“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle

Lately, I have been hearing about organizations that are feeling lonely due to a perceived lack of “friends” (consistent annual donors, community supporters, etc). Some of these orgs have let their development/outreach programs hibernate due to crisis budgeting, some never had programs to begin with, and some seem to be spinning their wheels because “what has worked in the past” in no longer efficient in keeping friends engaged with the organization. This must be frustrating and probably a bit depressing… especially for those orgs that do not have much of a donor base.

In the words of Uncle Miltie: “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” Start small, start building one door at a time, but you must start doing something. And you really should strategize – what are your goals and what are your capabilities?

Each organization is unique and will need to perform a careful and honest self-assessment of their particular situation and what their goals should be. Are you looking to grow a particular part of your development plan (such as annual giving)? Are you hoping to forge stronger relationships with other orgs or with community leaders? Are you gearing up for a capital campaign? Or maybe your goal is to raise public awareness and make “friends” in anticipation of the next big fundraising event run by your local United Way or community foundation (for example, the Seattle Foundation just completed its second annual Give Big community campaign).

When thinking about capabilities, consider your staff size, limitations, but also the particular skills of each staff person. What are your budget constraints? Who is your audience (or who are your constituents)? What is important to them and where can you find them? Yes, you find them, not the other way around. You should be having this conversation with everyone on your team: board, administrators, program staff, volunteers, and even some of your close donors.

Finally, be creative and think outside of the box regarding how and where to engage with people in the community. Bring in your program staff and highlight/celebrate the work they do. Ask your program staff to collaborate with you on creating opportunities for community engagement.

Whichever routes you choose to take, it is vitally important to keep track of your contacts. CRM systems are so important in development, helping you keep track of where you met a person, what her husband’s name it, what is important to her, etc. Keep up with your contact reports religiously. If you do not have a CRM system, then at least create a spreadsheet for the time being.

There may be a lot of new doors being framed in around you; be aware of these opportunities and ready to answer the door.

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