Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fundraising, Grant Writing, Mission-Success, Community Building; It's All the Same

Think back to the last donation that you gave. Some issue or cause concerned you. When you decided which organization, specifically, to give the donation to, what factors did you consider in choosing which organization would receive it? What motivated you to eventually give to the specific organization that you did?

To help you raise more money for your non profit in an ethical, professional, legal, and effective method, consider the following logic.

Each nonprofit organization's goal or work is informed by their mission statement, and this requires funding. This is variable A.

Every donor gives to effect a cause or issue that they care about. This is variable B.

American nonprofits are allowed by our government to raise tax free dollars to do work, at no profit, for the greater good. This is variable C.

If A is possible because of C then we professional 'fundraisers' must study, engage, listen to, and form an effective relationship with B; but we need to do this with the B's who are interested, and we must be honest in doing so.

You probably donated to the organization who, after researching many organizations doing work towards your pet cause or issue, was transparent in their spending, operations, management, and accounting. You probably picked the organization that was spending the most on its programs and least on its overhead. It was probably the agency that was the most effective at its work and had the best, most honest track record. It was a legal non profit; that is run professionally maintaining a board, accounting records, offering its annual report, providing programs statistics, is successful at its mission's work, admits errors made, strives to learn from its errors and listens to its clients, donors, and constituents. It offers an annual professional independent audit for review to the public, it shares its successes with the community, it's meeting a community need well, it is supported by its community, it collaborates with other effective organizations to save resources while getting more done, and more.

In order to raise money today and tomorrow you must:

1. ...clearly explain to potential donors (and potential future board members, staff, clients, collaborators, and volunteers) what your organization uniquely does for the community and what your successes have been. [In your grant applications be clear and succinct in this statement].

2. You need to demonstrate to potential constituents that your organization plans for growth, manages resources well, takes responsibility for its expenses by raising support in diverse ways (i.e. perhaps newsletter donor envelopes, major donor campaign, annual appeal, special events, grant writing, memorials, sponsorships, being a United Way agency, etc.), and spends money wisely.

3. Your organization must be transparent in its accounting, operations, legal agency documentation, programs statistics, and other agency results markers.

All of this information provides potential constituency with the reasons why someone can support your group as an investor. Investors buy into your success, they buy into your ability to operate well, they buy, ultimately, into your nonprofit's effectiveness and its willingness to have partners in its success (trust, communication, listening, openness, working well with others, professional collaborations, honesty, etc.).

Thinking of constituents as investors or your nonprofit's own community forces you, the development staff or volunteer, to not sell anyone. Development staff and volunteers must be honest with potential constituents always. If you receive a question from a potential donor and let's say your organization was lackluster in its doings, say so; but also explain that your agency leadership acknowledges that, addressed that, has learned, and has done X, Y, or Z to better the situation/operation. Or, if a potential constituent offers a donation but wants naming rights or something that your organization has decided is not in the nonprofit's best interest, respond professionally with 'no, but thank you, and here's why we have this policy...'. Any time you talk about or write about your organization it is an opportunity (no matter what the situation or context). It's an opportunity. You never want to pressure, guilt, shame, pain, or otherwise manipulate someone into supporting your group. If you do, they aren't giving as an investor. This doesn't develop a relationship. Also, these 'methods' are not professional. At best, it may get a one time donation - but you haven't raised ongoing support for your organization. Raise relationships, investors, and a constituency that really is the organization's family or community. Our goal is to develop these folks and then sustain them and well. We don't coerce, recruit, sell, pitch, beg, guilt, etc. As professionals, we develop. Research your potential donor. If they aren't donating to your cause - they may not be interested in it. Don't waste their time and yours'. Inform potential constituents about your agency, who are interested in your cause but aren't affiliated with you, yet. If they respond, speak honestly with any potential constituent about why you are a part of the organization and be sure to share your nonprofit's unique work for your cause or issue, and your organization's successes. People listen to honesty and they get on board with an effective organization. Listen to them, their concerns, their interest in your organization or your cause, and answer their questions.

You need not worry if your organization can raise support if your organization does the above best practices. By doing so, you've put the nonprofit in the best position to raise constituency and ultimately to create community around your organization's mission statement's goal that will grow. Don't worry about other organizations working on the same cause, because you've clarified what your organization does among all others, that no other organization does. You've demonstrated the need in our community that your group meets. Also having an effective agency track record, and professional auditable operations secures your organization's ability.

This is the formula for support today, and maintaining these described best practices furthers current and new constituents' support for more tomorrow.

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