No matter when your organization’s fiscal year starts, the end of the calendar year is a great time to reflect on your nonprofit’s fundraising activities. For me, the Kenny Rogers song “The Gambler” has some important wisdom about strategic fundraising that I like to revisit. The chorus says,
You got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em.
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you’re sittin’ at the table.
There’ll be time enough for countin’ when the dealing’s done.
There are nuggets in this song that can help you plan for fundraising success:
1. Calculate the “house edge” before you bid. Do you have 1-in-5 or 1-in-50 odds based simply on the number of awards? Moderately sized nonprofits often consider submitting applications for major grants for which cities, states, other nonprofits, and for-profits are eligible, even when just one award is available nationwide. The odds are not in their favor.
2. Stay in your lane. Deciding whether to enter a competition isn’t just a numbers game. While your organization might technically be eligible for a large grant, it only makes sense to pursue the funding when you can respond to a request for proposals with solutions that are proven (or hold great promise), highly deployable, cost-effective, and backed by organizational fidelity.
3. Analyze your losses and don’t just focus on the wins. Each year, the sum of your efforts and outcomes contributes to your repository of strategic fund-seeking knowledge. That knowledge can translate into incalculable success in the years to come. Sometimes, you might find your entire strategy is no longer appropriate, perhaps due to a shift in organizational direction or external dynamics.
If you want to avoid being “on a train bound for nowhere,” “The Gambler” gives us a simple strategy: Pay as much attention, if not more, to what goes wrong as what goes right.
KJ Lucas Matos, MA
RBW Strategy Chief Operating Officer