Lighthouse experiences fundraising “light bulb moment” thanks to Bristol’s model

“I’m not as tired as I used to be!” is what executive director Elly du Pre of the Lighthouse of Broward County had to say when asked if the SMART Way™ fundraising approach was working for her. I had to chuckle when I read this the first time because if there’s any challenge that can bring on exhaustion, it’s funding your nonprofit budget.

Thanks to Ellen Bristol, we’ve been exploring her new book Fundraising the SMART Way over the past few weeks. In particular, we discussed her Prospect Scorecard, the Leaky Bucket Assessment, Calculating Your Opportunity Risk Factor and other essential tools for maximizing your fundraising efforts. This week, we excerpted our interview with Bristol so you can share in Elly du Pre’s exuberance over her newfound success with board fundraising.

CausePlanet: Would you tell us about a nonprofit you’ve observed that is using the SMART Way™ model effectively in its fundraising efforts? What does it appreciate most about the method?

Ellen Bristol: One of our recent success stories is the Lighthouse of Broward County, based in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Its executive director, Elly du Pre, did a Leaky Bucket Assessment with us and then asked her entire board and staff to do the same. I then presented the entire team’s findings to the staff and board, which really helped the board, in particular, identify their collective need for improving the fundraising culture at the agency. It’s a relatively small agency at about $1.7 million in annual income with only one full-time development officer, a support person and Elly doing all the fundraising. Until it started its SMART Way™ project, the agency had struggled to make its annual budget and had gone through several development directors, none of whom had performed terribly well. The ED was convinced there were many more blind and low-vision people in her area needing services than the agency was able to support, but the money was simply not available.

Elly did it the right way. First, she proved to the board there was a real need for improved productivity. The board immediately approved the investment. Elly and her team then developed their SMART Way™ Scorecards, opportunity-stage performance indicators, and success targets during an intensive workshop lasting a day and a half. They then began to implement the new approach, meeting with us once a week by webinar to put their new learning into place. First, they validated their Scorecard. Then they learned some new techniques for questioning their prospects, starting out with interviewing their board chair and other directors to gain confidence. By the way, they got lots of support and admiration from their board chair who was consistently enthusiastic about the new approach.

Finally, the team began to document its progress using a simple Excel spreadsheet. At first, it aimed for very modest gifts of just $1,000 or more but soon realized it had earned the right to ask for considerably larger gifts. At that point, it began pursuing gifts worth $5,000 and more, a first for the organization. Soon, its pipeline of gift and grant opportunities showed more than twice as much potential as its stated fundraising target for the current fiscal year.

One of the most exciting breakthroughs came when the fundraising team understood the idea that once a gift has converted from potential to actual–once it’s no longer on the forecast because the check has been received–the forecasted amount of that gift reverts back to ZERO. This simple insight led the team
to recognize its first fundraising task is to keep the pipeline of potential activities at no less than twice as much as the total income it desires at the first day of the fiscal year.

Now that the Lighthouse produces significantly more predictable and consistent income from fundraising, the team is beginning to raise its sights and consider taking on more aggressive fundraising targets. For me, the change in attitude has been as meaningful as the change in results. The board chair told me, “We’ve been asking for this for years, even though we couldn’t really say it the way we wanted to–and now the reports we get are even more insightful than we ever hoped.” When I asked Elly if the new approach was making a difference, she said, “Yes! And I’m not as tired as I used to be!”

You can read the full interview in our Page to Practice™ summary of Fundraising the SMART Way. Additionally, CausePlanet subscribers can download Ellen Bristol’s webinar archive.

See also:

It’s Not Just Who You Know

The Influential Fundraiser

Fundraising with Businesses

Image credits:,,, Ellen Bristol

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