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Sticking To Your Nonprofit Fundraising Plan: How to Avoid Shiny Object Syndrome

Updated: Jul 20, 2022

Like anything else, in order to be successful in fundraising, it is wise to have a plan. Just winging it might work for a little while, but eventually you're going to run out of last minute ideas and luck and need to have a formal plan for how to engage or re-engage donors to raise the money necessary to keep your nonprofit afloat. It doesn't necessarily have to be written in stone, but a solid plan with room for some flexibility will help you, your staff, and your Board stay focused on the goal and provide you with the framework you need to meet expectations and build a comprehensive fundraising strategy that can grow from year to year.

But, what happens when your CEO or Board chair gets Shiny Object Syndrome?

Picture it. You're on the brink of a new year. You've written a beautiful fundraising plan. You're proud of it. You even have a copy of it under a pushpin on your memo board. It's perfectly crafted, well thought out, and gets you to your goal. You've shared it with your CEO, with your Board, with your staff. Everybody has bought into it, and you're ready to hit the ground running. You know who you're going to ask, when you're going to ask, and for how much you're going to ask. You've got this.

A few months pass and your CEO attends a local event. Someone mentions a foundation that supported their nonprofit to the tune of a bagillion dollars. Wow! Your CEO returns to the office and pokes her head in your door. "Hey, Melanie. Totally Made Up Foundation just gave Completely Different Nonprofit a bagillion dollars. Let's submit an application. Let me know when it is ready to be signed. Thanks!"

Insert face palm here, right? This happens ALL. THE. TIME.

I get asked how to avoid this Shiny Object Syndrome pretty regularly. So, if all of this sounds eerily familiar, you're not alone. It's a tough spot to be in. Your CEO is your boss and whether or not you agree with him/her, there's a level of authority there that you have to acknowledge. But, as the fundraising expert (and also the person who spent countless hours drafting a fundraising plan that is a thing of beauty), you have an obligation to promote best practices and not go chasing every rabbit that runs across the field. Or shiny object. Same, same.

So, how do you manage this situation? Do your research.

If Totally Made Up Foundation is the right fit for your organization, then use that bit of flexibility you wrote into your fundraising plan and let your CEO know when it is ready to be signed as requested. However, if you do your due diligence and it is not the right fit or not the right time, you need to share that respectfully and professionally. Your CEO may be well versed in shaking hands and receiving checks, but if you're the fundraising expert of the two of you, you need to make sure you are protecting your nonprofit from unnecessary rejection that could potentially sour a future relationship with that foundation. You also have to guard your time. Fundraising is a marathon, not a sprint. I've never known a fundraising professional who is successful that sits around with a lot of time on their hands just waiting for things to do. So, how do you say it? How do you tell your CEO or Board chair to professionally back off? Here are some examples that have worked well for me:

  • "Thanks for sharing that foundation with me. I did some research and Totally Made Up Foundation has never funded causes like ours. We'd be much better off pursuing this other foundation that is a perfect match." - Always have another option to present from your plan particularly if you have one that is similar and/or typically awards a similar amount of money.

  • "While this sounds like a good opportunity, after some research, this grant isn't in line with our current priorities in the fundraising plan our Board approved. But, it is definitely something we could consider pursuing in the future." - This one is particularly relevant if it is a request for programmatic funds that would require you to design a new program, which, again, can happen a lot. And mentioning that the Board approved the fundraising plan sounds less like you just don't want to do it.

  • "I have been doing some research on Totally Made Up Foundation. I'm not sure that it is the right fit for us right now. (Explain why.) I'll keep you posted on anything I learn through the process. If I'm able to get some additional information, I'll circle back if it is right for us to apply." - This leaves the conversation open. You're not closing the door, but you're not barreling through it either. Not yet, at least.

One of the biggest elements to being successful in fundraising is a good relationship with your CEO and Board chair. You should be a team and he/she should value your input, even if Shiny Object Syndrome clouds his/her view every now and then.


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