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.
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.
For many donors who hold great wealth, they sometimes want to do more than just give. In fact, they want to shape directly rather than just support a charitable cause. This term is often called, “hyperagency.”
In most cases, that is fine. In fact, it is very welcomed. Paul Shervish, Director of the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, noted that hyperagency is “a distinctive characteristic of major giving because such donors are capable of establishing the institutional framework in which they and others live.” They want to produce rather than support.
Not often, but in some cases, the donor upon giving an enormous gift expects the organization to do what he or she wishes, changing the whole agenda of the organization. They want to determine what happens and when programmatically.
To me, this can become dangerous territory. For you see, just because someone has extensive wealth and wants to give it us, does not mean that we have to entertain “mission creep.” Our organizations have been founded to serve a community through a particular mission. It is the obligation of the organization and its Board of Directors to ensure the organization’s programs, and mission continues to be relevant to the community that it serves.
We often see “mission drift” in cases where organizations “chase” foundation funding just because it is available and whether or not it meets the orgazation’s mission. As a result, programs develop that are not mission consistent, and the organization begins to take on areas that they do not have a specialty.
A case in point, in 1907, a $3 million bequest left to Swarthmore College met this description: It was made conditional on the school ceasing all participation in intercollegiate sports. (Though tempted by the much-needed funds, Swarthmore turned the gift down.)
So, are you tempted to keep the gift or would you turn it down?
Well, if the gift is going to subject your organization to terms it couldn’t possibly meet or that are not consistent with the core mission, then yes, I say it needs to be turned down. Turning down a gift is a rather difficult decision. But, you must realize that you are bound to the donors’ wishes once you accept it. If you can’t abide by the terms whether impractical, unethical, or for other reasons, then you just need to say “no!”
The dilemma mentioned above points to the importance of having a Gift Acceptance Policy in place. Yes, I know these policies are so mundane, and I know you don’t have the time to create them, but, when you start seeking major gifts, you just may come across a situation like this. Even the smallest organizations have found themselves with donors wishing to make contributions that have binding strings attached. And, when you are small, it becomes especially difficult to say no to a massive infusion of cash.
This situation is more of an ethical and moral question. But surely, the ethics involved in fundraising must be a topic that your organization discusses at a strategic level (meaning Board), and Gift Acceptance Policies provide a basis for that discussion.
So, you don’t always have to say “yes” to a donor who loves you too much. In fact, sometimes, it is best to say no, if it means you won’t hold true to your core mission and the community that you are bound to serve.
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!