Stories Versus Menus

There are two approaches to developing funding opportunities:

  1. Develop a compelling vision for the institution’s future based on mission and values by engaging key leaders, donors, and constituents in a planning process.  Specific funding priorities are identified that support this compelling vision.
  2. Develop a comprehensive list of institutional needs and encourage donors to support the needs that are of the most interest to them.

The difference between these two approaches is substantial.  The first calls on us to paint a picture – to craft a story –  of our institution’s future.  It demands that we make choices about institutional direction and prioritize funding opportunities which support the narrative.

The second approach encourages us to identify our needs as an institution and make the case as to why the needs are legitimate.  This approach doesn’t call on us to prioritize our needs in any special way, only that we list them all.

What we know about these two approaches is that the first can be messy and more difficult to craft because people of varying viewpoints are engaged and decisions regarding priorities must be made.  The second is clean and easy because no decisions have to be made about which funding possibilities to include or exclude – we simply include them all.

What we also know is that the messy, difficult work of approach number 1 is worth it.  A compelling institutional story about the future supported by funding priorities attracts donors who are willing to invest substantially.  Meanwhile, a list of funding options, no matter how comprehensive, doesn’t inspire because there is no narrative.  There is no story of how the future will be different and better.

As advancement leaders we have the opportunity to craft full-bodied stories that energize and inspire donors to invest in a better tomorrow.  Or, we can create menus listing all of our needs in the hope that a donor responds generously.  My suggestion?  Menus belong in restaurants.

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