In the past 8 months, hoping to increase the positive impact I can make in the world, I have spoken with 11 non-profits about taking a leadership role in changing the way they support their causes. Two gave me the time of day, but little more. The rest took the position, "that's not how we do things here."
So, what was I talking about? Bringing visual storytelling and marketing from the journalism and business worlds into the non-profit sector.
As I see it, the single most important activity any non-profit undertakes is...no, not it's core mission...fundraising.
Fundraising is what creates scale, turning tens of thousands of dollars into tens of millions of dollars. Imagine if those tens of thousands of dollars were not put into fundraising, but were instead invested in the core mission. For most non-profits, that money would get little accomplished. But, what if that non-profit had millions to work with? Very different story.
Non-profits are run by intelligent committed people who should see the power in this simple concept. So why is there so much resistance? I can only come up with one answer...fear.
Non-profits are constantly operating in fear of losing their funding, so they spend as little as possible on non-core-mission activities to show donors their donations will go to programming, not operations. The only problem is that approach almost NEVER works. But investing in marketing and storytelling feels as though it will put donations at risk. More fear.
Making the kind of paradigm shift I'm advocating has the potential for powerful upside if an organization can mount the courage to move in this novel (and necessary) direction. How to get that snowflake started downhill...so it can become a giant snowball...well, I'm still working on that...and open to any and all suggestions.