“Communicating about this gift to staff and the board is key to an organization’s success! Once we received this gift, we reflected for several days. We asked ourselves, how do we scale up most effectively? In my Maasai culture, we have a very deep culture of sharing what we have. We wanted to share the love. My role as a leader was to be open and transparent with our members, board, staff, and long-time strategic donors.”
- Maanda Ngoitiko, Founder and Executive Director, Pastoral Women's Council
A pivotal issue for recipients of financial windfalls has been crafting an effective communication strategy. Irrespective of the size, issue area, or type of organization, a strategy that carefully thinks about the language, framing, and message delivery to the intended audience is critical. These nuances not only help to communicate news of the gift, but also ensure that the increased visibility of the organization becomes an opportunity to reinforce its mission and vision.
Recipient organizations shared that they wanted to first achieve alignment on what this grant meant with their closest stakeholders before developing any communications for external circulation. There was an interest in establishing clear expectations of what this funding meant to staff, boards, and relevant partners like sub-grantees or implementing partners. This involved collectively discussing what the grant could achieve in the short and long term and ensuring shared agreement on organizational direction.
Given that windfall grants often come as a surprise to recipient organizations and have a stringent requirement of confidentiality before they can announce, organizations face decisions on how, with whom, and when the news can be discussed. The unique nature of these gifts further emphasizes the need for well-thought-through communication strategies for leaders, key stakeholders, board members, partners, staff members, and other donors.
Crafting or adapting a communications strategy is critical to inform key stakeholders inside and outside the organization about the organization’s direction, and ensure that the organization, its impact, and the continued need/opportunity take the limelight rather than the windfall grant.
- Build shared understanding with your board on the next steps and the path forward.
- Prioritize communicating with staff on the implications of change to support smooth transitions.
- Ensure external communications convey how the gift will enhance organizational impact and the continued need for resources.
Developing a decision-making process with your board on strategic planning and goal setting generates buy-in, adds legitimacy, and builds shared understanding among stakeholders. Board engagement on investment options, program innovation, external communications, and operational changes intrinsically develops support for the overall organizational strategy and vision. Moreover, board support builds confidence among stakeholders, including funders, staff, and partners.
Yet, board engagement varies across organizations. Some organizations with highly involved boards chose intentionally to gain alignment with their board members before approaching their staff. Other organizations had boards that preferred minimal involvement and trusted their staff and leadership with decision-making.
With any level of board engagement, it was important for organizations to be prepared and thoughtful about how and when they planned to engage their board about the gift, with clear expectations for their role. Are organizations informing the board on how they plan to use the funds, or are they asking for board input and guidance? Some organizations chose to take time to formulate how they would spend the money. Others immediately engaged their boards as thought partners to make financial decisions such as establishing or enhancing operational reserves or creating discretionary strategic investment funds.
Gathering board advice on charting out a fundraising strategy can also be valuable. Boards can support strategic planning and fundraising decisions such as what percentage of the overall fundraising goal the gift represents, and how it could be leveraged to accelerate fundraising efforts towards the remainder of the goal.
An organization created a special committee of board members and brought in an external consultant to facilitate a strategic planning process that ended in a full board vote. This process ensured board support for the organizational strategy, which signaled confidence to funders, staff members, and partners. It also allowed the organization to take the time to develop a strategic and high-impact pathway forward to communicate with funders in a thoughtful and intentional way.
Other organizations set up a special ad hoc committee or subcommittee of the board, specifically for the purpose of providing guidance to the organization on how and when to spend these funds.
Multiple organizations worked with their board to create a new board-designated Strategic Investment Fund or Strategic Opportunities Fund that authorizes the Executive Director to spend a certain amount annually, at their discretion. A board-designed pot of money for the lead to spend on strategic new opportunities could be an effective way to spend part of the funding.
Prioritizing engagement with staff during these times of change is integral to managing the impact of windfall gifts on an organization. Partnering with established and new hires to navigate organizational changes helps to smooth transitions. Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that windfall gifts can also increase staff workloads and that there are ways to manage resources and change to prevent burnout. Staff are also eager to hear how the windfall gift will be positive and aspirational for the organization.
Ensure external communications convey how the gift will enhance organizational impact but also that there continues to be a need for additional resources.
Organizations reported that existing donors were immediately interested in how the windfall gift would be utilized. This communication was a critical step to reaffirm organizational priorities, commitments, and programming. While alignment on this messaging varied across organizations, it was also a prime opportunity to inform partners and potential donors of new and continued opportunities for community engagement and intersectional activities initially facilitated by the windfall gift.
An organization shared that they took ten weeks to plan their communications, where they developed a six-page document which was circulated to all key stakeholders for their reactions before it was made public. This was to ensure being intentional in conveying that the organization knew what to do with the funds, while emphasizing that this was only a small drop in the ocean, and there was still a continued need for resources.
Another organization decided that all external messaging would focus on impact, the issues that need more attention, and the voices of the people they serve.