Why did a local social services agency have to face with the proposition of having to cease operations after only two years? The organization, although only a couple of years old, had all the right things going for it. It filled an unmet need in the community. It did not duplicate the services of any other organization. So, why were they having to close? What had they failed to do? Why was their existence being threatened? How can your favorite cause avoid the same fate?
This organization was initially formed with a five-year grant from the state. Although nationally affiliated, this was the first chapter in our county and the need for its services were not being met by any other local agency.
It obtained office space, hired staff – including a social worker – and began operations. Right away a waiting list developed of people in need of this service, and the agency was up and running!
Then, after only two years of successful operations, this agency learned that its state funding was being terminated due to the state’s poor fiscal condition. Immediately, the social worker was terminated and the agency’s managers began to recruit a volunteer board of directors who would raise money from private sources. Unfortunately, this was too little too late.
What did they do wrong? What should they have done differently? Here are a few suggestions that any agency should take heart to avoid making the same mistakes and threatening its mission.
- First, they started the program before putting the organizational structure in place. If they had recruited a volunteer board right away, and implemented a cohesive local fund raising plan, when the state funding dried up, they would already have had in place a resource of help, ideas, and community ambassadors to whom they could turn when the going got rough.
- Second, they made a dangerous assumption – that the state grant was secure. Consequently, they relied on a single source of income. As any savvy investor knows, diversity is the key. The same applies to fund raising. They should have begun development of a comprehensive fund raising plan immediately. It is important to plan ahead. Even if the state grant had been secure, they should have begun planning for the day the grant ended.
What’s the message here? Sometimes, in our haste to get started we overlook the importance of laying the groundwork for elements – such as boards and fund raising plans – that need to be in place before we need them! One of the biggest obstacles for successful fund raising is the failure to do today that which you might not need until later. Because when you need it, it may be too late!