Monday, November 14, 2011

On Money and Mission

Let’s start with what seem to be unimpeachable assertions:

The purpose of institutional advancement is to advance an institution’s mission; and

The best way for advancement to do that is to secure larger amounts of private support.

Sounds right, right? Ah, but those assertions fall apart if the raising of money isn’t synchronized to the design and delivery of mission. Allow me to explain through analogy: Let’s compare an institution to an ambulance whose mission is to preserve life until patients can be delivered to the hospital. Will securing more and more private support for that ambulance automatically lead to the saving of more and more lives? Well, let’s see.

Let’s say your job is to raise more money for that ambulance. You’re told that your goal for the coming year is $100,000. “It should be a breeze,” your boss says, “We have the most important mission of all -- saving lives.” Yet, when you make your calls, loyal supporters raise concerns, including one who says:

“I’ve given generously for five straight years. I mean, I get nice thank you notes and a glossy annual reports but no one ever shows me how MY gift made a difference. I keep hearing is ‘Thank you for your last gift but now we need more’. No one tells why or what it’s for.”

You persist but keep running into donor concerns. Some question whether you need the money given how fancy the ambulance has become, not to mention how much the hospital has expanded after that last hugely successful campaign. Others say they fear the money is going into a “black hole.” Still others, as you get to know them better, reveal personal misgivings. One says, “I don’t think you’re even servicing my area any more.” Another says, ‘If I’m so important to the hospital, why is it that I only hear from fund raisers?’

Realizing that you can’t raise substantially more money without responding to these concerns, you go back to the office to bone up on how private funds have been used and why more are needed. You learn that donations been used to equip the ambulance with the latest technology. Yet, one of the drivers tells you that much of it is to diagnose and treat injuries they rarely, if ever, see. You ask, “Then why was it purchased?” The driver says, “Because other ambulances were getting it.” Further, the new equipment has added significant weight to the ambulance making it slower and significantly less fuel-efficient. You dig further and discover that the ambulance has been responding to slightly fewer emergency calls each year, and the survival rate of patients has declined modestly for five straight years despite the receipt of more private support each year. You realize the facts don’t work in the favor of fund raising.

Being of good conscience, you take your concerns to higher ups. “We could raise more money,” you say, “if we lightened the ambulance and conducted a logistical analysis to make sure we’re using the best routes to speed patients back to the hospital. And, we have to make sure we don’t withdraw service from areas where we’ve enjoyed the greatest philanthropic support.” Your higher ups, with varying degrees of acidity or amicability, say, “What does that have to do with advancement? Aren’t you supposed to raise money?”

“But I could raise much more,” you say, “if I could show prospects and donors how more money will allow us to increase response time, shorten return times, reach more people in need and drive up survivability.”

“We don’t want donors intruding in our affairs,” say the higher ups. “Our costs have gone up, therefore we need more support.”

“But, but, but…. “ you say, searching for the right words, “donors won’t give to offset our costs.”

“What???” say the higher ups, registering great incredulity.

“They give because of what we .. we…do. If we don’t do more – either serve more people or save more lives or both, how can we ask them to give more?”

“Because we’re in the business of saving lives,” say the higher ups. “And that’s very, very, very important.”

You ask if you can make your case to the CEO but are told he’s under a lot of pressure from the board to raise more money, especially for the ambulance because its costs keep going up. The board, it turns out, doesn’t give much, especially to ambulance and doesn’t think it’s important to look at response times or the survival rates of patients. They think it’s important to balance the budget and build an endowment. When they hear the cost of ambulance service has gone up, they pound the table and say, “We need to be more aggressive in fund raising.”

You find yourself in a conundrum. You’re expected to raise more money but you realize that can be done without changing the ambulance and rethinking its routes. And you don’t want to mislead donors. You didn’t get into the business to raise money for its own sake; you wanted to help save lives. So you start looking around for a job at another hospital, one that understands that the more mission relates to advancement, and vice versa, the more money you can raise which, in turn, will make it possible to further advance the mission and the credibility of the institution.

If you succeed in finding such an institution, you will discover that when mission and money are tightly aligned, donor, fund raiser and institution stand a far greater chance of living happily ever after.

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