Mel and Pearl Shaw


“Fundraising is known for its abundance of failures and few successes.”

We can’t recall who said this, but we know it is true.

Yet many people think otherwise. Plans are created; goals are set. Most are focused on “incremental growth.” Maybe it’s a little more direct mail. Or maybe a change in sponsorship levels for a special event.

Some may try to launch an online giving program – but won’t invest enough to get meaningful results. It’s challenging for nonprofits to try things that might fail for the belief is that resources are too tight.

Here’s our question: Can nonprofits attract the resources needed to fulfill their mission without taking risks? We are “pro-risk” and with this column encourage you to take a risk, otherwise known as “the right to be wrong.”

Here are some things to consider: Fund development by its nature is a risky business. Leadership has to be self-assured: you have to know your craft, and understand your community. Your team should be well informed and trained, especially those who will interact with board leadership, volunteers, and donors.

Take the risk of being transparent and accountable with your board, staff and donors. Share the truth, especially when you are taking a risk. Let your team know that what you are proposing is new, and might not work out the way you anticipate. Ask for their guidance and suggestions. Ask them to share the challenges that you may not be seeing. Make your risk a “we” risk.

Be open to learn from each other. Transparency and accountability can foster an openness that allows board members to learn from the staff team, and for staff to be open to learning from the board.

Be honest – let it be known that what you are attempting can be risky for the organization. But don’t blindly jump off a cliff. Put in place a series of milestones, monitoring processes, and evaluations so you can adjust when necessary. Recruit outside observers who do not have a dog in the race, to be “objective” and help you to make adjustments when necessary.

You want to discourage finger pointing if – or when – things don’t go as planned. The great equalizers, when attempting risky activities, are leadership, vision, intel, and planning.

Our suggestion: Go for it! Take a shared risk. Remember, not being successful doesn’t mean you’re wrong. And anyway, you have the right to be wrong.

Mel and Pearl Shaw believe in risk taking and the power of nonprofits. If you want help growing your fundraising, call them at (901) 522-8727 or visit