Skip to main content

Sending Out an S.O.S.


I won't soon forget getting that letter in the mail.  An 80-year old cultural organization was reaching out to members and friends to tell us that its survival was in jeopardy.  It asked for our advice and our financial support.  The first paragraph closed by stating, "Without an immediate and substantial infusion of funds, it appears that we will be required to close our doors while we work to implement a prudent fiscal strategy."

A day or two later the news hit the local papers.  And a week or so after that, the director of another cultural called to say that her board was debating the merits of "going public" with their own financial difficulties.  Some thought it might shake loose more support; others were wary of hanging out the dirty linen....or being perceived as the boy who cried wolf.

Contrast that with a third organization -- vastly smaller than the other two -- that routinely publishes lengthy pleas for assistance mixed with "the-sky-is-falling" warnings in its newsletter. (I guess since it's done routinely, it must not be very effective.)

These three examples have brought me to my short list of what to pay attention to when making the S.O.S. decision: 
  • If people don't know you need help, they can't help.   (So, get over the fear of failure feelings -- those are about you, not the organization.)
  • If an organization waits too long to ask for help, the help that's offered might not be enough. 
  • Asking for help must be twinned with a plan for using that help to its best advantage. (Nobody wants to think that their help is being thrown down a rat hole.)
  • Once you've sent out the S.O.S., you're duty-bound to communicate frequently about how things are going.  (As much as we love cliff-hangers, we do want to know the rest of the story.) 
The saga continues for my three examples.  The first organization has successfully raised some funds, but so far it isn't enough to keep the lights on for the remainder of the year.  The promised "prudent fiscal strategy" has not yet been revealed to supporters, but I've been receiving regular emails and mailings about the status of activities.  I've noticed that the second organization has used recent membership appeals and newsletters to tell its supporters more about its financial challenges and what it's doing to meet them.

As for the third organization, well, its newsletter just arrived yesterday.

Photo: Message in a Bottle by Talkingsun

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nonprofits and the Public Trust: No Excuses

Periodically, social media is ablaze with comments from nonprofit leaders bemoaning the fact that their organizations are too small to keep up with a seemingly overwhelming amount of professional and regulatory standards. While one may hear less outright complaining from big nonprofits when they turn a blind eye to the importance of standards, ethics, and the public trust, chances are we'll be reading about their transgressions in the headlines.

Whether nonprofits flaunt the public trust due to ignorance or by design, the performance expectation for all nonprofits -- no matter their size, discipline, or resources -- is grounded in the fact they have been incorporated to perform a public service. They have entered into a relationship with the public that fulfills a need for which they receive benefits in return. Chief among these benefits is tax exemption for mission-related activities and the opportunity for donors to make tax-deductible contributions. When a nonprofit honors its…

Why You Need a Personal Board of Directors

Today I'm meeting up with my career planning posse. We call ourselves the Gang of Five and we've been meeting periodically for about six years to share our career challenges and aspirations, our plans; seek and offer advice, support, and the critique as appropriate. The Gang is my personal board of directors, who collectively and individually I can call on when needed. As a result, I've advanced my thinking about my career journey, if nothing more than to make it far more intentional.

Earlier this summer, I got to talk with my friend and colleague, Greg Stevens at the American Alliance of Museums, about career planning. The result is this interview, published at Alliance Labs. Greg is a terrific proponent of career planning and development -- not surprising since he's the Director of Professional Development at AAM and the co-author of A Life in Museums: Managing Your Museum Career. Whether you work in museums or some other type of cultural institution, check out the …

Nonprofit Board Resolutions for a New, Uncertain Year

I've written about resolutions for nonprofits before (see the infographic and read more here), but this year -- especially this year -- nonprofit boards will be put to the test in the face of civic dissonance, uncertain government support for education, arts, history, and science; and the continuation of dramatically shifting demographics.

So, here's my short list:

Know your organization's mission cold and I don't mean memorize the mission statement.  I mean deeply and fully understand the impact your nonprofit makes to those who benefit from the work you do. Understand how you meet the need, how you excel at doing so, and why that's important.  Be able to tell the stories about your organization's impact to anyone.

Get up to speed on what real governance is all about.  Set goals and success measures, exercise oversight, consider the future (a lot), strategize pathways to success, and keep at it.  Good governance is intentional and sustained.

Be the partner your …