“We need a new board!”

A 30 year old senior housing organization was headed for trouble: To serve their target population — frail older adults on Medicaid — they were spending down cash reserves. Senior staff knew they needed their board to fundraise and their board (comprised of wonderful people in their 70s and 80s) was not inclined. The stress level and the finger pointing were kicking in.

Staff came to Scout Finch Consulting with their first take on the problem: “We need a new board!” We offered a reframe:

If you went out tomorrow and started recruiting, what would you tell these bright and shiny new board members they were fundraising for? A budget gap?

That question started a great conversation which led to this insight; Before we can attract new champions (board members, donors, etc.) for our mission, We need to be able to understand where we’re headed. We need to be able to tell a compelling story of impact.

The agency Executive Director engaged us to design and guide them through their first strategic planning process (a complete honor). That process culminated in a decision to expand service offerings to include older adults in the adjacent community, and to triple their housing footprint. (Wow!)

Fast forward three years and this organization is soon to break ground on a new facility which will serve as an intergenerational hub to support the greater community’s aging adult population. The new campus will include space for outpatient medical services, saving elders from commuting 15 miles south. Additional revenue from fee-for-service food and wellness services, intergenerational market rate and affordable housing, and charitable giving will provide cash flow to supplement services for their most vulnerable.

With their new plan, recruiting new board members was an easier sell. Individual giving tripled. The Board itself committed $700,000 to the new development. All unimaginable just a few years ago.

Stuck no more

A girls’ performing arts organization was stuck in the perennial nonprofit starvation loop; How can we raise more funding without the money to invest in additional resource development capacity?

Our planning process took aim at this, beginning with the question of their long term impact. In addition to grappling with questions about their role as an artistic organization, board and staff discovered that their most important legacy to the community was powerful and confident girls who grow up to be strong women leaders. With the success stories to prove it, this aha got their blood moving.

We completed a comprehensive operating plan, 3 year financial projections, and staffing model to support their program aspirations. We did not constrain our thinking with the “yeah-but-how-will-we-pay for-it” question until our options and costs were fully arrayed. Based on the options and timeline board and staff chose, we figured out the initial funding onramp needed to get there, and the expected return — aka, how much we could assume fundraising results could reasonably grow over the coming 3 years.

It felt scary. But we made sure it was do-able, the operable word here being “do.” Within the bounds of what was feasible, board and staff realized they would need to be really strategic. Clearer expectations and accountability. Work plans. Quarterly milestones to manage risk and adjust along the way. Some board members balked. All that doing wasn’t for them — which was A-OK. As a couple of board members transitioned off the board, new leaders came forward and got to work. As if by magic (but not really), capacity building major donors stepped up.

Two years later, somewhat to their surprise, but much to their delight, they have met or exceeded their goals. At last year’s holiday concert, the artistic director conducted the senior choir in a lovely holiday number which included a surprise, break-out free-form dance segment before returning to their choir formation. Behold, leaders.

The power of narrative

Leading up to their big fundraising dinner, we were asked to help the board of directors of a youth development organization learn how to be more effective storytellers, ergo joyful fundraisers.

Turns out — who knew — board members were feeling unsure how to talk about the work of the organization, and unsure how to engage donors. We suggested a board storytelling training dubbed The Public Narrative, an approach developed by Harvard University social change guru Marshall Ganz, and adapted by Scout Finch Consulting.

The workshop began with a timed writing exercise: make a list of watershed moments — experiences that had shaped your values and core sense of identity. In the debrief, one board member shared a gripping story about a series of losses she suffered as a kid, and how these decisive experiences in her early life now drove her to want to help other young people like her. We workshopped her wonderful example to connect her “story of me,” to a story about the challenge of growing up today — “story of us,” — to a “story of now” — why we must take a stand for these young people today. Great workshop — we laughed, we cried…all good.

The proof came later. A few weeks following, this same board member was asked to make the ask at the annual fundraising dinner. Planning to make a nominal gift, Andrea sat in the audience watching this board member take to the stage in her gala finery. She began the ask with a well constructed and compelling “story of me,” seamlessly connecting to the broader context of what youth are facing today, and then — bam! She asked us to take action — to give generously. By the time she got to that ask, we were all up on our feet clapping, with tears running down our cheeks. Andrea doubled her gift. So did a whole lot of other people in the room. The event raised 20% over target.

Elevator pitches are over-rated. Knowing how to use strategy, clear roadmaps, and the power of narrative to move people to action is not only magical, it’s effective. More case studies (as well as client references) are available on request.