It is the burning question of every nonprofit organization: “How do we get funding?” With the economy in the dumps, and recovery looking like a distant hope, this question screams for an answer. In fact, we get more requests from newsletter subscribers for articles on funding than just about any other topic. The purpose of this article is to do just that, but maybe not like you expect.
We could present an article on the how-to of bake sales or silent auctions or raffles. We could lay out, point-by-point, the best method for putting on a first-class consignment sale or Spring Fling carnival. We could wax eloquent about the best practices of grant writing…and we probably will discuss all these things later on. But for now, we would rather challenge you to think about the bigger picture. We believe it will provide a much better environment for specific ideas to flourish.
So, what does it take to get funding? Let’s look at several, key concepts.
Purpose. First and foremost, your organization must have a compelling purpose…one that resonates with the public, or at least with a segment of the public that shares your passion. Without this, you simply will not attract dollars. There is a persistent and, frankly, bizarre notion in the nonprofit community of “Build it and they will come.” That is especially true regarding the pursuit of grant funding. Well, that may work well in baseball movies, but not so much in the charity community. Your organization is one of literally millions of projects that are competing for someone’s charitable dollar. You can conduct all the cake walks you want, but if no one cares about your cause, funding is not on its way. Many of you reading this are probably saying, “Well, that’s not very helpful. We’re already formed to do what we do.” That’s true…and we’re not saying you should change your purpose to something more attractive. The point is this: If your purpose is therapeutic arts for handicapped kids, then your ability to attract a broad base of support is many times greater than if your purpose is to operate an injured skunk rescue. If yours is the injured skunk rescue, then you need to be realistic about your lack of mass appeal and be extra aggressive in finding like-minded donors.
Vision. People give to vision, not need. They sound the same, but they are not. Vision paints a picture of a better situation that results from your organization’s efforts. Need, on the other hand…well, right now everyone has needs. Paint a picture instead.
Accomplishments. Nothing attracts people like a winner. What has your organization accomplished? Let people know about it. That is really true when pursuing grant opportunities. People are not as likely to give to plans as they are to helping you do more of what you’ve already done. If you are just starting out, you better concentrate on #2!
Reliability. You must be able to show your potential donors that your organization is properly structured, has good governance and that it is operating in compliance with governmental regulations. If not, you will have difficulty projecting a posture of trustworthiness. If people do not have confidence that their donations are going to be used wisely, and by an organization who takes things seriously enough to follow the rules, they will not give. Period.
Motivated leadership. It all starts at the top. If those who are leading the organization are not fully engaged, why should anyone want to support your efforts. This concept goes back to a point we’ve made in prior articles: never, ever have a “place holder” board. Make sure your board members are motivated leaders who care about the mission and who have something to contribute. And by contribute, we mean time, talent and money…all three. People look to see if the leadership walks the walk, or just talks the talk.
Dogged determination. This is important at all times. In bad times, it simply means life or death to your organization. Determine to succeed. Stay motivated. It’s contagious. You cannot give up. Our staff could tell you story after story of clients we’ve worked with who, by all outward appearances, couldn’t find their way out of a wet paper bag, much less succeed in running a nonprofit. But they have. By sheer force of determination and belief in their cause, and by surrounding themselves with competent help, they made it happen. We’ve also seen the opposite: people who should’ve hit a home run, only to strike out because of neglecting one or more of these issues.
We’re all about building foundations. It’s in our name. We hope by helping you see the big picture, you’ll be in a much better position to work on developing specific funding ideas that will work.