03/26/2012 01:26 pm ET Updated May 26, 2012

First Things First: Helping Your Not-for-Profit Raise More Money

I consult to not-for-profits (NFPs) for a living. Three times out of four, when I speak with their leaders, I discover that they have lots of good ideas about where they want their organizations to go. However, they are challenged to tell me about the specific impact those ideas will have. How will the world be different because an NFP has implemented its programs? How many lives will have been touched? What transformations will have taken place in those lives?

Many NFP leaders are also challenged to explain what makes their organizations different from others with similar visions and strategies. And if they don't know what makes their NFPs special, how are donors supposed to know?

There have to be answers to all these questions before donors will decide that, out of all the NFPs asking for donations, your organization deserves their funding. The challenge is to give them compelling reasons why they should.

So before your not-for-profit solicits a single donor, three things must be in place.

The first is a clear, unique vision of where your 501(c)(3) organization wants to go. The second is a set of strategies to achieve that vision. The third is an assessment of the organization's needs for carrying out its vision and strategies. Only then can your organization match those needs to the interests of prospective donors and win their financial support.

In the hustle and bustle of carrying out an organization's programs, it is easy not to devote time for long-term vision and strategy. However, organizations must find the time if they want to succeed in today's increasingly competitive fundraising landscape.