Foundation Center - Knowledge to build on.
Home Profile Search Site Map Ask Us Donate Now
About Us Locations Newsletters Press Room PND
Get Started

- New Visitors
- Individual Grantseekers
- Nonprofit Grantseekers
- Grantmakers
- Legislators and Policymakers
- International Visitors
- People With Disabilities
- Children and Youth
- Reporters/Media

Get Answers
- Knowledge Base
- Ask Us
- Topical Resource Lists

Learn About
- Foundations and Fundraising
- Proposal Writing
- Nonprofit Management
- Tools and Resources

Training Courses
- Classroom Training
- Online Training
- Training Videos
- Webinars

Library/Learning Centers
- Atlanta
- Cleveland
- New York
- San Francisco
- Washington, DC
- Funding Information Network
Online Bookshelf

Securing Your Organization's Future

by Michael Seltzer

What follows is a slightly abridged version of chapter 22. For a full listing of chapters in the print edition, see Contents.


Choosing Your Funding Mix and the Strategies To Secure It

As a cousin of mine once said about money, money is always there but the pockets change; it is not in the same pockets after a change, and that is all there is to say about money. — Gertrude Stein

Which of the many sources and strategies for fundraising are most appropriate for your organization? Should you put your energies into pursuing government grants and contracts, for example? Obtaining a grant from the local community foundation? Or both? How can you best proceed to develop an individual membership base? Which approaches to individuals will net the greatest return — face-to-face solicitation, direct mail, special events, a combination of these, or some other strategy? Does your organization need new donors? Should your current donors be asked to give more? Should you try to identify donors or funders beyond your immediate constituency? And what resources do you need for applying the strategy you pick?

We stress that you are looking not for one source of revenue but rather for the most likely mix of sources to ensure maximum long-term organizational viability.

Envision your funding as a multi-legged stool. Each leg represents a different major source of revenue; if one is significantly reduced, or even eliminated, your organization may suffer somewhat but will still be able to function on the income provided by the other sources. The stool will continue to stand. An organization totally dependent on government grants and contracts, for example, is extremely vulnerable. Another group that receives support from foundations, a fundraising federation, and a pool of individuals in addition to government is clearly stronger and more secure.

Which mix will build the strongest multi-legged financial base for your organization? What should be the proportions of each source? How can you best develop a fundraising strategy that will succeed? What is the best way to plan your fundraising work?

The following will help you answer these questions. It provides you with a blueprint for planning and implementing your efforts to secure financial support. The ten phases of this process are summarized below and then discussed in detail.

Phase 1. Taking Stock of Your Strengths and Assets. Because fundraising is, in the finest sense, a collaboration among different parties moved to act on the same set of concerns, you must consider what can you bring to the tables of prospective donors and funders. What are your competencies? Phase 1 enables the leaders of both new and mature efforts to inventory their assets and strengths.

Phase 2. Choosing Funding Partners. There are numerous potential stakeholders from which to choose. The task before you is to select the ones most likely to become your committed partners.

Phase 3. Setting Fundraising Goals. How can you present your financial needs to prospective supporters most effectively? How much should you ask them for? Phase 3 builds on the budgeting and program planning work to help you set fundraising goals, which are an important element in eliciting positive responses from prospective supporters.

Phase 4. Developing a Strategy to Secure Support from Individuals. Individuals represent the largest source of philanthropic funding. They are also the most consistent supporters of nonprofit organizations; their dollars are both reliable and renewable. Phase 4 shows you how to identify the individuals most likely to provide support, and how to secure it.

Phase 5. Developing a Strategy to Secure Support from Institutions. The world of institutional support is vast and often intimidating. Institutions represent the corporate interests of their boards of directors, members, and constituents. These interests produce distinct cultures, each with its own rules and regulations. Phase 5 outlines a procedure for identifying the institutions most likely to support your work and explains how to successfully elicit their support.

Phase 6. Making the Case. A script can often aid you in asking others for support; the writing exercises presented in Phase 6 will help you organize your information. This work will be easier if you have spent considerable time developing your vision and mission statements and identifying what you can offer to funding partners (Phase 1, Taking Stock of Your Strengths and Assets). By completing Phases 4 and 5, you will also have identified the audiences for your fully developed materials.

Phase 7. Preparing the Final Fundraising Plan and Calendar. The research and preparation stages of your fundraising are now drawing to a close. You will have chosen your most likely sources of support and developed the materials you need to approach them. In Phase 7, you create a blueprint for action by organizing and scheduling the work that lies ahead.

Phase 8. Making the Approach. The style of your presentation will influence the outcome of your appeal. Although your program may be worthy and your prospects well chosen, your fundraising efforts may nonetheless falter if you take the wrong approach. Phase 6, Making the Case, will have provided solicitors with the necessary background for representing your organization's work. Phase 8 guides you through the asking process.

Phase 9. Building the Relationship with Your Supporters. Securing funding from both individual and institutional sources can be the first stage of a long-lived collegial and professional relationship. You can choose to nurture that incipient relationship, or, unwisely, to ignore it. Phase 9 discusses how to sustain and strengthen your supporters' interest and involvement in your work.

Phase 10. Monitoring and Evaluating Your Fundraising Efforts: Laying the Groundwork for Next Year. Your efforts to secure funds will benefit immensely from ongoing monitoring and evaluation. After all, your own experiences provide the best data about what does and does not work. Phase 10 offers guidance on how to monitor and evaluate your fundraising activities so that you can achieve — and maintain — the most success.

The planning process outlined in these ten phases is both cyclical and ongoing. Different events and outcomes (for example, a rejection letter or unforeseen revenues) may cause you to return to an earlier phase.

Phase 1: Taking Stock of Your Strengths and Assets

By taking stock of your organizational assets and strengths, you put yourself in the best position to build a strong case for support to prospective funders or donors.

Why should taking such an inventory be so important? Simply because we are often so busy doing the work of our organization that we fail to pay sufficient attention to what makes us unique. Yet it is those very attributes that frequently lead to new support from the individuals and institutions that were previously unfamiliar with our work.

Where do you look for your assets and strengths? Every existing organization has a history and a reputation. Its past probably reveals successes, accomplishments, and a few false starts as well. An organization's history is a treasure trove of assets that may readily be converted into credentials — and credentials are important. It is not enough simply to state the issues and problems your group is addressing and describe its plan of action. Such statements may elicit some initial support, but they are too abstract to attract significant, ongoing support. You will need to describe in precise terms how your organization is qualified both to address this problem and to make genuine headway toward solving it.

Don't despair, however, if your organization is new. The experience and expertise of all the people involved with your effort testify to your group's ability to create beneficial change. Your core group members have earned a reputation on their own, by working for other organizations, or both. It is important, therefore, to begin by reviewing their professional and personal resumes for the qualifications that will establish credibility. In this way, you are pinpointing your organization's capabilities and giving current, new, and prospective funders good reason to believe in you.

The following questions are designed to help you collect evidence — past or present — that illustrates your organization's competency as it relates to the issues and programs that define the purpose of your work. Don't hesitate to add your own questions to this list, of course.

What projects or programs has your organization successfully implemented? What were the results? Explain why these efforts succeeded. What changes did they effect? What skills and abilities enabled you to succeed in these efforts, personal or organizational or both? In what ways can you document the success of your past work (statistics, letters of appreciation, assessments by outside bodies including funders, government agencies, professional associations, etc.; awards and honors bestowed on your organization or people in it), media coverage, or miscellaneous? What are the qualifications of your past and current board members and staff? What commendations have your board and staff received in recognition of their talents and contributions? How would you describe your board and staffs most unique talents? What percentage of your board members make financial contributions to your organization? How long has your organization been in existence? What distinguishes your past work from that of similar organizations? List the specific ways in which your work differs from theirs, and why you are unique. What recognition has your organization as a whole received since its inception (e.g., invitations to speak at conferences, workshops, public rallies, legislative hearings; certificates of commendation; quotations in scholarly or popular journals and magazines; letters of appreciation)? What kinds of institutions have supported your work? Who are they (foundations, corporations or businesses, religious sources, associations of individuals, labor unions, federations, government, other)? How many individuals pay dues, make contributions, or do both to support your work? How diversified is your financial base? For example, how many different sources extend support to you? What percentage of your total income does each comprise? What reports do you file annually with government agencies to satisfy their reporting requirements for nonprofit organizations?

All nonprofits should maintain up-to-date "credibility files," and gather this type of information on a steady basis. Staff and board members should do the same for their own use, as well as for the organization. Such files will make it easier when you need to assemble data for fundraising proposals and also for promotional materials such as brochures, annual reports, and press releases.

Phase 2. Choosing Funding Partners

Fundraising is a collaboration between a nonprofit organization and a group of financial backers. Just as a bank underwrites a business, so do individuals, foundations, government agencies, corporations, and the other sources underwrite the operations of a nonprofit. A bank looks for a strict financial return on its investment; your financial partners want to see that they've helped make the concrete changes suggested by your group's vision and mission statements, objectives, and program plans. Selecting these financial partners can be an exhausting pursuit unless you are methodical.

Use the following method to create a "best bets" list for use in determining potential funding partners. First, brainstorm specific names of individuals and institutions from each of the following funding sources (individuals, foundations, business and corporations, government, religious institutions, federated fundraising organizations, associations of individuals, and labor unions). Next, assess the chances of support for each of the individuals or organizations you have identified (very good, possible, unlikely, or still unknown). In cases where you can be more specific in listing your prospects, go ahead and do so. If you know, for example, that your local community foundation is a solid prospect but that other foundations are not,m place that particular foundation on the "very good" list. Be as specific as your information permits.

Historically, many nonprofit leaders have engaged in "stop-and-go" fundraising in which one particular type of funding — such as foundation or government — is obtained and used exclusively until it is exhausted. At that point, the search for a replacement source begins. A better strategy is to identify your entire array of partners before you charge off in pursuit of just one on your prospect list.

As you complete your information-gathering, remember that research and networking will enable you to move sources from your unknown list into the very good list. Don't limit your choices at this stage by the actual amount of funds that a source may be able to provide. Your objective is to define the mix of funding sources by identifying the sources that are, in principle, your most likely partners.

You have ranked your prospective funders through the exercises outlined in this phase. In lieu of stop-and-go fundraising, you can now take a comprehensive look at your best-bets list (those in the very good list). You will then need to answer some questions about these prospects.

  • What level of potential support can they provide?

  • Do you have access to individuals in a decision-making capacity?

  • Which sources appear to have the potential for significant long-term support?

  • How much time and up-front expenditure of human and financial capital is needed to tap these particular sources?

Your answers to these questions will make your forthcoming fundraising activity more targeted and potentially more successful. As you analyze the information from your earlier exercise, certain patterns will emerge. For example, neighborhood and grassroots groups will probably find that individual residents of their own communities are their easiest targets. Arts organizations will find that their initial universe is broader, since they have programs that likely extend beyond one single community. Citywide advocacy and public interest nonprofits may find more institutional prospects at the top of their list. Be sure to trust your own experience and knowledge, for each and every nonprofit organization is trailblazing its own path when its leadership sets out in search of support.

Keeping in mind that your future is best secured by tapping into a mix of sources, turn your attention to matching your prospects with your specific fundraising needs.

Phase 3. Setting Fundraising Goals

Your organization's budgeting and program planning work helps you calculate the goals that will guide your fundraising activities. Clearly stated financial goals enable you to tell individual prospects how their contributions would fit into your overall needs, and show foundations and corporations how you would spend the funds requested in your grant applications.

Setting fundraising goals is also important for two others reasons. First, it motivates individuals to give. Just as program objectives encourage people to work harder, fundraising goals can inspire your constituents to give — and to keep giving — until you can finance your programs or special project(s) for a year. Additionally, comparing your goals to the amount that has actually been raised helps you to make better program decisions. If you achieve your fundraising goals, you can undertake the programs you've planned. If you raise less, you may have to modify — or eliminate — one or more. If, on the other hand, you exceed your goals, you can expand your programs or use the money for other purposes.

Your organization can set fundraising goals in three ways:

  1. Establish the total you need to raise in a given year to carry out the programs you have planned, as well as the administrative costs.

  2. Calculate the total sum of monies you need to implement a particular project, such as constructing a new building or purchasing a computer.

  3. Ascribe a dollar expense amount to a service or program — that is, a unit of service — that your organization performs.

You can draw on one or all of these methods to assist you in your fundraising. Let's examine each of these methods to determine how they can best serve your organization.

Setting Annual Fundraising Goals

Completing the budgeting process enables you to determine the total organizational expenditures for personnel and non-personnel items for the upcoming year. The total of that organizational budget is what's needed to underwrite your projected activities. Once this figure is established, you can launch a community-wide drive to raise it, or you can design a strategy to raise that total from a mix of funding sources.

For example, an after-school care center projects its payroll, rent, utilities, and other ancillary expenses at $150,000 for the coming year. Since it receives close to $100,000 in day-care fees (earned income), the organization may decide to set a fundraising (unearned income) goal of $50,000 for the year.

Setting Program Fundraising Goals

In the same way that you have budgeted all the expenditures in your organization's entire operating costs, you can assess the expenses inherent in any particular project or program. If, for example, a group wishes to create a public information and referral program on consumer issues, it can cost out the equipment (computer and accompanying software) as well as the salaries of the personnel needed to implement the program.

Setting Unit-of-Service Fundraising Goals

Review your programs to determine whether you provide any services that can be valued in a way that might appeal to prospective donors. Likely candidates include direct service programs and capital expenditures, such as purchase of buildings, vehicles, and computers. Less attractive are programs that improve an organization's administrative capacities, such as upgrading filing systems, renovating offices, increasing salaries, or purchasing a new photocopy machine.

For example, a counselor at a domestic violence center may report assisting ten individuals every week to regain a sense of well-being and dignity after a sexual assault. Since there are five counselors who work full-time and see an average of ten victims each week, the center can report that it assists 2,600 individuals each year (5 counselors x 10 clients x 52 weeks = 2,600 cases). By dividing the organization's entire annual budget by the number of client interventions, you can ascertain the cost of assistance to one individual. If the organization's annual operating budget is $200,000, the cost to assist one individual — the unit-of-service cost — is approximately $77 ($200,000/2,600 clients = $ 76.92).

This valuation is based on the assumption that crisis counseling is the center's only program activity. If, however, there are other programs — such as training hospital emergency room personnel to work effectively with rape victims, or training police officials to counsel women immediately on the scene — the formula for determining the unit-of-service cost changes.

In such instances you would determine the total direct costs of the counseling program and add a percentage of the indirect administrative expenses that correspond to the ratio of that program to the entire programmatic budget of the center. If the counseling program costs $50,000 and the training program costs $25,000, the percentage of administrative costs attached to the counseling program would be twice the costs attached to the training program. If the administrative costs total $25,000, then two-thirds of that cost can be associated with the counseling program ($16,666.67) and one-third with the training program ($8,333.33).

Using Your Fundraising Goals

Depending on the audience and the occasion, a nonprofit may use any or all of the three different fundraising goals. For example, if you want to establish a goal for a special event, you might choose a program goal. If you want to determine a goal for your entire year's fundraising efforts to include in your campaign literature, you would choose the annual fundraising goal. If you want to set a goal for a direct mail appeal, you could easily select a unit-of-service fundraising goal. During the course of a year's fundraising activities, you will no doubt use all three goals. Your audience of supporters is not homogeneous. It includes both individuals and institutions, all with varying abilities and inclinations to support your work. You are responsible for setting their sights on the amount to give. Putting it bluntly, people usually give when they are asked, and if they can, they give what they are asked for. No matter which approach you take — annual goals, program goals, or unit-of-service goals — you are defining for your potential supporters the levels of assistance that you need and the total amount required for maintaining your operations for a given year.

Challenge and Matching Grants

Another variation of "customized" fundraising involves the challenge, or matching, gift or grant. It is not unusual for a foundation, corporation, government agency, or even an individual to make a gift contingent on another funder or funders matching that gift, either on a one-to-one or two-to-one basis. For example, an initial funder agrees to contribute $5,000 on the condition that other sources match it one-to-one ($5,000) or two-to-one ($10,000). If the organization is able to satisfy the funder's condition, it will receive a total of either $10,000 or $15,000 from the initial gift of $5,000. The donors who respond to these challenges are gratified that their dollars are producing additional dollars of support, and the initial donor receives that same sense of gratification.

Foundations and corporations that are concerned about an organization's ability to raise all the funds needed to implement a program may make a challenge, or matching, grant. In this way, they protect their resources until the potential recipient organization has raised the match stipulated by the grant.

Phase 4: Developing a Strategy To Secure Support from Individuals

Individuals should provide the core support for practically any kind of nonprofit endeavor. Such support is important for a number of reasons. Individuals are, beyond a doubt, the most reliable, consistent source of income for nonprofit organizations throughout the world. Their investment in your work will rarely waiver as long as you fulfill your mission adequately and acknowledge the individual supporters for their aid. Individuals form very personal relationships with the charitable organizations they support. As long as you encourage, recognize, and nurture that relationship, you can count on retaining most of your individual donors year in and out. They serve as your life insurance policy for the future, for they will be around even if institutional supporters withdraw their support.

Nevertheless, some organizations scoff at the idea of reaching out to individuals for support, believing that the public is apathetic to their issues or that their immediate constituency is too poor or hard-pressed to provide any significant help. Other groups simply don't know how to petition the public effectively for financial support and find themselves bewildered by the variety of techniques available for securing contributions from individuals.

But the nonprofits that overcome these obstacles will be rewarded in the long run with a growing base of individual supporters who outlast practically every other form of support and who may be even more responsive than institutional sources to pleas for certain types of programs that otherwise would languish. The most modest start at soliciting gifts from individuals may soon prove worthwhile and, ultimately, create a substantial level of support.

Encourage Donors To Become Members

Membership is the most common method that groups use to encourage individual support. Membership sometimes carries certain rights within an organization, such as voting for officers and board members, but in most cases membership simply gives a donor a sense of belonging to an organization.

People who make donations without becoming members do not seem to feel that their gifts establish a mutually understood commitment, nor do they have any real incentive to repeat their gifts in the future — unless they are solicited again. However, people who join an organization tend to recognize that they have made a commitment.

Organizations that encourage individuals to become members benefit in other ways. A membership is generally perceived by both donor and institution as something to be renewed. This allows donors to project their annual membership as a regular part of their yearly budget while allowing the institution to project a specific amount of income from membership support (taking into account some attrition, of course).

Donors can be encouraged to become members at a level commensurate with their interest and means. A pattern of graduated perquisites ("perks") can give donors an incentive to increase their giving, and so be upgraded from one category of membership to another.

Some groups strive to make their membership invitations more attractive by offering concrete benefits to individuals who join. Even small groups can offer such perks as T-shirts, buttons, discounted admissions to special events and educational programs, and invitations to members' parties. Actually, your imagination and knowledge of your own constituency can help you design a membership package of benefits to suit almost any organization.

Don't lose sight of the fact, however, that while tangible membership benefits serve as an incentive to give, and to give more, they rarely provide the primary stimulus. Individuals become members and make contributions for a variety of other, usually intangible, reasons. You can best decide if you need to sweeten your membership program with distinct benefits, for you know your constituents best.

If they feel a strong sense of kinship with your organization, your constituents will inevitably respond well to requests for funds, whether received through the mail or at their doorstep. When your donors are already quite loyal, you may not need to sweeten your membership offer to elicit the desired response. You can, however, still consider motivating your supporters to increase their level of support by offering specific benefits tied to different giving levels. For example, you can offer a silkscreen poster signed by the artist to all contributors who give, say, $250 or more. If your organization's claim on the conscience and wallets of your public is less strong, then benefits can serve as a greater incentive to prompt individuals to respond to your requests.

If you're considering offering tangible benefits, be sure to stay within the guidelines given by the Federal Accounting Standards Board (FASB). If your perquisite has market value — that is, it could be sold outside your organization — then you must deduct the market value of the product from the donation, and only the remaining portion may be claimed as a deduction by the member. T-shirts, mugs, and tote bags bearing your organization's logo are not items that generally could be sold in a regular store, but art could be. These regulations are not entirely cut-and-dried; but they must be kept in mind.

Identify Likely Supporters

The first step in tapping individuals for membership is to identify the particular constituencies most likely to be committed to your work — your board, volunteers, and even your staff members. This may seem offensive to some of these individuals, who already give generously of their time and feel that this sufficiently demonstrates their commitment. And in part, that's true. Still, there is nothing like a commitment of money to signal to others the importance donors ascribe to their organization. Since many of your board members, staff, and volunteers will, at some point, ask others to give to your organization, they will be able to say to a prospective member, "I joined because I felt that what we are doing is critically important. Won't you join, too?"

Now that you are ready to go beyond your own organization for support, your task becomes one of identifying and targeting which individuals are most likely to develop an interest in, and extend support to, your work. Undoubtedly, you will be able to develop some sense of how to identify these individuals and to decide what constituencies they might belong to. Brainstorm with other members of your organizing committee, board of directors, or fundraising committee.

If your organization already receives support from individuals through a variety of ways, start out by analyzing those supporters. List them by their common denominators, such as occupation: Are they teachers, social workers, lawyers, parents, activists, doctors, or computer programmers? Demographics: What is their age? Gender? Political affiliation? What distinguishes them? You are not trying to stereotype your supporters, only to differentiate them so that you know how you can reach them most effectively.

If you decided to undertake a direct mail campaign, you'll need to select lists of names to mail to. The more you know about your current members, the more readily you will be able to identify other kindred souls. For example, which magazines do most of your members subscribe to, and which newspapers do they read? This information will help you target your public relations efforts.

You may be surprised at who is giving you money and who is not. On the one hand, you may realize that a certain segment of the population you had thought would contribute has provided only minimal support; you should reach out to them. The opposite may also be true. For example, a shelter for battered women used to routinely delete men's names from direct mail lists they used until they examined their donor base and learned that 20 percent of their supporters were men. And the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York City was very surprised to discover how many of their individual donors were lesbians.

Determine Ways To Approach Individuals for Support

The sharper your sense of your current and prospective donors, the easier it will be to select the most productive way of approaching them — which brings us to the second step: brainstorming a variety of ways to ask individuals for support.

Let's take a hypothetical example to illustrate how an organization can identify its key individual supporters. Members of the core group of Art in Schools (AIS) asked themselves the following question: Which individuals are the most likely supporters of our work to help ensure that music, drama, and fine arts programs are included in schools' curricula?

As a result of their brainstorming, AIS found that they had many constituencies, owing to the community's deep concern about the quality of education. These included:

  1. Core group members, especially artists. (including their families and friends)

  2. Other politically aware or socially concerned artists

  3. Socially concerned members of the arts-oriented public in their community

  4. Art, music, and drama teachers

  5. Parents, particularly those parents who had themselves enjoyed art as part of their education

  6. Liberal arts professors, particularly those who teach undergraduates, who were dismayed at the lack of cultural awareness of many of the incoming freshmen

  7. Teachers union members and officials

  8. Members of dinner theaters, art clubs, book groups, and the like

Clearly, AIS has many potential constituencies to turn to for support. Let's list the possible ways each of these groups of prospective supporters can give support, or how to best ask them for support on a regular basis:


All constituents can be asked to:

  • Make personal contributions

  • Become members through the annual fund

  • Purchase raffle tickets, buttons, bumper stickers, etc.

  1. Core group members

    • Attend and sell tickets to fundraising events

    • Identify and approach local business, government, federation, association, religious, and labor contacts to explore fundraising possibilities

    • Ask friends and other artists to donate works of art (or other related or appropriate items) for an annual auction

    • Arrange for exhibitions of student artwork

  2. Other politically aware or socially concerned artists

    • Donate works of art for sale or auction

    • Design special art postcards as a source of earned income

    • Attend and sell tickets to fundraising events

    • Solicit their dealers and galleries

    • Make personal contributions, and become AIS members through annual fund

  3. Socially concerned members of the arts-oriented public

    • Buy tickets to special events and purchase postcards

    • Host exhibitions of donated art in their homes to sell to other friends

  4. Arts, music, and drama teachers

    • Organize house parties

    • Provide names of parents who might be concerned

    • Provide access to other teachers not in the arts who might give money

    • Attend events

    • Help promote the political message of AIS to students, school administrators, and other teachers

  5. Parents

    • Provide access to PTA meetings and mailing lists

    • Post notices in newsletters

    • Host houseparties

    • Attend events

  6. Liberal arts professors

    • Write articles for journals

    • Provide interviews to the media

    • Provide names of professors and alumni who might be sympathetic

  7. Teachers members union and officials

    • Provide mailing lists for a direct mail solicitation

  8. Members of dinner theaters, arts clubs, book groups, etc.

    • Provide names for direct mail appeals

    • Announce events at their performances

As this hypothetical case illustrates, there are many ways individuals can support a particular nonprofit undertaking. This group, just like your own, can expand its list by sharing it with others. In many cases, you will observe that the strongest members of your group will be people who cross several lines. For example, university professors who were also members of amateur theater groups, who had children in the public school system, and who were active in the PTA or their own union, are most likely to become committed AIS members and donors.

Furthermore, anyone who was identified as someone who could come to an event could also be approached by mail or phone. People who would donate art can be approached to donate cash, and people who buy art at auctions should be asked to become members of the group. If you do a thorough job in analyzing your constituency, you will soon be overwhelmed by possibilities and realize that you can raise funds successfully as long as you plan your work and work your plan.

Choose Your Approaches

The third step is to choose from your lists those approaches or methods your core group wants to pursue. Ask your planning committee, which is responsible for your fundraising efforts, to suggest which approaches you should use — perhaps three or so to start with. Let's put this task before our hypothetical organization.

The core group of Art in Schools decided to focus on a campaign to sell specially designed art postcards to the memberships of other sympathetic organizations through direct mail; asking famous socially concerned artists known to them to donate works of art for an annual auction; and conducting a phonathon to ask teachers and professors to join. Note that these approaches include a mix of face-to-face solicitation, direct mail, special events, telephone solicitation, and earned income.

AIS chose this particular mix of approaches to individuals for several reasons. As artists, they realized that they had access to something of value to others — their work and the works of other artists. They also knew that their targeted constituencies were regularly solicited by other more established organizations. As a result, they decided to raise money by selling art postcards in lieu of simple solicitation for support. They were also capitalizing on the knowledge and skills of their core group. Some of their members had personal relationships with famous artists, and one member had experience in designing and marketing postcards for sale.

After discussing their plans with more resource people outside their immediate circles, including the local art auction house and several gallery owners, they were able to make reasonable estimates of projected income from these activities. They decided to drop the tour of artists' studios, for others did not find the concept very appealing. They discovered that their friends were not members of any existing human rights organizations, so they decided to institute a membership program. Since their friends included both struggling and successful artists, they developed a two-tiered membership program to enable both groups to give according to their means.

Estimate Your Proceeds

The final step before the actual fundraising gets under way is to make some conservative estimates on how much each of the chosen efforts can net in a year. Art in Schools came up with the following summary:

AIS decided to list all the artists who joined as members and patrons, or who contributed their own work, in a full-page ad in the local arts newspaper each year to thank them publicly for their support.

Acknowledge Your Supporters

Finally, you want to make sure that you recognize your supporters both privately and publicly for their contributions. Private acknowledgment should always begin with a personalized thank-you note. Further private recognition can take the form of mailing newsletters, "insiders' memos," annual reports, and other publications to donors to keep them posted about the work that they have made possible. Let them know regularly that your flourishing, ongoing work would be impossible without their help.

Public acknowledgment can be as simple as listing your new members (if they aren't too numerous) in a newsletter on an ongoing basis. If you offer different categories of membership, you can list supporters by the categories they have chosen. You've seen these lists of benefactors in the playbills of nonprofit theater groups and on the walls of buildings of nonprofit facilities. Just as a university recognizes major donors by naming buildings or other facilities after them, smaller nonprofits can express their appreciation to supporters through some form of public listing.

In choosing your approaches to individuals, remember to look for ways in which to ask them for money regularly and to provide them with opportunities for personal involvement in your work.

Since membership contributions do not preclude people from making additional gifts to an organization, you can solicit support from members more than once a year. If you can make a good case for needing financial help, you should certainly not hesitate to make an appeal to your membership. There is no magic rule about how many times a year you can ask the same people to give, but most groups find that they net a decent return without alienating donors when they ask three to four times a year. Some groups are able to ask up to twelve times, but most find that they lose money if they ask more than twelve times or less than three. Your membership may forget about you if you solicit less than three times a year.

The bottom line is, you can mail out as many appeals as will net consistent positive responses and cover more than their printing and mailing costs. Again, use your own judgment: How many solicitations would you be willing to receive? If each appeal had merit on its own, you would probably feel differently than if each appeal sounded exactly like the one preceding it. Beware of crying wolf more than once! You can go to your membership once for funds to meet a crisis or emergency, but success the second time around is unlikely.

Phase 5: Developing a Strategy To Secure Support from Institutions

Some nonprofit organizations have supported their work through individual contributions alone. Undoubtedly, these are organizations that constantly reach out to new donors and have a very strong renewal program in place, as well as a consistent major donor effort. Other groups have used their revenues from individuals to underwrite the general operating expenses of their group while reaching out to institutional sources for support of particular programs and projects. Either of these routes can achieve desirable results for nonprofits.

To reiterate, individual support remains the most reliable, renewable, and consistent source of funding, and in the best of worlds, institutional support would only be incidental to your financial base. However, some would argue that government should be the main funder of nonprofit activity, since both the public and the nonprofit sector share responsibility for the public good; in many countries, this is the case. As we have previously pointed out, many governments around the world do not assume their rightful responsibility, and leave nonprofits to figure out other ways to raise money.

Most nonprofit groups are not totally supported by a single category of funders — individuals, foundations, or government — but, rather, by a mix of sources. It is their job to identify, cultivate and pursue aggressively the mix of individual and institutional prospects deemed most likely to extend support.

Your next set of tasks, then, is to research and identify your universe of prospective institutional supporters and select your best bets. You will then be ready to approach them for funding.

The world of institutional funding is truly a vast one that includes:

  • Government: town, county, village, city, state, region, and federal

  • Foundations: family, private, company-sponsored, community, local and national, grantmaking public charities

  • Businesses and Corporations: neighborhood stores, chain stores, bank branches, utility companies, department stores, specialty shops, restaurants, small companies, local and national corporations

  • Religious Institutions: churches, temples, synagogues, and other faith communities; local and regional religious decision-making bodies; local and national ecumenical structures; national religious bodies

  • Labor Unions: individual unions, central labor councils, state federations

  • Federated Fundraising Organizations: United Way, Community Chest, Catholic Charities, United Jewish Appeal, and the hundreds of other workplace giving campaigns

  • Associations of Individuals: service clubs such as Rotarians, Lions, Soroptomists, Junior League, Hadassah, American Association of University Women; professional, business, and trade associations, such as the local Bar Association and Chamber of Commerce

Your sources of funds should comprise a mix of these institutional sources to further strengthen the legs of your funding base.

We now turn back to the task before us: identifying those particular institutional sources that are the most likely to extend support. Remember that you are looking to identify a manageable number of prospects that can be pursued with some fair measure of success. It is best to narrow down your list of prospects as much as possible so that you will be free to give adequate personal attention to each of them. Successful institutional fundraising requires careful personal approaches to your prospects. Therefore, the fewer prospects you target, the more likely you will be able to devote the appropriate time and attention to making the best approach and subsequent follow-up. Your first prospect list will be broader and more inclusive than your final one. Now your research, networking, and other information-gathering pursuits begin.

Research Your Prospects

Research involves reviewing the printed materials and informed gossip that are publicly available on foundations, businesses, government, religious sources, fundraising federations, labor unions, and associations of individuals. There are standard reference materials available at your local library or the local regional collection of the Foundation Center. The Internet should be explored thoroughly. In addition, some institutional sources — a number of foundations, corporations, most government agencies, most federated campaigns, and some religious sources — make available free upon request application guidelines, lists of past grantees, and annual reports. You are looking for:

  1. Funders similar to those that already support you or have supported you in the past

  2. Funders with an interest in your work based on your locale

  3. Funders with an interest in your work based on the subject of your program

  4. Funders able to provide the level of financial support you are seeking

First, explore funders similar to those that already support you. If you receive grants from national foundations because of your groundbreaking work in an area of national import, research other national foundations to learn if there are others that share an interest in this area. In the same way, if you have elicited positive responses from a certain type of corporation in the past, you will want to explore other corporations in the same industry for support. Success in securing a grant from a foundation or corporation does not automatically lead to success with their counterparts. It does, however, suggest a possibility worth exploring. Most funding sources are influenced in their decision-making by the evidence of their colleagues' involvement, for that translates into credibility.

Second, you are now ready to explore other sectors of support apart from the ones you are currently tapping. In exploring these new sources, start at the most local level. For instance, approach your local parish before going to the metropolitan religious body or to its national headquarters. For one thing, you are more likely to have some personal contacts at this level of organization already; for another, you face less competition from other similar organizations. Competition for funding tends to increase as you reach out to sources with a wider geographic scope. The closer to your locale your sources are, the greater investment they have in the political success of your effort.

There are, however, exceptions to this theory. Some national sources, including religious bodies, government, corporations, and foundations, might well be attracted to your work for a variety of factors, such as: a high correlation to their particular interests; unique characteristics of your efforts; the potential for your work to serve as a model or demonstration project for other communities; or the vanguard nature of your work.

An example is provided by the early years of the women's movement in the United States, when a number of progressive-minded national foundations made grants to local women's organizations before their local foundation counterparts did. In these cases, national foundations set an example for local foundations to follow. A similar scenario took place in the mid-1980s regarding funding for disarmament projects, and the 90's saw the same pattern for funding HIV/AIDS organizations.

Additionally, it would not be unusual for a national foundation to fund a local organization perceived by its local funding community as being too controversial owing to its area of interest or its form of advocacy. For these reasons, some organizations should engage in subject-related research as well as geographic-based research into prospective funding sources.


Another method for gaining information is networking, a concept that has fortunately gained popular support. Networking is no more than cooperation among individuals and organizations with similar needs (and goals) to aid each other. Each and every nonprofit has counterpart organizations locally and around the country whose experiences can save them valuable time so that they don't have to reinvent the wheel. Those counterparts might work in a similar field, involve a similar constituency, or operate in the same geographic locale.

The first step in networking is to brainstorm a list of your most likely counterpart organizations. Think in terms of issues, geography, and constituency. Find out what they have learned from their own fundraising efforts. Other groups can share with you valuable information that may not necessarily be printed in any materials, such as: Which funders are the most likely to give pre-application meetings? What is of most interest to staff in a funding proposal? How much work is involved in making an appropriate application?

You can also network with development (fundraising) professionals at nearby large nonprofit institutions, such as hospitals, colleges and universities, museums, and the like to elicit their suggestions. Finally, conferences, seminars, and meetings provide splendid opportunities to network, not only with other nonprofits but with funders as well. Network until you feel that you have a comprehensive understanding of your prospects.

You would best spend your time by making thorough approaches to a small number of select funders than by trying to cover the entire waterfront. You will not be able to pursue all the prospective sources of support that you have discovered with the same degree of vigor. Reduce your list to a manageable number, and look for reasons to eliminate prospects rather keep them. In other words, choose the prospects that really are your best bets. You might aim for a final prospect list of no more than ten institutional sources as candidates for support.

Estimate Your Proceeds

In the same way that you projected total support from individuals, you should now make some conservative estimates of how much you might raise by approaching your institutional prospects. Conservative estimates are made on the basis of what you can assuredly expect rather than what you hope to receive. If you have received support from institutions in the past year, gauge which of them are really likely to renew their grants, contracts, or contributions in the upcoming year, and project a realistic financial estimate of their support.

Now turn to all your best bets lists. Ascribe an average grant size to each of them. Garner this information either through your research or your networking. Review the list: Are there sources whose support you are confident of receiving? Who are they? What level of support can you assuredly predict, if any? Where you are not confident or are unsure, err on the conservative side; don't count any "questionables" in your final projections. That way, you will be pleasantly surprised if you exceed your goal rather than disappointed if you fall below.

Another approach is to select the three prospects on your best bets list that most closely match your specific programs and purposes. Use the average grant size they award to organizations similar to your own as the basis for projecting your total revenue from institutions. You will, of course, have to decide how many of those prospects might award funding, if any. Again, it is better to err on the safe side unless you have strong indications of these prospects' inclination to fund your organization.

If this is your first foray into approaching institutions for support, you will probably find it difficult to estimate your chances for success. Don't panic; most nonprofits just starting out are in the same position. If you are still in the dark after all your information-gathering, you can simply decide not to project any support from institutions. That does not mean, of course, that you won't pursue your best bets — only that you will not count on their support without strong evidence.

Unfounded fundraising projections can be very dangerous. If the goals are not realized, programs may have to be eliminated, fundraising volunteers may become discouraged, and your credibility is likely to suffer. It is far better to build slowly and surely than to be faced with a shortage of funds due to projections that were based more on hope than on fact.

Phase 6: Making the Case

What role does writing play in nonprofit fundraising? Regardless of which funding sources you target, you will invariably need written materials: brochures, proposals, direct mail appeals, newsletters, annual reports, and letters of inquiry, for example. And even though face-to-face solicitations raise more money than letters, the written materials you send to a prospect before the solicitation — as well as those you may leave afterward — are very important. And there's always the possibility that you won't be able to meet with institutional funding sources, so your written materials must speak for you.

One way to avoid the perennial writer's anxiety and to save time as well is to do exactly what most veteran professional fundraisers and development officers at hospitals, museums, universities, and other large nonprofit institutions do: write one document in advance of a fundraising campaign that will satisfy your needs before they arise. That document has the rather lofty-sounding title of case statement.

A case statement is simply a written document that states the most important facts about an organization. It can range in length from a wallet-size card to twenty pages or more. The most common case statement for the small to medium-size nonprofit probably ranges between five and ten pages. Preparing such a statement provides you with the opportunity to amass data that will best illustrate the competence of your staff and the effectiveness of your work. Your objective is to present sufficient information to your potential investors to elicit a positive response. In many ways, the case statement is not unlike the general support proposal that you might prepare for submission to a foundation; both provide the reader with answers to the following questions in an organized fashion:

  1. Why does your organization exist? What are the problems in society that you plan to address? Describe the magnitude of those problems in a concrete way. Your objective is to assure the reader that your work is a response to proven and defensible needs.

  2. How do you plan to alleviate these problems? What can you realistically hope to accomplish? Your objective here is to state succinctly your organizational purpose or mission and your specific program objectives.

  3. Why is your staff and board qualified to tackle these problems with any expectation of success? Your objective here is to present the skills, qualifications, and experiences of your staff, board, and volunteers, whose combined efforts will have impact on the stated problem.

  4. How much in revenues is needed to enable you to advance your efforts? Your objective here is to illustrate the costs of your efforts through budgeting.

  5. How do you anticipate raising all the revenues you will need? Your objective here is to describe all your fundraising and income-generating plans to show that you can, with some degree of certainty, raise all the funds you need.

In preparing a case statement, remember to present the most compelling, rational arguments you have to convince potential supporters of the worthiness of your organization.

Once you have finished writing your case statement, you'll need to present it in a clear and tasteful manner. A crisp, clean-looking document on quality paper will do the job. Be aware that graphics can enhance the visual appearance and appeal of your written materials, and pay attention to design, not only of your case statement, but also of direct mail appeals, newsletters, proposals, and brochures. Your materials do not have to be fancy, but they should be attractive enough to enhance the text and send a message to readers that your organization does things tastefully and appropriately.

Writing a clear and concise case statement or general support proposal (or whatever you choose to name this working document) will serve you in a number of important ways. It will give you a way to engage others early on in the fundraising process. You can circulate your draft for comments and suggestions to people whose help you need when the fundraising actually begins. In doing so, you foster their investment in your efforts and improve the chances that they will devote time and energy to your fundraising when you need them later on.

You now have a document from which you will be able to draw sentences, paragraphs, pages, and even sections for all the written materials you are required to prepare as your fundraising efforts continue. You will have saved yourself precious time, since you won't have to compose every new proposal or direct mail appeal from scratch. You may even choose to use your case statement as your primary fundraising document with large individual donors and foundations. In addition, you'll have a versatile set of materials to put in the hands of others associated with your group for a variety of purposes. The materials will be useful, for example, to those who make speeches, conduct workshops, or write articles for publication. The materials will also lend invaluable support to your face-to-face solicitors by serving as their briefing papers.

Your case statement can also be used as a tool for recruiting new board members. Since you have put your best foot forward in the body of this statement, it should serve you well in correspondence and in meetings with prospective board candidates.

Finally, you might circulate a draft to some significant donors whom you plan to approach as part of your campaign. In soliciting their feedback and suggestions, you are recognizing their importance to your organization and engaging their intellects before asking them to dip into their wallets. Inevitably, they will be more motivated to give later, when formally approached.

For all of these reasons, preparing written materials well in advance will strengthen your fundraising efforts. Spare yourself anxiety and frustration; start writing now. You will reap the rewards many times over later on!

Phase 7: Preparing the Fundraising Plan and Calendar

You've established your fundraising goal for the year (Phase 3), targeted your potential individual and institutional backers and set conservative estimates on their potential level of support (Phases 4 and 5), and prepared the documents necessary to develop a variety of fundraising materials (Phase 6). This information provides you with the framework for your own particular fundraising strategy.

After totaling the estimated support from both individual and institutional supporters, you now have a realistic sense of the funding you may anticipate in the forthcoming year. Does this match the fundraising goals you set in Phase 3? If so, you're in good shape. If not, you need to reduce your operating budget or reasonbly increase your fundraising projections. Don't initiate programs against revenues that aren't reasonably assured unless the program can be implemented in phases, and it is possible to wait between phases to raise money for the next phase. The next step in implementing your strategy is to make a chart on some poster paper on a wall, or secure a large yearly calendar, with columns for each of the coming twelve months. At the top of each column, write the dollar amount that you need for monthly operating expenses (cash flow sheet). You are now ready to schedule your efforts.

  1. Mark on the calendar your "proven traditions" for securing individual support, such as past membership appeals, special events, raffles, etc., and projected income from each for the coming year.

  2. Fill in the amounts of grants and contributions from past institutional supporters that you can safely anticipate receiving again.

  3. Add to the calendar the tasks you will need to complete in order for this support to be forthcoming. For example, under direct mail to membership, place all the tasks that are involved in a direct mail membership effort, such as: preparing copy for the letter; printing letter and enclosures; arranging artwork; arranging for mailing; recording receipts; and sending out thank-you notes. For past renewable institutional sources, place on your calendar not only writing proposals and cover letters but also sending final reports and occasional updates. You should now have on your calendar all the tasks you will need to complete in order to solicit funds from your past supporters.

  4. Turn to your new prospects and schedule the tasks needed to solicit their support. You are choosing here from various approaches (face-to-face, direct mail, special events, etc.). In scheduling, pay particular attention to two major considerations: (1) the months when you will need the funds to meet your operating expenses; and (2) the times of the year most appropriate for the activities you are planning. Try to be as detailed as possible in listing all the tasks involved in any particular fundraising activity.

  5. Schedule your approaches to new prospective institutional supporters. When will your staff, board, and volunteers be free for additional fundraising? Use the calendar and your sense of other organizational priorities to pinpoint the time of year when you can most effectively mount this effort.

  6. Place on the calendar all the tasks that accompany these approaches to new sources, such as:

    a. identifying prospects through research and networking

    b. developing program and/or general organizational proposals, including budgets and sample cover letters

    c. identifying personal contacts as prospects

    d. making the initial approach, either by telephone or by letter of inquiry, depending on the targeted sources and the nature of the personal relationship

    e. submitting a formal proposal or application, with back-up supporting materials

    f. scheduling follow-up appointments and visits with appropriate parties, at either your office or theirs

    g. submitting any requested additional materials.

  7. You can take your planning process one step further by assigning individuals to all the tasks listed. This will aid the organization in defining responsibilities for the individuals involved, as well as ensuring that the timeline and tasks set are realistic. You are anticipating the people power inherent in each step of the way and assigning these responsibilities as the plan unfolds.

  8. Next, place conservative income projections for each source on the calendar and the date when you might expect to receive the funds. You should continually keep track of the totals of gross receipts versus gross expenses each month to determine whether you will have sufficient revenues. Don't forget to carry over any unspent revenues from one month to the next. Thus, your calendar will help you project cash flow as well.

  9. In listing tasks, don't overlook evaluation of each of your fundraising efforts as part of your list. You can place all your necessary fundraising activities and tasks on the calendar. Also, note that there is a line for monthly income totals, so you can keep track of your incoming revenues on a regular basis.

    Use this calendar as an ongoing tool in your work. Review it at least once a month with all the people who are intimately involved with your organization's fundraising work. Make whatever changes and modifications are warranted. This is the blueprint of your fundraising strategy for the upcoming year.

Phase 8: Making the Approach

Who Should Ask for Financial Support on Behalf of Your Organization?

The executive director and the officers of the board of directors are an organization's prime solicitors and the best choices for approaching a major prospective supporter. Yet each and every person associated with a nonprofit can ask others for support, including board members, staff members, volunteers, constituents, former constituents (i.e., alumni), family members, supporters, friends, civic leaders, public officials, contacts, and peers. The decision depends on each particular situation.

Remember that you needn't feel alone in your fundraising work; there are many others to call on for assistance. You might even mobilize everyone on your list for a fundraising effort. And there are instances when the automatic constituencies within an organization can be called on to raise money; the Girl Scouts are unquestionably the best example. Moreover, certain activities — selling raffle or benefit tickets, or recruiting sponsors for walkathons — can be done by anybody and everybody involved with — or simply attracted to, your work.

Drawing from a list of potential solicitors, the leadership of a nonprofit must determine the most appropriate person or persons to make a particular request. Experience shows that people respond most generously when asked by someone they know or respect. Thus, peer-to-peer solicitation is usually very effective: alumni to fellow alumni; students to other students; parents to parents; businesspeople to their counterparts; youth to youth. As a general rule, ask board members to ask their peers for support, staff to ask other staff, volunteers to ask other volunteers, major donors to ask other major donors, and so on. When approaching a particular constituency for the first time, you would do well to ask your top prospects to make a contribution and also to join you in asking others for support. In this way, you will be recruiting those who are best suited to ask their peers for assistance.

Unfortunately, some fundraisers most fear asking their own friends and contacts for money — even though they are likely to be the best prospects. They know the value of a particular organization's work, since they will have heard first-hand accounts from their fundraiser friends. You would be overlooking a prime constituency by giving in to such fears. You are likely to discover that your friend appreciates being asked and is pleased to join the life of your organization as a contributor and member.

To reiterate, your prime task is to identify who should make a particular fundraising request on behalf of your organization and then to brief that individual or those individuals adequately in preparation for the meeting with your candidate. As the executive director or member of the board, you may be a member of the team of two or three who might participate in the visit.

What Should You Ask Support For?

Again, you are matching up your prospective donor's interests with those activities of your organization that the donor would be most interested in supporting. Some people will be willing to give you money simply on the basis of your stated purpose, or to attend a special event you are sponsoring just to have a good time. More often than not, however, they will be more moved to be charitable when they hear or read about the specifics of your work.

Your task, then, is to anticipate which of your projected programs and efforts will have the greatest appeal to your prospects. Phase 3 provided some examples of the ways an organization can present its different needs. In other instances, your research, networking, and other information-gathering activities will provide you with some clues to your prospects' interests.

You may be tempted to present a foundation prospect with a number of choices. This strategy can be useful under certain circumstances, but you would be advised instead to gauge what aspect of your work would most interest a particular prospect and to present only that aspect. This demonstrates not only that you have done your homework but that you are reserving the right to set your own program priorities.

How Much Should You Ask For?

Your various prospective supporters can afford to make contributions of varying amounts to support your work. It is your responsibility to give them that opportunity. Some groups choose to suggest an amount in a direct mail solicitation or a proposal.

Certain fundraising approaches, such as direct mail and special events, do lend themselves to a range of gift sizes. A special event, whether a banquet or dinner, is a perfect occasion to offer your contributors a range of options. People can decide to be sponsors, patrons, or benefactors, to mention just some of the traditional terms. You can ascribe a different dollar amount to distinguish each level of support. That range should reflect the amounts of money you believe your supporters are capable of giving. This approach is also helpful when you lack basic information about your prospective donors' giving habits.

In deciding how much you can ask prospective contributors to give, your information-gathering and networking can once more be valuable aids. If you are approaching past donors, the simplest method would be to determine the amount you request based on their highest previous gift to your organization. You can ask them either to repeat their past gift or to consider making a larger gift. There are always a number of arguments you can use to provide a rationale to your contributors for increasing their giving, such as increased costs, inflation, greater demand for services, or new threats and challenges to your constituencies. More often than not, you will have a sound rationale for such a request.

What if you are writing a donor who has never given before to your organization? How can you gauge in advance what amount to request? You can turn to other organizations for advice. While some groups may be reluctant to share data on their donors, others will quickly see that it is to their advantage. After all, you may be able to do the same for them. Development officers at large nonprofits such as hospitals, universities, and museums rely also on a variety of standard reference materials to garner vital facts about prospective major donors. These include Who's Who in America, The Social Register, Standard and Poor's Register of Corporations, and Directors and Executives.

All of these books are standard reference materials, so you are certainly not invading anyone's privacy by using them. Building a profile of your prospects will bring you closer to gaining a sense of how much financial support they are capable of providing to your organization. You also will be surprised about the information that is available to you from your local newspapers, which regularly report on philanthropic individuals in your community. Since it is usually desirable for nonprofits to provide some form of public recognition of their strongest supporters, you are also apt to find valuable tidbits about them in an organization's newsletters, annual reports, special event programs, or other publications.

Remember that your financial needs are real. They reflect the costs of programs that you and others value highly. You can assert these needs clearly to your current and prospective supporters so that they are invited to respond according to their own abilities. By asking them to make contributions, you are extending an invitation to them.

A note about approaching institutional sources: foundations, corporations, governmental agencies, and religious institutions, as previously indicated, often make information available about their average grant size in their annual reports, guidelines for applicants, requests for proposals, and other literature they publish on their grantmaking programs. It is preferable to approach these sources with requests for targeted amounts that are gauged on the institution's stated financial capabilities. You will, of course, state the entire budget of the project for which you are requesting support, but you want to be clear about what part of that budget you are asking them to underwrite. If you still have doubts about the desirable level of support to request, you can ask the counsel of a sympathetic contact at the institution you are approaching.

To summarize, when approaching either a prospective individual or institutional donor, you should:

  1. Decide in advance the specific amount to request.
  2. Target that amount to the capacity of the prospect you are approaching.
  3. Offer a range of gift options for large mass appeals.

All of the approaches discussed have merit depending on the specific situation. You have to decide which ones you want to use.

When and Where Can a Request for Financial Support Best Be Made?

Institutions usually make decisions about when and where to request support easy for the grantseeker, since they have established procedures that may be printed in their guidelines. Your goal is always to seek as personal a contact as possible with a member of the staff who is engaged in the grant review process. This suggests a visit, to either their office or yours. First, mail an initial letter of inquiry and request a meeting. Since many sources (such as foundations and corporations) are deluged with requests for support, some may request a full proposal prior to meeting. Again, their printed guidelines will usually state such procedures.

If you do your homework well and know that your targeted supporters are strong prospects, you might choose other ways to introduce yourself to them before making a request for funds. You can extend an invitation to activities, programs, or special events that you are planning. You can offer to mail them some materials on your work due to their stated interest in your field of endeavor. All these ideas will distinguish your approach from those of the legions of grantseekers who are always knocking on the doors of foundations and corporations. If your assumptions about a particular institution's priorities are correct, polite persistence will eventually pay off.

Your choices about when and where to approach individuals for support are more varied. Again, your goal is the same: you want to establish face-to-face contact as soon as possible. You can do that by canvassing door-to-door in your community, by inviting people to a wine and cheese party, by staffing a booth at an annual street festival in your town or city, or making an appointment to visit a prospective donor in his or her home, to mention just a few options.

Phase 9: Building the Relationship with Your Supporters

On rare occasions, supporters find that they are rewarded for their contributions with ingratitude. With gift in hand, the nonprofit's leaders simply rush off on their mission and ignore their benefactors.

This is foolhardy. When a contribution is made, it signals the possibility of a long-term relationship taking root between donor and the recipient. Remember that it always takes more time and effort to find a new donor than to keep an existing donor committed to your organization. The lesson is to value your supporters for the lifeline that they provide to your work.

How can you sustain and strengthen your supporters' interest and involvement in your work? If you really perceive your supporters as partners in your undertaking, you will have to treat them as such. Some nonprofits actually bestow on their members voting privileges in the governance of their organizations. Their members elect the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation. Short of this, nonprofit leaders can do many things to heighten the sense of affiliation between their constituents and their organizations.

The benefits an organization derives from an individual's contributions are self-evident, but what may be less apparent are those the individual has personally derived. They may include public recognition, social opportunities, leadership experience, respect from his neighbors and peers, and skill enhancement, to mention a few. In any case, it is safe to assume that both parties have reaped benefits from the association.

Correspondingly, relationships with institutional supporters need not begin and end with the receipt of a grant. There are ways to increase the participation of institutional representatives in the work and life of your organization. A key ingredient in a successful partnership between an organization and an institutional supporter is continuity.

The nonprofit organization and its supporters each have something to offer the other. It is the responsibility of the nonprofit to make the first overture and to nurture the relationship. Not every supporter will be interested in ongoing collaborations, but those who are will respond to your initiatives. The reward for both parties will be found in the fruits of an ongoing partnership.

Phase 10: Monitoring and Evaluating Your Fundraising Efforts: Laying the Groundwork for Next Year

As in most aspects of fundraising, common sense is the rule in monitoring and evaluating your efforts. Whether a special event succeeds or fails, find out why. Ask all those involved to participate in an evaluation. Are the mistakes or miscalculations correctable? Did the event require more staff, member, and volunteer time than was warranted by the money it generated? What should be done differently the next time around in order to enhance the event's success? Sometimes burnout or disappointment after a frustrating event are so rampant within an organization that questions such as these never get addressed.

Feedback is vital to other efforts, too. For example, find out why a targeted corporation has sent a form rejection letter in response to your letter of inquiry. Call or write the corporation's charitable contributions officer and ask what might make your organization more attractive to the company for possible future consideration. Gather feedback wherever you can. Such information helps in redefining and refocusing the organization's fundraising strategy.

Most people have a tendency to walk away quickly from both successes and disappointments without reviewing them critically. As part of your planning process, schedule evaluation meetings after every special event and campaign. Ask people who were involved questions such as: What can we learn from this experience for the future? What would we do the same way again? What would we do differently?

Check with others for their perceptions. You can even survey your members if you are assessing fundraising programs aimed at them. Finally, be sure to schedule dates for your evaluation meetings as part of your planning process for next year's fundraising efforts. Build on your previous experiences.

Final Thoughts on Securing Your Organization's Future

Effective fundraising produces two equally important, simultaneous results: (1) you secure funds to support your organization in its immediate work; (2) you lay the financial groundwork for your future endeavors as well, thereby freeing yourself and your organization from reinventing a new fundraising wheel each year.

Through building a strong organization, choosing appropriate funding partners, and crafting a well-thought-out strategy and plan to secure their support, you will be positioned to serve your constituents and supporters well. All will derive satisfaction from the knowledge that your nonprofit organization is on the right course.

Securing Your Organization's Future

Author Profile
Abridged Text
© Foundation Center
All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy