A funny thing happens when you help an organization write grants. You see the most beautiful parts of an organization: what they’ve done, what they hope to do, and the passion that drives their staff along the way. Do it long enough, though, and most organizations have some kind of internal challenge they are currently dealing with or have in the past.
Maybe there was a year with a budget shortfall. Maybe a program had to be eliminated because it wasn’t achieving its goals. Or, in some cases, maybe there were major issues with Board and/or senior staff turnover.
These blemishes can be scary, but they don’t need to stop you.
Your organization is far from alone in facing challenges!
The thing that differentiates successful nonprofits is how they work through challenges.
I was thinking about that this week as I was reading about one of my hometown’s favorite sons, John Goodman. St. Louisans tend to get very excited when a local celebrity returns home, and when I saw John Goodman was raising money for a local nonprofit, I knew it was a big deal.
An organization near and dear to John Goodman - and many in the local art community - is the Repertory Theater of St. Louis (known affectionately as “The Rep”). They announced recently that they’re facing a $2.5 million shortfall for the coming year and are trying to raise money to keep the organization afloat. He’ll be coming to town to host an event (along with numerous other local celebrities) to close the gap and keep the organization going.
Now, hopefully your organization doesn’t have a budget shortfall quite that large! But if you’re trying to address a current or past crisis, there’s a lesson to be learned in how The Rep and John Goodman are handling it.
They aren’t trying to hide the situation from the community. Covering up a challenge is always a recipe for disaster: in one way or another, a situation is going to come to light, and problems are going to compound themselves.
Instead of hiding from situations like these, it’s best to be honest with your donors, stakeholders, and the community at large. I see this quite a bit when organizations submit financial information to grantors and have had a previous year where expenses exceeded revenue. While this is not ideal, funders will always catch a deficit. Instead of submitting financials and hoping they don’t see past challenges, acknowledge what happened, explain the situation, and explain how you addressed (or will address) an unfortunate situation.
This type of transparency can take many different forms. Sometimes it means being upfront in a grant application; other times, it may mean picking up the phone and talking to a funder.
No matter how you approach disclosing your challenges, it’s important that you give clarity on what happened, what steps were taken to mitigate the situation, and how your organization has incorporated those learnings in your day-to-day operations.
Funders understand that organizations are doing complicated work and will experience challenges. By being upfront about your challenges, you establish trust and assure funders that when issues arise, you’ll be direct about them and take a collaborative approach to finding solutions.
Not everyone has John Goodman to come to town and save them - and as someone who appreciates the vibrant arts scene in St. Louis, I’m grateful he’ll be around to save an important institution like The Rep. Even if you don’t have a celebrity to help you in a time of need, don’t forget the value of transparency when you’re navigating challenges. It may be the step that prevents a past challenge from becoming an ongoing issue.
If your organization is going through challenges or is trying to be proactive and avoid them, we’re here to help! Contact Team Kat & Mouse today for a free consultation.