What Really Counts?

by Maggie Clay Love

"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."
~ Albert Einstein

We are all working to gain - and regain - our footing in this ever-shifting economic environment. We have each been hit, one way or another. But the talk is changing, which I take as a good sign. Have we hit bottom? Who knows? But how we approach today's challenges - professionally, organizationally and personally - can make all the difference in the future. Surf non-profit websites, blogs and discussion groups, and folks are talking about how to turn this economic crisis into a positive. It makes me think of that old "turn lemons into lemonade" adage. But swallow Einstein's wisdom with your lemonade, and we have a discussion about what really counts.

It's relatively easy for us to be good to our donors when the money is coming in, but what happens when we have fewer dollars to count? When tough decisions have to be made that impact our staff and organization, our guiding principles and values - what "counts" most - become more visible. And it's important not to lose sight of what really counts when the going gets tough. So here's my personal list of the top four investments an organization can make to demonstrate its guiding principles, in any economy.

  1. Say thank you often, and from the heart. What happens when long-time supporters have fewer dollars to give or hours to volunteer? Do we say thank you only when we are prompted with a donation? Take time to strengthen the relationships that have supported your organization in the past. Make sure these folks know that they are important all the time, not just when they write a check. Heart-felt appreciation goes a long way! And don't forget your "internal supporters" - your staff, organizational constituents and vendors.
  2. Tell your story with passion, and without expectation. If we only tell the story of our work when we are asking for money, we will be disappointed. And if we don't believe passionately in our work, we can't expect others to. See the potential in every opportunity, and approach it with gusto... you never know where the next donation could come from! Are you putting all your eggs in one basket? Are there new or different audiences you should cultivate? Are you using technology to your advantage? Many people have less to give today, but that won't always be the case.
  3. Get creative about how to fulfill your mission. During World War II, folks planted Victory Gardens as a show of sustainability. Today, gardens are popping up in neighborhoods across the country as a show of going "green" in addition to supplementing the grocery budget. Has your organization explored new or non-traditional ways to meet its mission, especially in light of the economy? Are there partnerships or collaborations that could generate new efficiencies? Is there a new twist to an old idea? Creative brainstorming often opens us to different funding sources, too.
  4. Offer regular tune-ups for your Board. The Board of Directors is ultimately accountable for the well-being of the organization, and this economic downturn has added to their responsibility. Check whether your Board has the tools they need to meet the challenges presented today. Does your committee structure still support your organization? Do you need new resources for your Board? Taking time to give the Board extra attention and resources is a wise investment in the future.

The Bottom Line:  When times are tough, our organizational values are more transparent. Today is a great day to take a fresh look at what really counts for us as professionals and for our organizations. Resources through the internet abound, and are at our fingertips. One day soon, there will be more dollars for us to count, but in the meantime, have we invested in what really counts?

Maggie Clay Love is a licensed development consultant with 20-plus years in fundraising and not-for-profit management. She specializes in philanthropic partnerships and fundraising strategies, organizational and board development, and grant writing. Maggie can be reached at maggie@maggieclaylove.com or 919.845.2770

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