Many organizations when seeking to start their first development office do not which way to turn or where to start first.
Far too many organizations often start and end with grant writing. They don’t get beyond this particular strategy and never get to the point of having a diversified fundraising function.
If done correctly from the start, organizations can set themselves up for success both today and well into the future.
With a few simple steps taken right from the start of your new fundraising office, you can create a strong and impactful program that will support your organizations mission well into the future.
Let me share with you steps on how to set up your fundraising office for success
1 – Start by conducting an assessment of the organization’s opportunities and challenges including getting an accurate read on the culture in which fundraising will operate. Does the organization have different programs and functions that operate differently, perhaps off-site, or on other campuses?
2 – Research and obtain a Donor Management System. Excel and Access are not database systems that you can efficiently use for development purposes. Today’s software is geared towards building the most effective development program at simple pushes of buttons. Many provide dashboards with important metrics built in so that you can instantly gauge important development benchmarks such as donor retention and donor engagement. Many also offer wealth screening capabilities for modest fees. These days an organization does not have to go with the top-of-the-line software suite to have a substantial impact on its development program.
3 – Then I would determine what the leverage points are for your organization based on the prospective donor base demographics. At this point, creating an ideal donor profile would be helpful. After creating this donor profile, you can then use that profile to find donors that match up to the characteristics that you have identified. This profile will help you to define your strategies. For instance, if you are a senior housing program, a reasonable approach that your organization should consider is planned giving and what I have termed a “Grateful Resident” Program. If you are a domestic violence shelter, then perhaps a special event to bring awareness to your mission.
4 – One thing that you can immediately start doing is to conduct grant research. Most charities are eligible for some form of private and public support. With the lead time necessary both in conducting research and in the application process, it behooves organizations to conduct the research straight out. Some application deadlines are months away and in some cases, foundations take months to make decisions. So, this is one area that you don’t want to delay in starting.
5 – Start to build a culture of philanthropy that supports your development program whether that is one-on-one meetings or “Meet and Greet” events. The important thing is to dispel myths surrounding fundraising. Most Board members do not have clear instructions and expectations regarding their role in fund development. Most are afraid of it, given the fear that they are expected to ask for money or to ask their friends in a “quid pro” way. So, meet and speak with those closest in your organization so that they get an understanding of what philanthropy and development are in support of your efforts. From there, you can work with each of them to begin developing a prospect list with a new understanding of the important purpose.
So there you have the simple steps that you can immediately take to build your organization’s first development office to support and even supercharge your charitable mission.
These are the same steps that I use when setting up a client’s first development office. And, they work!
You have just been offered a job as a Director of Development and now what?
Well, over the past twenty years, I have had my share of jobs and have started some fundraising offices within nonprofits as part of my consulting practice. As a result, I have gotten pretty good at figuring out what the first steps need to be when setting up your development office.
I am going to share with you some of these first steps on what to get started with immediately to make your first three months a success. These first three months are a particular time of “newness” that you can use to your advantage.
Step #1 – Get established on your working location and equipment. Ensure you set up your office area so that it will be conducive to your work style and habits and ensure that you have all of the hardware and software you need including training.
Step #2 – If you don’t have the required software, don’t skimp by using Excel. Start right out by determining what your current and future needs may be and begin to research and present options for a donor database/CRM system that will meet those needs. You cannot build a successful development program without this foundational component. It is the “brains” behind your program.
Step #3 – Begin conducting a development assessment of the past fundraising efforts of the organization.
Step #4 – To carry out this assessment and to get acclimated to the new organization, use this time to meet with
Key leadership staff
Board of Directors
Any past and/or current donors
Anyone else deemed important to the organization
Step #5 – Use the data that you obtain during this development assessment process to begin to put together a series of recommendations based on best practices that you can put into place during your tenure. Share these recommendations with key leadership and Board members to obtain approval and “buy-in.”
Step #6 – Begin to immerse yourself in the new organization’s programs and services.
Step #7 – Begin to craft a Case for Support if your organization does not already have one in place.
Step #8 – Determine the key projects that need attention in the immediate future and begin to manage them. Get a handle on your development calendar including your annual fund and grant application and reporting deadlines.
Step #9 – Begin to put into place some of the recommendations that you outlined after conducting your development assessment whether they focus on major gifts, planned giving, individual giving, direct mail, etc.
These are some easy and straightforward ways that you can get up to speed quickly and efficiently in your new role and have an immediate impact on your organization’s fund development program. Early wins=your success.
There is so much science behind fund development. You can study it, take courses in it, and read books on it. Campaigns have become honed regarding best practices; there are easy steps to put into place, materials to be created, and people to be engaged.
The one thing that I have come to realize, though, is that one part of fundraising is science and the other is art. And, what is that other? Well as a regional consultant, one thing that I notice that makes a tremendous difference is the culture of place. That is why I firmly believe that consultants need to adopt the old “in residence” model. They need to live and breathe a community and get to know and understand its nuances. Then and only then will a campaign be successful.
Currently, I have three different clients from three distinct geographic areas. One is for the Stamford area of Connecticut, one is from the Greater Providence area, and the other is from a rural village in Vermont. I could not stress the dichotomy between these clients and it all has to do with the culture of place.
In Connecticut, life is fast-paced and hectic. Projects move quickly. And, the population is so very significant that one tends to blend in with the community without being noticed. In Rhode Island, everyone knows everyone; it is the smallest state in the Union. There is a high degree of competition for funding from a limited donor pool, and people treat each other like family. It is all about who you know. In Vermont, very different. Life in a village is remote. The nearest store is 45 minutes away, sometimes up and over the mountain, you rely on and bond with your neighbor, and it is not about who you know, it is about what you know about those that you know.
Culture of place. If you don’t begin to understand it, you will not be successful. The culture of place is how fundraising art meets science, and the magic of campaign success happens. Ignore it and try to forge ahead without addressing or understanding, and your campaign is doomed to fail.
For those nonprofit organizations wanting to hire someone who works from a remote location and who will not commit to finding someone who can spend time “in residence” then think again. While all the degrees in the world, equate to know how it does equate to campaign success. An understanding of the culture of place does.
The fundraising audit is a major step in fundraising planning. When you think about planning, you think about where are we, where do we want to be, and how are we going to get there?
The fundraising audit helps you to determine, where are you. And, it is probably the most important step of the entire planning process. If you don’t know where you are today, how can you even plan for tomorrow? And, it is important to not only look at internal things that will impact your fundraising success i.e. Board of Directors, etc., but it is also critical to examine external factors as well. Some external things that may affect the success of fundraising include political factors (i.e. election time), economic (a down economy), sociocultural (changing demographics), and technology (changes in the web, social media, etc.). Development audits also tend to examine others in the industry including nonprofits serving the same type of causes, similar sizes, potential collaborators, and other market factors).
Also, one can examine the feasibility of conducting a future large-scale campaign. Currently, I am conducting a development audit for a nonprofit organization, and as part of that review, I am asking initial capital campaign feasibility questions to determine if a proposed future capital campaign would be a success.
An audit is just that, a systematic attempt to gather tons of data, and then analyzing and synthesizing this data against professional best practices. While it is best that an objective third party person conducts this process, it can also be accomplished by a new in-house development staff member who still has an objective “eye.” It is also helpful to have someone who has their finger on the pulse regarding what is shifting and changing in the philanthropic landscape.
A development audit is also a great way to engage key stakeholders i.e. Board members, donors, etc. who may need more cultivation. It is just as much about the product as it is about the process.
Yes, every grant you write will not be funded. That is a reality. I know, you and I both wish that they were, but that’s not always the case.
According to The Fund Raising School at the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy, these are some concrete reasons why foundations decline funding applications:
Failure of the applicant to follow foundation guidelines.
The project does not strike the reviewer as significant; statement of the project does not interest him or her.statement of the project does not interest him or her.
The applicant failed to include other prospective client groups in the planning of project goals.
The proposal is poorly written and hard to understand.
Proposal objectives do not meet goals of funding source.
Proposal budget is not within the range of funding available.
The funding source does not have confidence that the organization submitting the proposal can carry out proposed application activities.
Project objectives are too ambitious in scope
Proposal writer did not follow guidelines provided by the funding agency.
Evidence that the project can sustain itself beyond the life of the grant is insufficient.
Evaluation procedure is inadequate.
While it seems like this is enough to say it is not worth preparing proposals, it is. Your organization must put in the time to research and adhere to the guidelines of each funding source. Doing so will result in a much higher funding rate. It behooves those who cannot do the proper research, or is unable to craft a detailed proposal, to outsource a particular proposal, or all of their grant writing needs to a professional.
A professional has the expertise to understand foundation priority areas, and can craft funding applications meeting the foundation’s requirements. Also, professionals can propose collaborative partnerships that build confidence with funding sources increasing the rate of foundation success.
First you need to document your funding priorities with custom tailored cases for supports that can be used to match up to a funders priority.
Once you have outlined your needs, the next steps are to do some detailed research to identify potential funding sources. It is best to document a foundation schedule that includes the foundation’s priority areas, critical deadlines, and application process, among other items. There are some helpful grant research tools available including The Foundation Center and the Foundation Directory Online. While this is a subscription based software, you can check your local library or community foundation for free public access.
Then, you can then move to contact the potential funding sources and cultivate relationships. Yes, even the grant and foundation process is about cultivating and stewarding relationships. It’s not just about submitting proposals and then wishing for the best.
Now, write your application. Answer all the questions as needed – nothing more, nothing less. Then hit submit, and wait, often a few months. I should add; you can submit many applications now online. While that does make the process somewhat easier than in years past, it has its complexities with character limits, some background materials to submit, etc.
The proposal awarded? Congratulations! Be sure that you can administer this grant before you get the award or even apply. You need to keep a detailed compliance record to be able to report back to the foundation promptly how the organization used the gift and the outcomes obtained. Be sure to keep close attention to the reporting deadlines and ensure that reports get submitted. And, most important determine how you are going to acknowledge and thank this foundation for its gift.
One pet peeve of mine, inadequate tracking systems. More than once, I have been the staff person coming into a new office and finding out that the organization did not submit a report in the past. Imagine my dismay, when I need to figure out how the organization used the grant money three, four, or even five years earlier. Don’t let this happen in your organization. Report timely and ensure proper documentation through an organized file tracking system both electronically and paper.
If you didn’t get funded, don’t dismay. That happens more than you think. Take this as an opportunity to reach out to the funding source to determine what the reasons for this decision are to be able to refine your proposal moving forward and to determine if there is still a possibility of perhaps receiving funding from this foundation in the future. Maybe the proposal wasn’t meeting a particular priority area of the foundation. Perhaps another project would have more suitable. Or maybe the foundation just wasn’t a good match.
Also, send an acknowledgment letter to the foundation even if you didn’t get a grant. Thank them for their time and consideration, and they will be sure to remember your organization in the future. Don’t hesitate to keep this foundation up-to-date on your programs and progress. Cultivation continues even if you didn’t get this award.
So, just like all aspects of development, grant writing is about doing appropriate research, building relationships, and then making the ask. And, of course, don’t forget the stewardship in following up, reporting, and keep them apprised of your progress.
I raised $85,000 for an organizations in 7 months. How?
I bet you didn’t know that was a skill set of DCS, oh but it is!
In the past 7 months that I have worked with an elder care facility, I have been busy raising money through grants.
In fact, lots of money. Over $75,000 to be exact.
Well, grant writing just like any component of fund development takes skill and has a definitive body of knowledge around it.
Can you hire someone who can write, sure! But a fund development professional has the breadth of experience and knowledge that can take effective efforts and make them extraordinary ones.
I start off by conducting a search of all the potential funding sources that exist both privately and corporately using subscriber on-line sources. From there I put together a grants management plan – a road map you might say of the next year ahead.
I know exactly what is due when and what needs to be my priority.
I spend time building relationships in the office and on the board to help match organizational priorities with funding priorities to ensure success. Then I work with your board to see what existing and/or potential relationships that there might be to leverage each funding potential.
It doesn’t end there, reporting is key. And donor-centered, relationship enhancing reporting takes you to another level.
So, yes…you can hire a “copy writer,” “a former newspaper writer,” or any other kind of writer…but why not a fund development professional.
The body of knowledge is powerful of thing.
Don’t waste time and money – instead hire someone who can raise it!