The $20 Million Dollar Dream

January 12, 2012

Posted in Strategic Planning.

Sometimes I buy a lottery ticket, usually when the jackpot is something ridiculous like $200 million. I don’t expect to win, of course, but I enjoy the fantasy. It’s entertainment (for only a buck and it puts me in a good mood). But it’s also informative – what would you do if you suddenly came into a bunch of money?

My favorite strategic planning exercise for nonprofits is the same question: What would you do if someone walked in and donated $20 million to the organization?*

This question allows you to set aside all the mundane stuff and stop playing the devil’s advocate. You can dream big. You can have fun with it. But more importantly, your answers are also revealing. If money was no object, what would your organization try to accomplish?

If your answer isn’t the same as what you’re doing now (just on a larger scale), that’s important. Can you find a way to do that instead? Does your mission line up with your current activities? Do have a plan to get to where you’d rather be?

  • If you’re in a much larger or much smaller organization, you can adjust that number until it’s sufficiently large yet not too large to find a use for.

My dream for the summer camp

Summer camps are closing left and right. Even the ones that have loyal campers and seem to be doing well are disappearing. They often belong to organizations that are struggling in other areas, the ones that need funds to focus on other programs. So they sell their camps, which disappear forever. Getting a bunch of land to create a new camp is expensive and rare. It’s not like the first half of the 20th century, when land was cheap and creating camps was a fashionable thing to do.

Yet these camps still provide value. I see it every week in the summer. I once received a letter from a camper whose life had changed as a result of his experiences at camp. I couldn’t even read the letter without choking back tears. The thought of our camp disappearing one day makes me sick to my stomach.

So my dream is to raise enough money to:

  1. establish an endowment that would support the ongoing (and increasing) maintenance costs of operating the camp and
  2. use that endowment to establish a permanent, legal protection of the camp property.

In essence, my dream is to preserve the camp forever. I want my great-great-grandkids to know the experience of camp.

I’ve shared this dream with our board of directors. We’ve even come up with a number we’d need to raise, and it’s not unreasonable. I even worked with some donors and volunteers on a plan to make it a reality. Unfortunately, that stalled out for a variety of reasons.

It’s difficult, especially for an organization without a long track record of stability and fundraising success. We still have a long way to go, even though the last few years have been tremendously successful. We need to repair relationships and build trust.

We need this vision to become a dream we can share. Because people buy into dreams, they believe in them. As the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi Kevin Roberts noted, Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t say “I have a vision statement.” He had a dream.

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