Organizational Confidence: who’s got it and how to get it.

As I travel throughout the country interacting with CEOs, board leadership, and development staff of various arts organizations, I’ve noticed a winning theme among those who are developing the healthiest of Annual Fund campaigns: they establish and communicate high levels of organizational confidence.

These organizations present themselves with an enviable je ne sais quoi – a tight unity and ardent resolve to become better than they were the day before. To present better art. To create a truly relevant role in the community. And, to endeavor to be an organization with an outwardly valued purpose worthy of support.

In contrast, performing arts organizations that languish have difficulty defining who they are, who they are for, and who is for them. They struggle to articulate the relationship between their organization and the community they serve.  They make the message about themselves and their own needs. As a result, their role as an important arts organization is relegated to being “just another charity” that needs financial support.

Is an NFP that establishes and communicates high levels of organizational confidence worry-free, fiscally flawless, and perfectly-run? Of course not.  But, it is most often an institution with the proper focus on why it exists, and it prepares itself and its community of supporters for investment – an outward investment that pays dividends to the community.

Which kind of NFP organization are you?  These questions may offer some insight:

  • Answer “why.” Upon reviewing your case statement, for every sentence that is written about what you do, are you able to answer why?  If you can’t, then maybe mission and actions aren’t aligned.
  • Check the mirror. Is the case about your organization or about those it serves? Are you holding the mirror inward toward yourself, or outward as a reflection of the community?  If the case is all about your organization “what” instead of “why,” turn the mirror around.
  • Examine the motivation. Is your content more about need or about investment? If a donor is going to provide support, there should be some benefit beyond your organization’s ability to make payroll.

How can your organization achieve organizational confidence?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Put the message to the test. Outline the “why” as much as you outline the “what.”  People aren’t moved by statistics, they’re moved by stories. What great storytelling can you share as a result of your organization’s work?
  • Outline your vision for today, and for the future.  Is your vision inspired and inspiring, serving as a North Star for all your constituents, or is it a word-salad of gobbledygook?  Does it make a difference?  Is it valuable? Would it be missed if it didn’t happen?  Is the message simple with razor-sharp clarity, memorable, and repeatable?
  • Be real.  If there are hurdles, create a pathway to move around, over or through them. Be honest about your challenges but don’t let them define the institution.
  • Look at your leadership.  Are your board and staff championing their role to inspire others within your community?  If not, then making this change is Job One.
  • Tell your story over and over and over. The community will eventually begin to repeat it back to you. And, once they understand and agree, they will support it.

Creating an environment of confidence – regardless of what shape your organization is currently in – will not only help your fundraising, it will provide guidance and inspiration for your organization’s future.


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