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Lessons from a Fiasco

If you are like me, you watched the recent drama between the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation and Planned Parenthood with a mix of horror and morbid curiosity.  Think what you may about either organization, it’s unfortunate to watch such large, successful organizations tarnished. 

This was a great learning opportunity, though, on the dangers of letting your organization get off mission. Without getting mired in the details, I thought it important to highlight some lessons I was reminded of from the kerfuffle and how to avoid them before they happen:

1) Avoid Cognitive Dissonance:

Your donors have an image of who they think your organization is and that’s why they give you their financial support.  Organizations should be doing everything in their power to not upset that opinion.  Stick to your mission statement.

There’s an old saying; “There are two things you don’t talk about in mixed company; religion and politics…”  For religious and political organizations, this is obviously a non-issue.  Otherwise though, it’s likely that your donorbase comes from a diverse background and you should do your damnedest not to stir your supporters. 

2) If You Disregard #1, Have a Good Reason:

And explain it!  Not every move a nonprofit makes is going to make everyone happy at every turn, but it is pretty easy to know in advance when you are making a potentially risky move.  Your donors are naturally pre-wired to agree with you; if your decision making is sound, you should be able to explain your moves in a way that donors will be able to understand.  Be consistent and ACCURATE when explaining it!

3) Know Your Donor:

The reasons that people give to your organization are probably wide-ranging, but there are likely some trends regarding who and why people give you their support.  Immerse yourself into their world, so that you are better aware of what potential pitfalls you might face with changing or new initiatives.

4) Help Your Donors Know You:

Your financial house should be in clean enough order that donors should have no doubt where their donations are going.  The more explaining you need, the less compelling your offer seems.  This can be taken to various extremes, but it’s always good practice to let donors know where and how their dollars are helping.

5) Know Yourself:

This is one of those leadership issues vital for the long term success of any organization.  There are often short term incentives to move a small, monetarily insignificant project to your forefront.  However, it’s very important that these short term pushes don’t trump the long-term goals of the organization. 

I’ll give an example:

An emergency need on the periphery of your organization’s work is gaining media attention, so you shift communications to highlight your work on that issue.  The short term dollars gained are a boon for the organization, but you are also attracting and renewing donors that don’t necessarily support your primary mission.  It’s important that efforts be made to shift back on topic.  Otherwise, you risk cultivating a database of donors that aren’t compelled by the body of your work.

Katapult MarketingLessons from a Fiasco