These days, community organizations need more funding, period, and they also need to diversify their funding sources, so that they can survive in a rapidly changing funding landscape. Doing that fundraising can be daunting, and the result is that many organizations feel stuck before they’ve even begun. Here are four tips to make getting started that much easier!
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Make a funding plan
This first tip is less about getting new funders, and more about laying the ground work so that you approach the right funders (and don’t waste your time). A recent study from the Individual Donor Benchmark Report, which looks at fundraising data from small nonprofits, found that a fundraising plan is the single best predictor of fundraising success:
“ If you have a plan, other investments in your fundraising program—more staff, higher paid staff, and more donor meetings—lead to bigger impact. If you don’t have a fundraising plan, those additional investments don’t matter.” – Dan Rivas: How does your fundraising stack up?
Your funding plan should:
- Be specific about dollar amounts (measurable)
- Include funding acquisition, retention & upgrading activities (activities aimed at getting new donors, keeping the donors you have, and asking donors to increase their contribution)
- Contains already-vetted prospects that fit the ABCs (see below)
- Have clear accountability: who on your staff or board is responsible for what?
- Encourage diversity in your funding sources
- Fit with the mission, vision, and values of your organization
- Be a living document that you use throughout the year to track your progress
At the end of the year, use your plan to evaluate how you did! Here are some questions to get you started:
- What went well?
- What didn’t work, or what might we want to change?
- What new things do we want to start doing?
Learn your ABC’s
In theory, anyone could be a funder for your organization (we like to be optimistic!). But since you have limited time to put into funding research and asks, here’s my advice: ask those who are most likely to give, first.
When making my “prospect list”, I see if the donor or funder fulfills the ABCs of a good prospect:
- Are they Able to give?
- Do they Believe in your organization’s mission?
- Are you in Contact with this donor?
Figuring out whether a donor or a foundation fits the ABCs, you might need to do a bit of research. This might mean having a phone call with a foundation to see what their funding priorities are, or asking a board member to put you in contact with someone that you want to build a relationship with.
Answering these questions has helped me focus on who is most likely to give, and more likely to stick around in the long run.
Sometimes, ignore that last advice, and learn the art of the low-pressure ask.
A lot of us carry shame and fear around asking for money. That can get us in trouble when we rule out prospects based on our own fear that we will be turned down. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a well intentioned board member say “I would love to ask, but I don’t know anyone with the money to donate!” I could start my own foundation.
Not everyone can be a major philanthropist, but having a diversified budget means going after many donors who can give amounts that are significant to them, even $5 or $10 a month. How do you push yourself to ask often, even from people who you aren’t sure about?
If you’re responsible for your organization’s funding, learn the art of the low-pressure ask. Low-pressure asks state your organization’s needs, and also give the person a graceful out. Here are a couple places to get started.
Be a copy-cat
In my experience, the fastest way to find funding for your organization is to find a similar organization and see who funds them. This sort of extrapolates from the Belief criteria: someone who believes in your sister organization is more likely to dig you, too. The old-school way is to grab an annual report from a similar organization and flip to their funders page. Another, faster, more efficient way, is to make use of a funding database.
At COCo, we have a subscription to FundTracker Pro, which our members can use for free by appointment at our offices. FundTracker Pro basically is a searchable bank of all the public and private funding for nonprofits in Canada, searchable by category, region, etc. The best part is that you can look up organisations that are similar to yours (for example, in another province or city), see who funds them, and then find information on that funder with a few simple clicks.
With 10 years experience in nonprofit organizations, Juniper Belshaw has worked as an organizational development consultant to nonprofit, private, and public organizations. She currently works at Cirque du Soleil as a Senior Advisor in Talent Development and Culture, and is an affiliate facilitator for the Centre for Community Organizations. She is passionate about creating workplaces where diverse teams thrive.