There is a BIG question you can ask your CEO and your board that can define the readiness and help position your organization to raise real money. The answer will help you to define your next strategic advancement moves and/or your next career move.
The BIG question to leadership is “what would you do with a transformational gift that is offered on the condition it be used or designated for use within two years?” The amount will certainly vary from organization to organization. But if a gift is offered that is half or 5 times your annual operating budget, how would your organization use it?
I often ask this question when interviewing leadership for strategic advancement planning engagements. During one engagement with a national public health organization, the answers from board members when asked what they would do with such a gift of $20 million were creative, bold and often had a range of associated risk. The response from senior executives, on the other hand, were much more conservative and operational in nature, including a response from the then CEO who would “put it in the bank”.
Asking the BIG question forces leadership to revisit the organization’s vision – to confirm it or update it. It also gives them the liberty of blue sky thinking. What if? The fruits of this exercise can be profound and can set a new course for an organization. When you raise sights, new possibilities can emerge and an updated vision may spark the interest of donors including those capable of transformational giving.
Creative and even disruptive thinking needs to be done to answer the BIG question and to be able to realistically respond if the money were available. I will often suggest to clients who are willing to think beyond their current means and bandwidth, to create a contingency budget.
The exercise forces decisions to be made by leadership and to write them down on a contingency budget document. If we secure $XX,XXX,XXX then we will do projects A, B and C. If we secure $X,XXX,XXX we will do project A. The binary nature of this approach can inspire big-thinking donors because they will know if not for their support, A, B and C will not happen.
A strategic planning process that does not spend time discussing this BIG question is an opportunity lost. I argue that it is the role of the advancement leader, who should be a central participant in the strategic planning process, to raise the BIG question as part of the process and to spend the time to get trustees to weigh in with their thinking; since this would rarely be an agenda item of a board meeting.
1. Run by your CEO or board chair the idea of the BIG question exercise.
2. Facilitate a discuss that has no rules and where every idea is captured.
3. Seed the discussion with your own thinking.
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