Choosing Wisely as Executive Director

One of the biggest challenges I have encountered as an executive director of a small nonprofit is trying to predict what will be the best use of my time. Because I am the only employee, I try to prioritize what fundraising endeavors will be the most impactful.


If I have five hours to devote to fundraising, should I work on planning an event? Apply to a grant? Work on a corporate sponsorship? Meet with individual supporters? It is hard to know what will yield the best return.


Oftentimes, it seems as if precisely the things that I think will be the most sure bets turn out to be a dead end. Luckily, often the things that I spend some time on, but don’t expect to be big payoffs sometimes surprise me.


One recent example is an ad that we took out in the IBJ Giving Guide. We offered our corporate sponsors a logo on our listing about Flight1 that outlined our mission, goals, and needs. We worked to find enough sponsors to make it worthwhile from a fundraising perspective, but we weren’t sure if the listing itself would yield any real new interest in the organization. After all, we were sandwiched between dozens of other much better known large nonprofits!


Two months later, I received a call out of the blue. It was a team from a large local firm who had been tasked with choosing a local nonprofit to partner with for a long-term relationship. This team had seen our listing in the IBJ Giving Guide, and really loved our mission. Additionally, they were specifically drawn to our small relative size, feeling that they could actually make a significant impact for an organization like ours, more than they could for a long established multi-million dollar nonprofit. They selected us because they liked our ambitious goals, and felt they could help us achieve them, leading to the prospect of a major corporate sponsorship.

A friend of mine who is a nonprofit fundraising consultant always says that what goes around comes around in the development world. He always encourages me to “just keep putting good work out there, and it will return in ways you can’t predict.” I am starting to think that he is right, and I look forward to more surprises in the future.


-Caroline Hoy, Executive Director