how to go about it. Most frightening is this organization is more than three years old and has a board of directors and an executive director. It appears as though none of these organizational managers, in their years of experience, have taken it upon themselves to learn about fundraising.

To quote Eric Flower's article, "The Last Picture Show BendFilm needs another last-minute cash injection" in the August 16, 2007 issue of Bend, Oregon's The Source Weekly , "For the third year in a row the festival is looking for a late-stage cash infusion that will help pay for parties, lectures and travel expenses for filmmakers as well as the other costs of associated with the four-day film festival set for October."

BendFilm is a local non profit organization that puts an annual film festival on in Bend, Oregon. In recent years they've featured some prominent Hollywood actors' and directors' films. The annual film fest is one of Central Oregon's cultural highlights. For as appreciated, and frankly needed, as this cultural happening is in Bend - the organization's management (both the executive director and its board members) do not seem to understand how to manage non profit operations.

The article describes the executive director as flatly stating that rumors that the film festival may not happen is "...unwarranted". Yet, he and the organization's founder seem to warn the Bend community that "...without some additional money BendFilm will have to scale back some of its signature activities,..." in the article.

I wonder if the executive director, founder, and board of directors understand this point, themselves?

Is it the public's responsibility to, in effect, manage their organization correctly so that they have the money that they need for the organization's budget - or is it the current organization's management's responsibility? It is the organization's management's responsibility. Putting an article in the local weekly at the eleventh hour, asking for $80,000 by warning that the festival may not happen at the higher level that the organization (and community) would prefer, is not non profit management. It is especially not professional fundraising.

How are all of the donors (local individuals, families, businesses, foundations, and others) supposed to feel who have given to the festival? Are they supposed to think, 'hmmm...I gave to an organization whose mission I believe in, but is not run well enough to budget, fundraise over the year to meet the budget's needs, and maintain and grow ongoing regular in kind and fiscal support (over the course of the year)?' That is probably exactly what their donors are thinking. This is not how to keep donors.

What a mess.

To further this point, I met in December 2006 with a local fundraising professional, who moved here two years prior from a large California city. She and I lamented not understanding how the non profit sector works, here in Bend (despite each having successful fundraising careers, prior). She confided in me that the corporate management that she met with, during her fundraising work in Bend, didn't understand how the local non profits expected to survive and exist in two, five, or ten years. More than a few local business managers asked her why they would invest their business' money into local non profit organizations that do not invest in themselves enough to take the responsibility to grow regular repeat consistent donors. They wondered if these non profits will even exist a year or two down the road.

BendFilm's founder is quoted in the article as then placing the 'burden 'of the missing funding for this year's film fest on the City of Bend! To quote the article, "Last year at this time, had the city not granted us the $85,000, the festival wouldn't have happened, and people don't know that...and here we are again and the city is not in a position to contribute. What do we do? We put the word out and bow our heads,"..."

What do you do?! You manage the non profit organization that you are working for (volunteer or paid staffer). Here...I'll suggest some things to do...

1. Create overall organizational, and program by program budgets. Fundraise throughout the year, and raise the money needed, while gearing up for the next year's budget.

2. You take responsibility for the mission statement, its goal, and all the folks who have invested their donations in the organization; you learn about modern fundraising and the 'how to's'.

3. You take responsibility for the organization's operations. If you do not know enough about fundraising, that's fine. But admit it and research, network, and hire an excellent professional fundraiser. You and the other non profit management work with them to begin a good Development (Fundraising) Plan and a Development Program. This is an investment that guarantees donors' confidence in your organization's future. If done well, it guarantees your organization's future.

4. You learn about the federal government's expectation that 501(c)(3) management and board volunteers are overseeing a non profit's articles of incorporation's intentions and its rules, and the organization's fiscal operations and health. Annual, independent, professional accountant audits of 501(c)(3)'s financials are going to become much more routine for even small non profits (to the benefit of these organization's donors).

5. You realize that in 2008 the United States IRS is going to require that all non profit 501(c)(3) organizations who raise $25,000 or more file income and programs' spending reporting. Congress wants to get a better picture of how much of a given American non profit is spending on it's programming. In professional non profit management it is generally accepted that well run organizations spend 80% or more of a non profit's 'income' on mission-based programs. Congress, let alone individual, major, and foundation donors, are all tired of giving without seeing professional, effective, mission-based results.

The executive director is actually incredulous when he "...hear[s] people say the festival isn't happening. It's ridiculous!"  What he's not hearing when he hears people saying this repeatedly is that people are worried that the organization is not being run or managed well enough to know if it will be around this year, let alone the next! Again, whose responsibility is the organization's health? His.

Later in the article a former board member is quoted as saying that the organization really just needs "a major national sponsor that can give the organizers some security."! What non profit doesn't need that, the world over?!! When you find that donor - let the rest of us know. What the organization really needs is management and leadership that understands that no non profit should expect support. Each well run non profit must learn from the best, plan, work throughout the year, operating a fundraising program.

The former board member actually goes on to say of the film fest, "It can't survive on a local and regional diet,"..."It's too good for that. The festival and the quality of films are just too good for that."! She's really pulling for the proposed mystical-somewhere-else-other-than-here-ATM-type sponsor for the film fest. As she demonstrates that she doesn't know much about non profit fundraising, she's actually insulting the organization's best possible constituency that the organization could develop into regular annual donors (at all levels through many different types of donations; from individual checks, to major donors, from local businesses, to foundations and those who give through annual fundraising events for the festival)! Astounding.

Want to know what else is really astounding about her comment? There is a lot of individual wealth in the region. A lot.

The article closes by describing the fundraising "philosophy" that the executive director espouses, which is; attract big time filmmakers. He and the board focus on the care of the filmmaker, the article reiterates. They, and BendFilm, "treat them like gods." About these famous film makers the executive director is quoted as saying, "When they come to BendFilm it's like a retreat. It's just that filmmakers happen to like alcohol instead of mineral water,"..."

I'm sorry that the executive director and BendFilm's board members don't see developing regular donors as the real lifeblood for the organization's success, let alone existence. If they thought of their donors as they think of Hollywood directors, and treated local major donors as they purport to treat lead movie directors, they'd have the funding that they need to put on the film festival this year, and they'd be forging the strong relationships locally that will likely lead to funding next year and the year after.

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