Jim was the Executive Director of a small, underfunded
arts center in a small, poor city. He had a remarkable record of raising money,
especially from the oil company whose refinery sat at the edge of town.
When it came to writing grants to that foundation, Jim’s success rate was
north of 75 percent, way north. His secret was his “opportunity plan.” He told
me, “Their crisis is my opportunity.” Here’s how it worked.
Jim set the stage by building a relationship. The oil company’s foundation
was a regular underwriter of his organization as well as just about every other
nonprofit in town. Every year, Jim made sure that he thanked them publicly and
memorably. That set him apart from the many charities that simply took the money
as their due.
Jim also knew that you can’t have a refinery without having a crisis. Several
times a year something would happen out there that brought the company negative
publicity. It might be a fire or an accident or a gas escape. You never knew
what it would be or when, but you knew something would happen. When it did, Jim
He prepared several grant proposals in advance, so that it only took an hour
or so to freshen them up and send them to the foundation. They weren’t very big,
small enough, in fact that the foundation’s CEO could act on them without board
When disaster struck at the refinery, Jim would pop a proposal into an
overnight envelope and send it off. When it was funded, within hours usually,
Jim made a public show of thanking the foundation.
Jim did three important things to make this scheme work. He built a
relationship with the foundation. He did his homework so he knew what the CEO
could approve. When the time was ripe to act, he acted swiftly.
Boss’s Bottom Line
Don’t just have emergency contingency plans, develop opportunity contingency