Major donors are worth their weight in gold. That is, unless they attach so many strings to their donation(s) that they can be worth their weight in something other than gold.
In his book “The Social Entrepreneur’s Handbook” Rupert Scofield acknowledges that landing a major donor can be a huge advantage but that the whole strings-attached thing can be quite damaging. He offers four ways to increase the odds of making such an arrangement beneficial to the nonprofit.
- Make sure you have control over key risk factors, especially on the governance side. Ask yourself: If something goes wrong, will I have the authority to fix it?
- Make sure your organization is geared up to handle the “big money” and has the systems and staff to manage it. Persuade your donor to allow you to spend part of it on a pre-audit of your systems and staff before you begin to scale up.
- Although it might seem like a good idea at the time, don’t offer your major donor a seat on your board right out of the gate. Take some time to get to know each other.
- Don’t sign up for formal partnerships until your organization is developed to the point that it is prepared to manage them. If you do, make sure you have an escape clause if things go south.