Axioms / Fundraising Counsel / Organizational Culture / Strategy

Just Imagine If…The Essential Role of Imagination in Fundraising

July 3, 2018 | Laurence A. Pagnoni

I would bet that your fundraising program is the same year-after-year and that its performance has flatlined.

I also know that you can and want to do better.

With 30+ years behind me in transforming fundraising programs, I suggest that you consider infusing imagination into your fundraising program to vastly enhance its performance.

I am not speaking in the abstract, but from years of observing thousands of fundraisers. I’m talking about a specific skill that fundraisers can develop, a skill essential for securing the largest donations; without it, both the fundraising program and the implementation of the nonprofit’s mission will have lackluster results.

Imagination in this sense is the ability to perceive an opportunity for real change. That’s the specific skill you need to vastly boost your revenues. Mark Twain once said: “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” I dare you to define what real change means for your clients, get organizational buy-in, and promote that objective as the reason why you’re raising funds.

Imagine it, and Donors Will Fund it!

Remember “Build it and they will come” from the movie, Field of Dreams? That’s partly right; however, for us it’s more accurately stated as, imagine it, and the funds will come!

You must …

  1. imagine the change you seek — a transformational impact on those you serve
  2. unveil the hidden opportunity and describe the change you seek in a vibrant way
  3. convey the change in sufficient detail to the donor

What you say about this imagined new thing must inspire the donor with its urgency. In your case for support you must say why giving now is essential and address the donor’s core question, “Why should I give to this?” You must make real budget assumptions so that sufficient funds are raised, including recouping the costs of the fundraising work itself, and you must resist all nay-sayers along the way with a smile.

 

A Real 100-Year-Old Example

Consider a real 100-year-old human-services nonprofit which has an impressive $60 million annual budget mostly from government contracts, a staff of more than 200 and a crucial mission to perform for its very poor urban clients. They’re doing well, right? Yes, but what if I told you that they could end the cycle of poverty among their clients if they imagined doing so? Imagination in this instance would be breaking the chains of intergenerational poverty by establishing new programs to help clients raise their income with job training and educational advancement. For example, a client obtaining a single technical certificate could end poverty for his/her family’s next generation. I projected that, with this new vision in place, the agency would secure new funding in five years significant enough to double the agency budget!

 

The Fuel for your Vision

Am I talking about your agency’s vision statement? Yes, sure, but imagination is the fuel for your vision. Imagination powers the vision, informs the vision, propels the vision. Your nonprofit’s vision statement is the imagined future you seek. It should state the difference you truly want to make in the world when you succeed.

 

Not Just Pie in the Sky

To be sure, it’s not as simple as “just” imagining the change you seek. Even if you are successful at seeing that change, the implementation will take discipline, patience, and underwriting for the planning process.

Allow me to close by saying that I still believe physical poverty in the world can be eliminated if only we can imagine it. Imagination is essential to advanced fundraising.

 

What’s your experience with the power of imagination in your fundraising work? Please let me know so that we can learn from each other.

Laurence A. Pagnoni

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