Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Long and Short of It

As I work with clients to help them see the greater philanthropic return that can be enjoyed from engaging in values-based, long-term strategies, some become gripped by anxiety.

“This sounds good,” they say, “but what about now?” “What about our results for this year?”

I realize that some see long-term strategies as coming at the expense of short-term results. But it isn’t an either-or proposition. Taking a long-term approach can have an immediate beneficial effect on the bottom line because it offers the philanthropic investor a stronger value proposition. On the other hand, if you don’t take a long-term approach, all the prospective donor sees is urgency, expediency, opaque objectives and, in some cases, desperation. That will only diminish their enthusiasm and curb their willingness to consider significant investment. Put yourself in the donor’s position: Which is more attractive? The request for more money now for unspecified or broadly-defined purposes or for a strategic investment in a project or initiative that will advance the institution’s mission in concrete and compelling terms in a finite period of time?

In their book, “Great By Choice,” Jim Collins and Morten Hansen limn the uncommon characteristics of CEOs who have led companies to remarkable achievements despite significant challenge and adversity. All of these ultra-high achievers,” they say, “started with values, purpose, long-term goals, and severe performance standards.” Yet, when you read the case studies, each of their companies also made considerable and consistent progress year-in, year-out.

You see, if you commit yourself to enduring values, by definition you commit yourself to a long-term course. But, because the end point is true, because it has and will stand the test of time, any progress you make, on even the most difficult day, puts you closer to great and lasting achievement. If, on the other hand, you have no value-driven objectives, how do you know if you have made progress from day to day, month to month, or year to year? If your objective is only to achieve certain short-term, fund-raising measurements you may indeed reach them only to discover that you have wandered well off the course to long-term philanthropic sustainability. And that is exactly where many philanthropy-seeking organizations now find themselves.

Collins and Hansen illustrate, with one vivid example after the other, how those who commit themselves to regimens of steady progress toward long-term goals invariably outpace those who sprint to immediate gains. The key, they say, is discipline.

“Discipline, in essence, is consistency of action – consistency with values, consistency with long-term goals, consistency with performance standards, consistency over time… Discipline is not the same as measurement. Discipline is not the same as hierarchical obedience or adherence to bureaucratic rules. True discipline requires the independence of mind to reject pressures to conform in ways incompatible with values, performance standards, and long-term aspirations.”

If you assume your institution is going to be around a long-time, your best fund-raising strategy is to show donors how each and every gift adds up to something lasting and larger than all of us. They will most certainly notice the difference, and you will see an immediate impact.