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Andrea McManus, ViTreo Group Inc
January 1st 2019


At the end of each year, as we prepare to ring in the new one, many of us tell ourselves and each other, “next year will be different. It will be better.” And we believe it will. That somehow things will change, whether it’s in our personal or professional lives. We believe hoping and saying that it will be so might be enough.

As fundraisers and nonprofits, like business owners and management, we likely make projections and plans for the coming 12 months or the next fiscal year. As a sector, along with most other industries, we face many challenges right now. Disruption in the form of difficult economic times, increased competition for donor dollars, global upheaval, reduced corporate giving, changing regulations and more. Making plans in the face of this is critical, of course, but for anything to be ‘different’, we must change our approach or we risk achieving the same results.


I live and die by strategy so I love this analogy found in a recent Inside Philanthropy issue:

“Fundraising Is Akin to a Military Operation. You have a dedicated game plan for each of your flanks or constituents (foundations, corporations, high-net-worth individuals, lower-level members, galas, government appropriations, etc.). You will have to be flexible and ready to change direction during the heat of battle. Your efforts must be thorough—top-down, bottom-up—and leave no stone unturned. Be prepared to take casualties along the way, but when you stay committed, victory is within reach.” (Inside Philanthropy Words to Live By)

If your approach and your methods aren’t part of an overall well-thought strategic plan, your chances of success decrease. In today’s world, fundraisers and nonprofits can’t afford to make mistakes or miss opportunities. There’s no second chances if there’s a misfire. Research and preparation, tedious as they may be, along with sound strategy, are three pillars that will never leave you flailing about and trying to recover from a misstep.

More great advice —

“When You Buy a House, There Are Three Important Things to Remember: Location, Location, Location. When you raise money, there are three important things to consider: research, research, research. Be prepared. Know whom you are asking and for what purpose…” (Inside Philanthropy Words to Live By)

Does your organization struggle with its efforts in defining an effective strategy? ViTreo offers a clear approach in an industry that can be overwhelming and often overcomplicated.


Again, it’s human nature — but most of us get caught spending our days putting out fires. Whether you run a nonprofit, small business or larger organization, it’s an ineffective behaviour many leaders or managers get caught up in — neglecting the important but non-urgent work, which are the tasks required for success. And this is where we set ourselves up for failure.

“When we know which activities are important and which are urgent, we can overcome the natural tendency to focus on unimportant urgent activities, so that we can clear enough time to do what's essential for our success.” This is referred to as the ‘Eisenhower Principle’ from a 1954 speech by former U.S. President Eisenhower. When we are busy battling flames from ‘urgent’ situations, we are usually achieving someone else’s goals and that makes us ineffective. (Mind Tools)


Any business coach worth their salt gives this advice: Work on your business, not in your business. And that goes back to what I wrote earlier. A clearly defined strategy followed by execution. Your fundraisers, your staff and volunteers and your board need to be prepared and aligned with your organizational goals so they can effectively execute the plan:

“As the popular saying goes, ‘If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll probably end up someplace else.’ A strategic plan outlines the steps to achieve a desired future for an organization. It is comforting for board, staff, and volunteers to have a roadmap to follow. The planning process prioritizes the work to be done. Strategic planning facilitates making short-term decisions based on long-term implications. Most important, a strategic plan provides a series of agreements about what needs to happen. It is a dynamic document that lends flexibility to the organization so that when change occurs, the plan can be adapted to accommodate the changes.” (Event360 Why NonProfit Strategic Planning is Important)


In this busy, noisy world, it’s also critical to stand out from the competition. And it’s not that hard to do:

  • Go the extra mile — whatever that means and whatever that takes. Don’t use form letters. Create personal messages that show the recipients they are not just another name on the list.

  • Just like they do in the Boy Scouts — be prepared. Always.

  • Stay in touch on a consistent basis. Nurture relationships. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin cultivating your donors, making your appeals, stewarding your donors. Would you want to be treated that way?

  • No one relates solely to figures and statistics. Show your (potential and existing) donors what the impact can be of their contribution. Tell them stories, show the changes in people’s lives. Create a line of sight so they can see what the results of their donations are, or can be.


“‘Highlight stories about how your work changes people’s lives, especially if a leader or staff member has a personal connection to your mission,’ says Amy Ricigliano, vice president of client services at Eidolon Communications. She goes on to say, ‘This is usually the easiest type of testimonial to develop and get approved. You could also look for a supporter who is willing to share why he or she gives, or a beneficiary who will demonstrate how your work has changed his or her life, even if it is done anonymously. Offering compelling examples of the way your nonprofit helps people in real life can inspire a deeper connection to your cause and spur greater giving.’ (Chronicle of Philanthropy 9 Ways to Stand Out)

Today, none of us can afford to be complacent. By differentiating yourself, you increase your chances of being noticed, of being chosen and of being successful.

The work we do is valuable. In the face of all this disruption and chaos, I urge you do it better and do it right.

Thank you for reading The Provocateur! From all of us at ViTreo, we wish you and yours all the best in 2019.

If you’re interested in learning more about how millennials are disrupting philanthropy, read our recent blog or listen to our podcast, Millenials are people, too.



Andrea McManus, Chair, Board of Directors, Partner
ViTreo Group Inc

Andrea McManus is a Partner with ViTreo with over 30 years’ experience in fund development, marketing, sponsorship and nonprofit management. A highly strategic thinker and change maker, Andrea has worked with organizations that span the nonprofit sector with particular focus on building long-term and sustainable capacity. 

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