I remember watching a John Wayne movie in the late 60’s called Hellfighters with him portraying Red Adair. Red would get called in as the only guy at the time to put out blazes at oil well heads. At times in this business I’ve felt like the Red Adair of fundraising putting out fires for clients. In other words, dealing with the challenges that sometimes feel like they can’t be contained unless you bring in an expert.
In the last two months we’ve had one campaign where the Pastor resigned just as they were to go public with 40% of the goal raised. Since then two major gifts were pulled back. Another past client had a major fire destroy a recently refurbished building from a campaign and the insurance money won’t cover the replacement cost as the whole building was destroyed. Lastly, a donor to one of our projects pulled a $1 million challenge gift from one charity and redirected some of the funds to our client (good for us but bad for the other charity).
This happens all throughout the philanthropic world. I’ve written and said this numerous times. . . we problem solve our way to a goal. We are solutionists. I’ve seen CEOs fired at board meetings, presidents of institutions resign over internal politics, ED’s on the daily news for financial wrongdoings, etc. Life goes on and we deal with the challenges whether manmade or environmental like Katrina, which devastate a community’s donor base. It all becomes part of your story and how you met the challenge.
Unfortunately, sometimes consultant relationships don’t work out and campaigns fail to meet goals. One CEO of a UK charity I recently spoke with signed a contract with a NYC firm at $35,000 per month to raise $1,000,000. At the end of the year nothing was raised and he now has a negative feeling about consultants. Since it didn’t work out with one firm doesn’t mean that it won’t work. You have to adapt to the environment and be ready for the challenges that inevitably will come. In the last 30 years our firm has seen many economic downturns, natural disasters and financial and political crises within organizations. Most survive with a determination to be stronger at the end just as all challenges in life make us stronger.
A dear friend who led a major consulting firm in the Southeast told me a story of a friend who was being interviewed as a private pilot. He wanted a $120,000 salary based on his flight time and experience, but the person hiring him only wanted to pay $100,000. As the pilot was walking out the door, he turned to the exec and said “I hope when you are flying with your new pilot you don’t encounter a $120,000 problem.” The saying, “you get what you pay for” is true, as it is with the work we do.
As you go through the year be prepared to deal with challenges as they will arise. You don’t know what they are and we pray they don’t happen but be ready. Do you have a point person who is the only person the press can talk to in a crisis situation at your organization? Remember, as you look for professional services such as our firm provides, look at the depth of experience and the challenges that that firm has helped others overcome.
“Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity,
and movements and changes in the world about him;
then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape
the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be.”
Written by: Paul D’Alessandro
Founder and Chairman