Menu Close

It’s a New Year…Stop Procrastinating

now or later


Procrastination is the art of keeping up with yesterday. Don Marquis
Procrastination is not reserved for only individuals. Boards of directors and organizations also procrastinate, and often to their detriment.
I want to share two stories about organizations that inexplicably waited to the brink before facing what needed to be done. I’ve changed their name to protect the guilty.

The first organization we’ll call the International Foundation, a health research and education Foundation that enjoyed a long and successful history, led by its founder John. The board is composed of accomplished professors, scientists and educators… all very smart people. John is 92 years old and has not been in good health for some time. He has been the rainmaker for all the years of the Foundation’s existence. By the time Copley Raff was asked by the board to assist the Foundation, John was no longer available to help, and they wanted to raise $10 million, 20 times their annual budget.

Needless to say, we needed to address this magical thinking and convince the board that they need to be able to walk before you can run. We designed a straight forward strategy for identifying major donor prospects, conceiving a case for support and beginning the pursuit of the prospects with the help of the board members. Because John was the rainmaker all these years, the board members were barely ever asked to do any fundraising or to build relationships on behalf of the Foundation.

This story does not have a happy ending. John passed away and board members dragged their feet with regard to the strategy they initially embraced. This was followed by the key staff person being laid off due to lack of funds. The Foundation and its programs have been “mothballed”.

The second organization we’ll call Specialty School, a K-12 private school. The School was fortunate to receive a large, one time gift that provided $1.5 million to them for ten years. The School incorporated this windfall into their operating budget to enhance the School programs and in many other ways. As a result, their annual financial needs have increased by $1.5 million. It is now eight years later, and the School’s leadership is just beginning to explore how they will replace the annual $1.5 million, on top of their core operating needs.

Specialty School is led by smart executives and board members, and yet, they waited eight years to begin a process to replace the income. Their strategy is to create a $30 million endowment and to raise it in two years. While it was probably not in my self-interest to ask this question, I did ask the consultant selection committee… What took you so long to start this process? While it was a rhetorical question, I did tell them that they will need to have a good explanation for waiting. The sophisticated donors they will be approaching to contribute to their endowment will ask the question. There are many ways to create urgency for a campaign, but this approach is not advised.

The economy or at least the stock market has rebounded from the great recession sufficiently enough to eliminate it as the excuse for delay.

Your takes:

1. If you know your organization will need to be in a campaign to address obvious issues or opportunities, begin thinking about moving leadership in that direction.

2. Build both the case for campaign support and the case for timing of the campaign.

3. Bring in outside experts to support your case to leadership.

For more information about Copley Raff and its spectrum of consulting services, please see Follow CRI on Twitter @copleyraff.