Paul Born has spent most of his adult life developing ideas that raise funds. The vast majority of these ideas, which have received more than $30 million in funding over the last 20 years, were conceived as partnerships with donors, funders and the people who delivered and/or received the service. Paul used examples and stories to provide insight into developing ideas that raise funds from private, public and foundation partners.
At the core of a good organization is a set of ideas and a vision. How do you engage funders early in the idea development cycle of an organization? What relationship is there between engagement, ideas and money? How do funders view ideas, strategy and leadership? How do you begin to build the relationships that will sustain your organization?
1. Find your passion and articulate it – this is what people invest in
People invest in the passion of your organization. The correlation between vision, ideas and money starts with passion. If you don’t believe in what you are doing, you aren’t doing your organization any favours. A two-point test might be:
- Do you give time to your organization over and above what you are paid for?
- Are you reading and actively learning about what you are doing?
Before you approach a potential investor, be able to answer three basic questions about your organization:
- What are you doing and why is the world a better place because of what you are doing?
- What do you want to do and how will the world be a better place because of this?
- How are you going to involve the donor in your organization?
2. Get your house in order to receive money. People do not invest in confusion or incompetence. Make sure you have the correct systems in place so that when you receive an investment you can process it in a professional manner
Build an organization that is able to receive money with a well-developed mission, an identifiable strategic plan and good financial and evaluation systems. Ensure that your organization has the right leaders to implement the organization’s strategies. For new and emerging organizations, good financial systems (and a bookkeeper) is the best single investment.
Understand the funding cycles of donor organizations to be in the right place at the right time. You are then able to use money that you receive wisely and competently.
3. Build relationships and then build the relationship – people give to people they trust
When you are talking to someone who is willing to give or has given to your organization, use the ‘80-20’ rule: Never talk more than 20% of the time about your organization, spend at least 80% of the conversation trying to understand what a funder wants and needs, both on a personal and corporate level. Keep detailed notes of these conversations to use at subsequent occasions.
Build relationships from within your organization – start by asking your board members about their own relationships with key community members. Fundraising by large donor gifts requires a minimum lead time of several years. There are two considerations in a donor’s receptiveness to fundraising: will and ability. Ability refers to how much the donor knows about your organization and the depth of trust that has been developed; ability is the current liquidity of the donor- how much cash he/she has available. A maxim in fundraising is: do you want a quick ‘no’ or a slow ‘yes’? Be patient and take the time to cultivate relationships.
4. Communicate the opportunity to invest as an invitation to learn.
Projects seldom go as planned. Engage your funder in the work as it unfolds, so they will be better able to recognize your successes while understanding the challenges you face
Recognize that the outcomes of a project inevitably change. Engage your funder in finding solutions to difficulties as they occur. Ask their opinions and engage their interest in your project. If the donor has a particular idea which is not exactly what you had planned, don’t reject the idea automatically; again engage the donor in a conversation with research and alternative approaches.
5. Momentum builds as you grow the credibility, capacity and capital for your idea
When you build relationships, recognize that it takes time. The cycle starts very slowly and begins to grow. Keep your eye on the credibility of your organization – involve funders as spokespeople for the organization, work hard at telling your story. Keep your eye on your organization’s capacity to support the work in a credible manner and create a culture of gratitude within your organization – thank funders, volunteers and staff on a regular basis.
Finally, vision, ideas and money come down to a way of being; an authentic desire to have the kind of organization with which people can engage.
Good Resources on Vision, Ideas and Money
Friendraising: Raising Funds, Finding Friends To Realize Bold Community Visions. Born, Paul with Wayne Hussey. 2003.
Relationship Fundraising: A Donor-Based approach to the Business of Raising Money. Burnett, Ken. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002.
How the New Rich Give. McKinnon, Harvey. CD. 2003.
Ten FAQs About Major Gift Fundraising. What You Need to Know About: Nonprofit Charitable Orgs
Face to Face: How to get Bigger Donations from Very Generous People. Wyman, Ken. 1993.
Innovative Philanthropic Leadership. Broadbent, Alan. Speech. Association of Fundraising Professionals. Toronto, 24 March 2003.
Tides Canada – A national foundation with a unique focus: providing charitable giving services to donors interested in values-led philanthropy in the areas of environmental sustainability and progressive social change.
Imagine Canada – Imagine Canada’s online library contains a wide variety of resource materials on topics of interest to the charitable, voluntary sector. Articles and resources are available for viewing or downloading.