Editor’s Note: Sara Leonard is engaged with Margin & Mission Ignition (MMI) and helps MMI organizations raise investment capital.
Me: “Let’s brainstorm on who might invest in your social enterprise startup capital.”
NPO: “We should ask Mrs. Brown. She’s a great prospect for this. But then again, now isn’t a good time for her because she has moved recently. And, she makes a generous gift to our golf tournament. And, she might not like this because she is passionate about our mission, and this is a business enterprise. So let’s not put Mrs. Brown on the list.”
This is a common conversation when I start working with the nonprofit organizations who are part of the MMI initiative of The Patterson Foundation. I guide them through the process of making a prospect list for their new social enterprise. These prospects will be cultivated, and if they indicate an interest, they will be asked to make a donation to invest in the business enterprise.
Too often, the staff and volunteer members of the team come up with great prospects but then talk themselves out of cultivating them for one reason (excuse) or another. In other words, they are deciding “no” for the prospect before they’ve even talked to them about the innovative and mission-sustaining business enterprise.
It’s not our job to say no for the prospect.
So what is our job? I’m glad you asked, because I’ve got some ideas:
- It’s our job to talk to everyone we encounter about this exciting venture. I like to borrow the concept original to Author Gail Perry in Fired Up Fundraising —“The board should be sneezing.” If your organization is embarking on a business planning process for an earned-income venture, you should be talking to everyone you know about it. Picture sneezing and spreading your message all around — yes, I too was grossed by the visual at first.
- It’s our job to share our enthusiasm. Creating an earned-income strategy is an exciting undertaking, and that should be shared with the people inside and outside your organization. It’s an opportunity to create a mission-sustaining income stream. What supporter wouldn’t want to know the organization they love will be sustained for years to come?
- It’s our job to cast the vision. Business planning is a forward-looking process. Your organization has given it a lot of thought, and it is part of a larger vision for the future of your nonprofit. Don’t keep all that to yourselves. Share it with those who are passionate about your cause.
- It’s our job to invite them to be a part of the life-changing work of your nonprofit. Many times we are so close to the work of our organization that we forget that every day we are saving lives, changing lives, and making our communities better places to live. When we ask for an investment in the business enterprise, we are inviting the donor to be part of that life-changing work.
When we decide “no” for a prospect, two bad things happen. First, the prospect misses the opportunity to be a part of the amazing work of our nonprofit. Second, our nonprofit misses out on much-needed financial support. Next time you find yourself thinking of all the reasons a prospect might not support your nonprofit, STOP. You’ll be glad you did and surprised how contagious your enthusiasm can be.