Does your organization have everything it needs to
ensure your programs are strong? And is it safe to assume the reason you are
reading this article is because the answer is No?
One of my favorite keynote topics is
sustainability. I often start by asking folks to raise their hands if this is
the first talk (or workshop, or program) they have attended about sustaining
their organization’s efforts - fundraising, resource development, etc.
And just like this is probably not the first
sustainability / resource development article you have ever read, in those
audiences, it is the rare attendee who has never before attended such a
session. Usually, everyone in the room has participated in many such talks over
Consider that fact for a moment. We have all been
to workshop after workshop. We have all read article after article, and book
after book. And still, we do not believe our organizations are strong enough to
allow us to forego the next workshop, the next article, the next new
And while sometimes that is due to an organization
failing to implement what they have heard or read, just as often folks have
indeed implemented what they have learned. And still, after all these years of
doing things the way they have been taught to do them, the sense of fear,
scarcity and dependence remains.
Perhaps, then, it is time to take a different look
at this issue. Instead of always hoping we will fill the gaps between
“what we have” and the ever-growing “what we need,”
perhaps it is time we aimed at what it will take to build strong, resilient,
confident programs the community can always count on.
Perhaps it is time to stop worrying about what we
DON’T have, and start building upon what we DO
Doing What Wealthy People Do
Consider the life of extremely wealthy people. Bill
Gates. Warren Buffet. The Walton family, heirs to the Wal-Mart
Those people do not work for a living. Warren
Buffet’s company, Berkshire Hathaway, famously pays him a salary of only
$100,000 per year - certainly not enough to make him the second wealthiest man
With only 24 hours in a day, if wealthy people were
to base their income solely on what they could earn from working, their
earnings potential would have a top end limit. There is only so much one can
conceivably work in a day, even if you survive on only 2 hours sleep. And there
is only so much one can be paid to do that work.
Clearly, what makes and keeps wealthy people
wealthy is not their wages. What DOES make them wealthy and keep them wealthy,
however, is their assets - the things they already
Wealthy people have learned how to let the
things they own - their assets - make their money for them. Some may own real
estate, or stocks and bonds, or even whole companies. Regardless, it is not
what they do
on a daily basis
that makes them money (earned income) but how they invest in what they already
When you rely on a paycheck, the income stops if
you do not work. When you rely on your assets to generate your income, the
money continues to grow, even if you stop working to earn it.
That is strength. That is resilience. And that is
what builds confidence to create a better future.
So, how much of your time are you spending on the
organizational equivalent of “working for a living?” Instead of all
that effort, wouldn’t it be nice to let your assets do that work for you?
And while you may be thinking that assets are just
money, you will see below that assets are so much more - and that you have them
Wouldn’t it be great if your organization
could generate the resources it needed by building upon the things it already
has and the work it is already doing?
Traditional Fundraising Plans
If we were to whittle the traditional approach to
fundraising planning down to its most basic components, those steps might look
something like this:
Traditional Planning Step
#1: Identify budget needs
Traditional Planning Step
#2: Identify revenues you are certain are coming in (through
contracts, through fundraising history, etc.)
Step #3: Fill in the rest with a mix of fundraising
tools (grants, direct mail, events, major giving,
An asset-based system adds one more step into the
mix, between Steps #2 and #3:
Identify what assets
and resources you already have to build upon. Then base your choice of
fundraising tools (#3) on those assets.
As you identify those assets and begin building
upon them, you will see something change almost immediately. You will no longer
believe you are filling in a seemingly bottomless hole. You will instead see
that you are standing on a mountain and building even
The following are the steps that will help move you
from the hole to the mountaintop. These simple steps are among the most
energizing an organization can undertake.
Asset-Based Step #1:
Know your mission
and your vision, and make sure your budget is rooted in a plan that aims for
Asset-Based Step #2:
needs to both implement those plans and maintain other programs, and identify
revenues you are certain are coming in (through contracts, through fundraising
Asset-Based Step #3:
Identify all your
assets and resources.
Asset-Based Step #4:
Identify how each of
those assets / resources could help move you forward.
Asset-Based Step #5:
Build your resource
development plan around the best of those ideas.
1: A Plan that Reaches for Your Vision
What are you trying to generate resources for? The
most critical thing to remember as you work to build strength into your work is
this: Your work is not about your organization. It is about your community, and
the people you serve.
People who have never heard about your organization
- and therefore do not care about your organization - indeed care about your
mission and your vision for building a better community. They may not know your
organization even exists, but they care about animals or poverty or human
rights or historic buildings.
So Step 1 is to ensure your organization’s
plans are aimed at the change you want to create in the community, and to
ensure your budget is rooted in that vision for the future of your community as
well. When it’s all about the community, the rest will flow more
naturally from that strong starting point.
2: Identify Budget Needs/ Identify Revenue You Can Already Count
This step is pretty straight-forward. If you need
help with this piece, classes at your local nonprofit resource center can
3: Identify Your Assets / Resources
We are so used to thinking of “assets”
as the items on the balance sheet. But in its everyday meaning, an asset is
something either of material value or usefulness, that can be built upon to
make something stronger. (Consider the phrase, “She is an asset to the
organization.”) If it helps to clarify your thinking in this area, think
of the word “resources” instead of “assets.” But the
bottom line is that your assets are the things you already have or already
The following are 4 categories of assets /
resources every organization has. Some have more than others in one category or
another, but every organization has these 4 sets of
- Mission-Related Assets & Resources (not
only your mission, but all the operational things you are already doing to make
that mission happen)
- Physical Assets & Resources (your
facilities, your equipment)
- Human Assets & Resources (not just your
staff, but your board, your volunteers, your supporters, the participants in
- Community Assets & Resources (Everything
within your community. Really.)
Mission-Related Assets &
Mission-related assets and resources are
“What you do.” The first items on this list will be your mission
and vision. From there, you will list every program you have, and all the great
things you do for the community - those are all assets.
There are also all the small sub-steps that
comprise your programs. The easiest way to determine all those pieces is to map
out each of your programs. Johnny enters the waiting room; he waits for the
counselor; he sees the counselor; he heads to the appointment area; etc. and
etc. What happens in each of your programs? What do participants do? Where do
they go? Who do they see? Document all the steps for each of your programs.
Those steps are all part of what you have and what you
Physical Assets &
If mission resources are “What you do,”
then physical resources are “What you
If you use a building, regardless of whether you
own it or rent it, list it. List what rooms the building has, and if it has a
basement or an attic. List if it has a yard or a large parking lot. List it
Now list all your equipment. And if you have access
to all kinds of equipment because the owner of the local equipment dealership
is on your board, list that, too.
List all the facilities and equipment and other
physical “stuff” you own or have access
Human Assets &
Human resources are “Who you know.”
Who does your organization know? Who knows your
organization? Who comes in contact with the organization for whatever reason?
Whose lives does your organization touch? Who do individual board members and
staff members know? And who do they know?
The list will start with your staff, board, and
volunteers. Clients, certainly. Parents or children of clients, or other
family. The media. Local government officials. And of course donors, funders,
corporate sponsors. In some cases, a whole group will be listed: “Our
volunteers.” In other cases, a few key individuals may shine through.
“Mrs. Smith has volunteered here every week for the past 2 years!”
There is no right or wrong way to list people - in
groups or individually. Just start listing! This is one list that tends to go
on for miles. And the longer, the better!
Community Assets &
Community organizations get so used to thinking of
themselves in a vacuum; they forget that the communities that surround them are
rich in resources waiting to be tapped.
While you may start this list during your
brainstorm session, the list (often called a Community Asset Map) can soon get
unwieldy and overwhelming. Your community has such an abundance of resources
and assets, just waiting for you to activate them, that it is hard sometimes to
get one’s arms around it all!
For this category, then, it may be helpful to
reflect on a specific project or need. (That is why it is so important for the
first step in this process to be the creation of your organization’s
plans for where it is heading and the change it wants to create in the
community / in people’s lives.) Once you have a specific need - a
specific component of a project - ask, “Who in the community already has
or does that component? Who might have access to
Do you need someone to make deliveries? Who is
already making deliveries?
Do you need someone to provide storage? Who already
has storage space?
Our communities are rich in resources we tend to
overlook. But once you begin to see them, you will notice them
4: Identify How Each of Those Assets / Resources Could Bring in More
As you look at the asset lists you’ve
created, choose one of those assets, and make that asset the heading of a new
sheet. Now brainstorm: How can that asset provide more benefit than it is
Using a Mission
If people are routinely
sitting in your hospital lobby, waiting for loved ones to come out of surgery,
could you provide health information that would further your mission - perhaps
a counselor who could offer a “free screening” for a critical
health issue in your community? Does this give you the opportunity to partner
with other organizations, to build stronger bonds? Could you provide healthy
snacks (and generate revenue from those snacks)?
Using a Physical
Could the grounds or
the roof of your building be a good location for a cell phone tower or a wind
generator? (We have seen both.) Could your parking lot become a pay lot for a
nearby arena’s overflow parking?
Using a Human
If 500 young people
gather for each of your organization's performances, could that be appealing to
a sponsor who wants to have their name in front of kids? Could you use the
performances to generate volunteers? Could you ask those hundreds and thousands
of kids to share their wisdom about how your program could be more effective?
Using a Community
If you have been
offered a free booth at a community event, but you do not want to just hand out
literature, are there ways you can use that booth to generate revenues? To
engage people in your mission?
This is not the time to judge whether an idea is
good or bad. This is the time to just keep those ideas flowing. Sometimes the
dumbest sounding ideas have a kernel of possibility that can grow into
something else. (What eventually became the Poster Babies Contest for the
Diaper Bank we founded began at this stage as Jell-O
5: Build Your Resource Development Plan around the Best of The
If you are anything like the groups we have done
this planning with, you will find an abundance of ideas flowing, generating all
kinds of excitement.
At this point, it is important to matrix the best
of those ideas against objective criteria, to choose which will be the most
effective for your needs. Just because another organization chose to use one
particular approach does not mean that will be the most effective for your
organization’s needs. By weighing your ideas against objective criteria,
the results will ensure your resource development plan is built specifically
for your organization’s needs.
What kind of criteria might you use? One obvious
criteria is “How much money (or volunteers, or other needed resource)
could it bring in?” Another could be “How long will it take to come
to fruition?” Or perhaps “How much staff time will it
require?” If a particular factor is important to your organization,
include it for comparison.
Matrixing your ideas against objective criteria AND
against each other, avoids the common phenomenon of making decisions in a
vacuum. “Should we do this, yes or no?” is a bad way to choose, as
it ignores all the other possibilities. By weighing all your ideas against each
other, asking, “Which of these would be best?” your organization
will have a range of choices, all of which have been measured against those
The Best Part
In summary, taking an Asset-Based Approach to
Resource Development builds upon the strength your organization already has.
The process is an affirming, energizing experience, as groups not only identify
everything they have that is strong, but all the potential that has been hidden
inside those assets. Regardless of the group we work with, the response is
always the same: “We never realized we had so
When we build upon what is already strong, those
assets themselves begin to grow and flourish. Like compounding interest in a
savings account, we are building strength upon strength, and that simply builds
more strength. What a joyful cycle to kick-start!
But that is not the best part. For the best part,
we will share one more observation about wealthy people.
Wealthy individuals do
not see other wealthy individuals as competition. They see each other as
friends, compadres, co-investors, partners.
Because wealthy people are building their
sustainability upon what they already own, they don’t have to worry that
by someone else getting more, they will be somehow diminished. No competition.
No scarcity. No fear.
Wealthy people are therefore free to focus on what
they have in common, and to build on that. They are free to live life with the
knowledge that resources are not limited, but
Last year, Warren
Buffet - the second wealthiest man on earth - announced that he would be
bequeathing a large portion of his fortune to the foundation headed by Bill
Gates - the wealthiest man on earth. He entrusted the money he had earned
throughout his entire life to another wealthy person, to invest it in the
future of our planet.
When we build upon our assets, we are free to see
others who care about the same things we do - formerly known as our competitors
- as allies, friends, compadres. We can share with them an abundance of
resources. An abundance of supporters. An abundance of others who care about
what you care about.
When we build and sustain our programs upon our
strengths, we can confidently link arms together, to mutually aim at winning
the best prize of all: creating a better future for our
And that is a prize that grows larger and stronger
the more it is shared.