It’s the Vision Thing

When we talk about nonprofit vision, we usually refer to one kindthat mental map of where an organization is going and where it wants to be in five or 10 years. Sure, that’s important. Every nonprofit needs a vision statement. But there’s development vision, too. It’s more the capacity to see what’s uncharted. Meeting new donors and imagining each recurring and reliable; perceiving how an opportunityconventional or notcan develop into development dollars. It’s vision plus many parts imagination.

Remember those kids’ pages where you had to connect the dots to reveal an animal or object? Successful development is a lot like that. If you don’t understand that it’s a process, and not necessarily a straightforward one, you’re lost. From my experience, a lot of nonprofits lose out on a better bottom line because they don’t understand that development takes vision and imagination. In particular, I see two mistakes again and again.

Seeing Beyond the Check in Hand

Setting for mistake number one: when a new donor makes an initial gift. The danger of error is greatest when you know something about the depth of a donor’s pockets, and your private reaction to the gift is, “Is that all?”

But research says donors often contribute less than they can afford the first time out. Dismissing a disappointing sum—and its donor—is a guaranteed dead end. That’s where development vision comes in. It’s reaching out, starting with an immediate thank you—whatever the amount. It’s getting a picture of that donor and what can prompt a second and larger donation. What assurance? What connection? Experts say educate donors on what you’re doing. I add be quick and creative—short video, powerful stats, before-and-after photos that communicate key information.

OK, I’m mixing metaphors to a degree, but I see development as a dance between organization and donor. You have to be willing to learn the steps, to lead, to invest effort and imagination in getting to know and understand who your donors are, and what they want from a relationship with you.

Spotting Potential in Opportunity

Mistake No. 2 may not be as obvious as letting a donor slip away. Still, it can be a greater long-term loss. In this scenario, maybe a well-known enterprise in your community—a respected business or another organization—invites you to collaborate in some way. Maybe you’re part of an event that’s technically intended as P.R.—getting the word out about who you are and what you do. There'll be no passing the hat for your nonprofit. You don’t see the direct benefit. You pass.

Granted, not every opportunity is golden. But what I witness with depressing regularity is the failure to even consider the potential—to apply only the "How Much Can We Make?" litmus test, as though only today matters and tomorrow has no value.

In fact, exposure can lead to interest, which can lead to donors, which can lead to donors who are partners invested in what you do. It’s the point-to-point-to-point process that creates something bigger. And yes, it takes development savvy to get from here to there. But you’ve got to have vision and imagination to see the way when you’re not there yet.

So sharpen your development vision. Expand your donor-centered imagination. Both will pay off for your nonprofit.

Susan J. Ragusa is a nonprofit strategist in the Hudson Valley region and metro New York. Email or connect with Susan on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and Google+.