The Difference Between Living a Fairy Tale and Reality

Today, I thought I’d tell you a little story about a charity I worked with that used planning to overcome (and indeed triumph) in a time of adversity.

Like all good stories, it has a hero (not, no me) who was in this case, the management team – board and chief executive – who had the vision to recognise what they needed to do (or at least that they had to be proactive) if they were to be in a stronger position than they were when I initially met with them.

This charity had 2.5 full time equivalent staff so could definitely be considered as being low on resources.  They were facing a substantial budget cut and determined that they needed to raise around £100,000 in order to both keep going but also to increase their capacity.  Their main source of statutory income had been cut completely as the source was rethinking the way they allocated funding and so there was no guarantee of it ever returning (although there was hope).

Many other organisations in a similar position had gone to the wall.  Our hero (the feisty chief executive and her enthusiastic board) weren’t going to go without a fight.  So they applied to a fund to get in a fundraising consultant – who turned out to be me!

Working closely with the board and staff, we developed a three year business plan and fundraising strategy that helped them to focus on what they needed to do to get over the funding deficit.

A board ‘brainstorm’ resulted in 3 key themes being chosen with a variety of projects in each.  Working with the Chief Exec, I then went through all of the projects to establish which had earned income potential and which had fundraising potential.  We also prioritised activity – what needed to happen and what was a nice to have?  To their credit, they were ruthless and determined where they had to be.  Areas of work they had delivered for years were cut – at least in the short term – while the focus was put on a core aspect of their work.

Most importantly, we drilled down the projects to really figure out what HAD to happen and when.  This meant that, when going to funders, I could point to a strong ‘business case’ for them supporting the charity as they had such clarity about their goals, aims and objectives and a real sense of what needed to get done.

From this, I developed a structured approach to setting up systems in the office to support fundraising – such as dealing with applications, using social media to promote their activity and using existing resources and expertise to support the fundraising.

As a result, I successfully helped them to raise the funding needed to continue to employ a key member of staff who was crucial to their ability to earn income through increased capacity to deliver key projects.  A year later, they won back their statutory funding but in a newly strengthened position with new income streams and a history of successful fundraising.

Now there is no doubt that having a supportive board and a tenacious chief executive were essential in turning this organisation around.  But for me, the key to how they were able to celebrate fundraising success, was that they planned carefully to determine what they were going to focus on and what they could achieve with limited resources.

So, while having your funding cut is definitely painful, it doesn’t always have to be the complete disaster that it first appears.

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