If my father were still alive, he would have celebrated his 89th birthday this week. Though he passed 15 years ago, I still miss him. And, I still remember the many lessons he taught me.
My dad was good with his hands. He had a well-equipped workshop where he built all sorts of things. One of the many lessons he shared with me is:
Always use the right tool for the job.”
You get the idea.
It’s a simple concept. It’s really just common sense. Sadly, however, I speak with many nonprofit professionals who haven’t embraced this concept.
For example, I recently spoke with the head of a nonprofit organization who had received a rather large donation for a special project. To implement the project, the organization was required to raise additional support. Unfortunately, the organization was unable to raise the needed funds and, therefore, it could not move forward with the project. The organization faced the prospect of having to return the gift to the donor.
When I discussed the options with the head of the organization, he told me that the group’s lawyer had provided advice. From what was shared with me, it was pretty clear that the attorney was not a nonprofit law specialist. I could see that his initial advice suffered from his lack of expertise. While the lawyer may be a perfectly fine corporate or real estate attorney, he did not have the experience to deal with the complex issues at hand, both legal and ethical.
I’ve seen this time after time. Nonprofit managers assume that any lawyer can competently answer any legal question. But, if you had a sore throat, you would not go to a cardiologist. Instead, you’d go to your family doctor or an ear, nose, and throat specialist. So, why wouldn’t you go to the appropriate legal specialist to answer your questions?
By the way, I’m not suggesting that lawyers are “tools.” :-) But, they are an important resource. Organizations just need to select the right one for the job at hand.
The same is true in other facets of nonprofit work. If an organization needs a top-notch grantwriter, it should not hire someone with only direct mail copy writing experience. If an organization needs to coordinate the transfer of a real estate gift, it should probably consult a real estate attorney rather than a human resources lawyer. If a nonprofit wants to outsource its annual fund calling program, it should find an expert service provider with oodles of annual fund experience rather than contracting with a firm that sells long-distance telecom or cable television services. If an organization is looking for someone to manage a special event, it should find a special events expert rather than relying solely on an administrative assistant.
Not only should nonprofits work with the right people for the job at hand, they should also use the correct tactics. For example, generally speaking, do not include your major donor prospects in your annual fund calling program. Instead, plan on a personal visit. Use the right tactic for the job.
You may think that this post is way too obvious. If so, good for you if you always use the right tool for the job. If that’s the case, however, I guarantee you that you know someone who has not embraced the axiom. So, I invite you to help spread the word.
Toward that end, please share any funny or horrifying stories you have experienced or witnessed that illustrate what can happen if you do not use the right “tool.”
In case you’re wondering, the outcome to the lawyer story I mentioned above is satisfactory. Initially, the lawyer had suggested that the organization could not legally return the gift to the donor despite the fact that the organization could not honor the donor’s intent. This was bad advice that flew in the face of the jury ruling in the Garth Brooks case. (The right legal specialist would have been aware of the ruling and its implications.) Fortunately, the organization found a solution that the donor supports. The donor’s cash gift had had been used to appropriately acquire real estate. That real estate will be transferred to a new 501(c)3 being created by the donor who will work to advance the project independently.
At my suggestion, the plan for handling the gift will be put in writing to avoid any misunderstandings and to ensure that all parties are and remain on the same page.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?