How to Impress a Major Donor: Review Your Mission!
Over the coming months, I am going to talk through a number of ways in which you can impress the philanthropists on your prospect list (and the ones that you don't know are following you).
This month, I'm talking about your mission.
Your mission is one of your most important assets
The first and most important step you can take to enhance your 'donor appeal' is to review your mission statement.
Every charity and non-profit has a mission, but in my experience, the majority are too broad or unspecific or seem disconnected with a non-profit's activities.
I have come across few that really "nail it" from the perspective of what high-impact funders want to see.
And I get why this is so! It was written years ago by your founders. Everyone knows what it is and agrees with it. As a CEO or Campaign Leader or Fundraising Manager, you are operating at breakneck speed, and there isn't the imperative or time to review it. You have mouths to feed, cures to find and laws to change and there is only one of you. I get it!
And as a board member, perhaps you have never discussed your mission at length, and there isn't the time anyway during your meetings. No-one seems to have an issue with it anyway. You might think, "It explains the broad change we want to see in the world and so what else is needed?"
Your mission is a funder's entry point to understanding your strategy for change
The thing is, the vast majority of funders/donors that I engage with are very interested in your mission, and if they are considering investing in your organisation, they need it to make sense to them and inspire them. It's their first entry point into understanding your strategy for change. If it doesn't express a clear, achievable and measurable outcome, many will move on.
When I assess a charity/non-profit like yours on behalf of a funder (or as part of my proposal feedback service), I always start with a 'mission assessment.' I want to know the specific, measurable end impact you intend to have on the world (to help me then understand your plan for getting there). If your mission isn't clear, or if it feels impossibly broad, or if what's keeping everyone busy doesn't appear to carve a path towards accomplishing your mission, these are red flags.
Take the eight-word mission challenge!
The concept of the 'eight-word mission statement,' inspires me. I was introduced to it by Kevin Starr, Director of the Mulago Foundation, in this article in the Stamford Social Innovation Review:
"As investors in impact, we—the Mulago Foundation—don’t want to wade through a bunch of verbiage about “empowerment,” “capacity-building,” and “sustainability”—we want to know exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. We want to cut to the chase, and the tool that works for us is the eight-word mission statement. All we want is this:
A verb, a target population, and an outcome that implies something to measure—and we want in eight words or less."
Kevin Starr then offers some examples: 'Save kids’ lives in Uganda', 'Rehabilitate coral reefs in the Western Pacific', 'Prevent maternal-child transmission of HIV in Africa', 'Get Zambian farmers out of poverty'.
Use active verbs
When I work with a client on their mission statement, I recommend that they download this list of active verbs. We then we use the Mulago Foundation's formula to come up with some options for discussion.
OK, let's look at an example
I reviewed my mission for my work with charities and non-profits. These verbs best describe how I work with non-profit leaders: coach, educate, equip, guide. I settled on 'guide.' Here is what I came up with:
My mission is to: "Guide [verb] charity leaders [specific target] to bigger gifts [measurable outcome] from committed donors [secondary target]."
I am putting my neck on the line and offering something to judge my success by. I can look back and ask myself, have my clients received bigger gifts and are they retaining more major donors since working with me?
And here is a mission statement for my work with donors:
My mission is to: "Coach [verb] philanthropists [specific target] in due diligence to achieve increased impact [measurable outcome]"
I can judge my success here by asking my clients whether they perceive they are achieving greater impact from their philanthropic investments.
I couldn't get these shorter than 9 words. How did you go with yours?
Let me help you
If you paste your new mission draft into the comments, I will respond with my thoughts and suggestions.
I also offer a proposal feedback service. I can assess your proposal or website (starting with your mission), as a funder would, providing recommendations to strengthen its 'donor appeal'.
If this is of interest, or if have and questions, lets talk. Connect with me by email (email@example.com) and I'll be happy to help.