Fraud Blocker

Spoiler Alert: It’s not magic! 

As an Executive Director of medium-sized non-profits for the past 5 years I’ve learned about fund raising off the corner of my desk. I’ve also interviewed the best in the business. And it’s paid off. Literally. This year I’ve increased funding to a not-for-profit organization by 26% compared to the same time frame last year. In a former agency, a part-time communications specialist and I quadrupled and quintupled our goals in the first two years. We had no magic wand and no fairy godparent. Neither did we have training, but we learned the hard way. And I’d like to share the six lessons that have given me confidence.

First, it’s all about the story. You must know what business you’re in – and not. What is your distinctiveness? Could you make an elevator pitch in 30 seconds? The core of fund development is being able to tell the story, so the heart wells and the story sells. I love producing documentaries about service and impact and then repurposing them into 3 minutes or fewer for social media.  

Secondly, target market. Create an inventory of family foundations, corporations and yes government ministries that might invest in your story. I quickly learned not to throw something generic against the wall hoping it would stick — I do my research. It’s like a dating game: seek plausible matches. Research includes knowing the trends. Monitor the news. And in filing a grant application, I have learned to carefully read the fine print. What are the desired outcomes? How will I know if my agency has achieved them? How will I demonstrate impact? The “angel’s in the details.”  

Thirdly, step back and set annual fund-raising targets. The adage of “what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t get done” applies. That gives your agency more discipline and momentum when you succeed. 

Fourthly, relationships take work. Create a database that includes every application and communication with funders. Build rapport. Ensure you report back in a timely way and those reports meet their needs. A major funding officer recently relayed her long-standing frustration with an agency for submitting generic 12-page impact reports. “Stop!” she pleaded, “Our board needs one-page with metrics.” And don’t forget the personal touch. A wise fund-development director once encouraged me to send thank-you cards mailed with a stamp and hand-written address. 

To soar into the stratosphere of six figure donations, the fifth lesson is “network to wealth and influence.” Every board benefits not just from a mix of “lived experience,” field experience and subject matter expertise such as finance, human resources or law but as well members who can elevate an agency’s profile through their “rolodex.” The Institute of Corporate Directors, LinkedIn, BoardMatch or a local Rotary Club are good sources for recruitment. I once created an inventory of “influencers” and sought them out for advice on building an organization’s brand. Interviewees can turn into influential board members. 

Finally, just do it. I launched into fund-raising with little confidence. My first foray into fund development was to simply raise $5,000 to supply newcomer women seniors with tablets so they could learn online during the pandemic. We raised almost $9,000. Another agency believed it could not afford the financial outlay of a gala event, so it encouraged donors to “stay at home” and donate anyway. That agency currently earns $300K annually for a non-event. Fund-raising takes pluck. 

The Osborne Group has a wealth of knowledge amongst its many principals who have “seen it all.” If you need a strategic plan, fund development advice or just as important, support in telling your story, please reach out. 

Judy Fantham’s extensive NFP leadership experience and foundational training in journalism produces a probing interview style for strategic planning and an ability to uncover and develop compelling stories for fundraising and advancement.