Tackling fundraising as both a start-up and non-profit is not an easy task. Since we are still a very small team with limited resources and time, we came up with some key fundraising guidelines to help shape how we approach fundraising and how we do it successfully and efficiently. The key lesson learned? Think about the opportunity cost of each application, award, interview, etc. before saying yes to anything.
1) Bring back the good old college common app! Why can’t foundations all follow the same grant application format? We find ourselves spending endless hours on each application – even for small amounts of money.
2) Pursuing grants less than $50,000 might not be worth it unless the application is very straightforward and not a big time drain. We recently applied for a $5,000 grant that ended up as a 15 page paper…Good use of our time?
3) For very large multi-million dollar government grants, bring in a dedicated grant writer who has grant-writing experience and can dedicate 100% of their time to the grant. The instructions alone for these grants are usually 30 pages+; the application process is complex and figuring out if you are even eligible can take a while. Bring someone in who has had a track record of success with these beasts! We also need to develop relationships with government contacts who can alert us to these opportunities before they are officially released so that we can properly prepare. By the time grant opportunities appear on the grants.gov website, the deadline is typically just a few weeks away.
4) Getting a dream donor to write a personal or family foundation check is a lot less painful and much less of a resource drain than going after small-medium sized grant opportunities. Focus more time on donor meetings, donor events, etc. rather than on $5,000 – $30,000 grant apps.
5) Competitions/Conferences that don’t have a monetary prize associated with them should be taken on a case by case basis but the default answer should be no, unless there are a) a significant number of donors present, b) give us the opportunity to meet/network with big potential corporate partners or clients, c) give us the BEST mainstream press exposure – in the league with the New York Times or WSJ, for example.
6) Stay on top of the board for intros to “dream” donors. Make sure to follow-up with all the introductions they promise.
Hope this is helpful to other non-profit fundraisers.
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