Even though we are still in the dog days of summer and I’m spending every free minute at the beach, even I can't avoid the fact that fall is fast approaching.
For nonprofits, fall means FUNDRAISING.
This thought leads executive directors everywhere to hide their heads in the sand; call an emergency meeting with their development director (if they have one); fantasize about switching up their board to a "fundraising board," or (last resort) comb through their end of year budget to see if they can hire a "fundraiser" who will magically procure hundreds of thousands of dollars for them due to the strength of the fundraiser's relationships. Sound familiar?
Before you do any of these things, I have a simple test for you to take that can predict with 100% reliability whether or not your fall campaign will raise the money you need.
A side note: Most of the time, I don’t think of myself as a “fundraiser,” though I’ve certainly raised more than my share of money for noble (and not-so-noble) enterprises. However, over the last 12 months, I’ve had an unusual number of requests from nonprofit clients to do fundraising. Usually these come in for short, last minute projects where we discover that the nonprofit is actually running on three months of operating cash and it is October and they have the idea that I have "relationships" that if I call them, these mysterious rich people will simply give money to anything I bring to their attention. (Oh, that it were so!)
Because the entities that have approached our firm are doing real and lasting good, and because I tend to run where angels fear to tread, I've usually said yes to these projects. The projects take the form of raising the client's capacity to understand their network, assess and address any strategic gaps, and gain the skills to do the fundraising themselves - in the short and longer term. Through these crucible moments with companies, I’ve learned that there are a few simple questions that can predict whether or not an organization is likely to be successful at raising the money they need to survive and thrive.
Here they are:
1. Are you willing to call someone you know and ask them for money? (I'm serious. Can you imagine yourself picking up the phone and asking for money for your enterprise?)
2. Can you explain what your organization does in language so clear that my fifth grader can understand it?
3. Do you see donors as partners, or pocketbooks, and are you willing to open your books to them?
If you answered yes to these questions, stop reading now and get going. You are going to raise exactly what you need!
If you answered no or cringed (especially on #1), you've got some work to do.
Sometimes the answer is related more to our deep-seated discomfort with the role of money and concern about being seen as “begging” than it is about having the technical skills to fundraise. (BTW - life-changing book commercial - if you are squeamish about money, check out this fantastic book by Jen Sincero, called You are a Badass at Making Money.)
What I know about fundraising for nonprofits, I learned by doing and by leaning on the kindness of a great many mentors, including funder partners. I also had the benefit of working for many years doing investor-related communications for a range of public technology companies. Donors are just investors by another name. Fundraising is about finding the match, then communicating and delivering the value or product you promised. It is about being fearless and working with funder partners who are as fearless as you are. It is about trust, transparency and integrity.
And it works! A former nonprofit client of Watervine used a simple script that we gave her when she spoke with a potential donor. In a fifteen-minute call with someone she had never even spoken to before, she raised $30,000. Just. By. Asking.
This was someone who had never, ever “fundraised” before. It is exhilarating when you stand up and believe in the power of what you are "selling" and realize that you are providing donors with a chance to make a difference on something that they care deeply about.
The work that we do at Watervine is characterized by a deep-seated belief in the efficiency model of impact capital deployment – i.e. that we all have varying amounts of time, talent and treasure to deploy. One of our strongest consulting gifts we bring to our clients is the ability to find and access the right partners and expertise to help our clients' enterprises flourish. This includes building their confidence and skills to be able to communicate effectively with current and potential investors.
It doesn’t matter whether the business is structured as a nonprofit, a social impact business, or even an established company looking to do good and develop new markets or impact. What we look for in our clients, and strengthen if it isn’t there at first, is the intellect, energy and courage to put yourself on the line to bring your vision and mission to fruition. Now, you are ready for fall.
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