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Sustainable Funding: Fear of Dreaming

April 2, 2013
by Terry Axelrod
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Is there anyone else out there who took a college psychology class in dream interpretation? We had to write down all the dreams we could remember in the first fifteen minutes after waking up each morning and then interpret each one as best we could. My first worry was that I wouldn't be able to remember any of my dreams. Perhaps I was one of those people who just didn't sleep deeply enough to have those kinds of dreams! To my surprise, once I tuned in, I was able to recall many dreams and I had plenty to write about each morning.

Ah, that ease of dreaming seems to erode as we get older—and more calloused—about the realities of funding, government regulation, third-party payers, and of course, human resources.

That's why we start our Benevon workshops by asking people to dream. We ask each team of seven or eight people—board members, volunteers, and senior staff including the CEO—the following questions:

  1. How would you quantify your legacy of sustainable funding for your organization? In the next five years, what would you need to have accomplished financially to feel you are on the pathway to long-term financial sustainability?

    Might it be an increase in the percentage of your budget that comes from private sources, including corporations and foundations? Or a specific dollar amount or percentage increase in funding from individual donors? Perhaps you would want a new funding mix overall, attaining the perfect and elusive “diversification of funding” balance for your organization. Maybe you'd want a reserve account of nine months' operating funds or an endowment of an additional million dollars.

    If you can allow yourself to dream beyond the survival of year-to-year, hand-to-mouth funding and imagine a steady stream of private funding from individuals who so believe in your work that they would list your organization in the top three charitable gifts they make each year, what would that dream look like?

  2. Next, think out ten to fifteen years on that same trajectory. Where would you be? Expand the edges of that dream. What would be the impact on the people your organization serves? What would be the impact on the broader community? How would the conversation about behavioral healthcare and recovery have altered?

We say that sustainable funding is not just a concept. It's a number. It has real metrics attached to it and those metrics can fall into whichever categories you choose: increase in individual donors, funding diversification, reserve funds, endowment, etc. But they must be measurable.

I recommend having this conversation with your board. Let them create the dream—and the metrics—with you.

This summer at our Sustainable Funding Conference, we'll be giving our first-ever Sustainability Circle of Excellence Awards to three organizations that have attained their metrics. Ten or twelve years ago, they struggled and worried greatly about their funding.

Today, they no longer live on the fundraising treadmill. They have shifted their culture and their practices to ensure a steady stream of sustainable private funding from individual donors. By allowing themselves to dream big and keep on dreaming big, along with a lot of hard work, they have turned those dreams into reality. And their communities are so much the better for it.


Terry Axelrod

CEO, Benevon

Terry Axelrod


Terry Axelrod is founder and CEO of Benevon. She has more than thirty years of experience in the...

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