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Show Me the Money!

You can’t say it without picturing Cuba Gooding and Tom Cruise engaged in the now famous exchange in the movie “Jerry Maguire,” as Cuba’s character Rod Tidwell expressed his primary interest in retaining Jerry as his agent – “Show Me the Money!”

I’m approached on a regular basis by grassroots organizations, faith-based organizations, and not-for-profits of all sizes, seeking our assistance with one thing – that’s right – money. Because if they could just get some money everything else would be all right – or so they think. “Can you write a grant for us or get us the money we need?” they ask.  As the conversation continues, I ask my clients to consider their “readiness” to receive grant money. And, for the record, this question normally doesn’t go over too well.

Money should not be the priority or primary concern that motivates you or your organization. Money can be your worst enemy if you get it when you’re not ready to receive it.  Sure, it takes money to get work done, but there are several factors that demand our attention before we ask others to invest in us.

1.   Need
What is the issue, challenge, problem, or situation that you seek to address?  Answering this question is critical, particularly for many grassroots and faith-based organizations who – in their quest to help – try to be all things to all people.  Don’t stretch yourself too thin.  The key word here is focus.

2.   Assets (Capacity)
Now, just because you’ve figured out what problem you’re trying to solve, you still can’t run out and ask for money.  The next question you need to answer is what assets and resources do you have and/or have access to that can address the need.  Remember, just because a need exists and is validated doesn’t mean it’s yours to fix. Look within your organization at your volunteers, staff, board, space, vehicles, equipment, knowledge, skills, abilities, relationships, and previous successes.  Make sure you have the assets or the access to address the need.

3.   Vision
As an organization you need a vision – a picture of success.  When I ask individuals and organizations about their vision I often get a blank stare and then they begin to tell me about what they’re doing.  The vision is not what you do – it’s what the community will look like after you do what you do.  The vision needs to be compelling, inviting, challenging, and serve as a call to action for others to support you.  Remember the vision is that which you can only see if your eyes are closed and your heart is open.

4.   Mission
If nothing else, the mission should tell others what you do, who you do it for, and where you do it.  It is not a list of programmatic or ministry activities: it is the overarching purpose of those activities.  Some good mission words include: Develop, Promote, Equip, Connect, Reduce, or Promote. You can test the validity of your mission by asking one simple question:  If we do this, will it lead to our vision?  The mission is the road you travel to get to your vision.

5.   Values
At the core of your organization are your values.  We define values as the non-negotiable principles that you will not compromise and that guide your decision making. Values are unique to each organization and depend on that organization’s culture.  Whether you have a written values statement or not, we all have organizational values.  They are evident in our relationships, decisions, and activities.  For instance, if you say you value feedback from your constituents, but there is no mechanism in place for them to provide that feedback, then it’s not really a value: it’s just a nice thought.

If the mission is the road you travel to get to your vision, then your values serve as the guardrails.  They protect you and keep you within your mission. One result of a lack of values is mission drift.  We sway off course because we’re chasing money.  One irrefutable fact is that ministry does not follow money, but money will always follow ministry.

Understanding, respecting, and communicating your Strategic Framework to all stakeholders will help you identify potential grant opportunities, as well as partnering agencies, board members, volunteers, donors, and others who share your passion for helping others.

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