When I worked for a large asset, national Foundation, our staff developed an acronym which we used to evaluate all prospective nonprofit organizations. The same criteria was applied to any letter of inquiry or full grant proposal that came to our desks, no matter the cause, or the category of service.
That acronym is VISION+.
It stands for the following.
- Visionary Leadership. Leadership is all about the Executive Director and the Board. What is the reputation of the Executive Director? A strong leader is the single most effective tool for attracting funders. That goes the same for an active board, that is engaged in fund raising, and represents the community. This is at the top of the VISION+ model for a reason.
- Impact. An organization must demonstrate effectiveness of the program, project, or service model. Is there potential for systemic change? Impact may be defined as direct, indirect (leverages the effectiveness of other programs and projects), immediate, long-term, best practices. It is important to demonstrate impact.
- Sustainability. This is important to Foundations. They will look at 990’s, P&L Statements, and Balance Sheets. Are the finances strong and stable? Is there a diverse funding base?
- Innovation. This is a rather nebulous concept that can be hard to define. It could mean an organization has the potential to change the field, establish a new practice, or simply improve how a specific population is being served. Innovation may also apply to organizational structure and/or partnerships.
- Organizational Strength. Is there strong management & communication systems? Does the staff reflect the diversity of the community it serves?
- Network of Partnerships.This is all about collaboration. Is collaboration ongoing part of service delivery? Are there public-private partnerships in place? Is there a network of providers that is integrated into the community? And how instrumental is this organization within the greater network of providers?
- + Population Served. Is the population being served one that does not have many resources or options available to it? Is the organization serving economically disadvantaged and under-served communities?
I hope this serves as helpful insight for nonprofit organizations who have no clue how Foundations work. Often they seem like Ivy Towers with fortress walls, impossible to penetrate and even harder to figure out. And the truth is that every Foundation is different, with their own values and priorities, their own founders and Board members. So every funder looks for different things, and has their own reasons for supporting different causes.
But on the whole, I can tell you that these values and criteria are universal. If you can demonstrate impact, effectiveness, and innovation, you will rise above the competition for limited funding dollars. And let me know if you have experiences with Foundations that can help inform this post.
Lots of criteria to weigh
I just finished reading the book by Harvey McKinnon, with that title. “The 11 Questions Every Donors Asks.” (Link here)
What are they, you ask? I’ll tell you right now:
- “Why me?’ This is a question of validation. The donor wants to know why they are special and important.
- “Why are you asking me?” This is a question of recognition. They are basically saying who are you, and do you care about me.
- “Do I respect you?” This is a question of trust. Like the question before, a donor is only going to make a major gift if they have trust and faith in you.
- “How much do you want?” This is a basic question, and one you should know in advance. How much to ask for.
- “Why your organization?” This is the big question. It’s the chance for you to make your presentation.
- “Will my gift make a difference?” This is a question of value. If a person is going to part with their money, they want to get the most value of it. Even smaller donors want to know their gift is going to make a difference somewhere.
- “Is there an urgent reason to give?” Even if there isn’t, you should always make it feel like the need is urgent. And the truth is, for most organizations, the need is always urgent.
- “Is it easy to give?” This is a question of time. Donors don’t want to have their time wasted. It should be as easy as possible for them to give.
- “How will I be treated?” A question of respect and validation. Donors want to know that their gift makes a difference, and they want you to show it. Even though they sometimes request anonymity, or don’t want a lot of attention, for the most part it is good practice to lavish praise upon them. Everyone likes to feel good, right?
- “Will I have a say over how you use my gift?” Again a question of respect, and control. It is important that donors feel like they have control. In the long term, they will feel a sense of ownership in your group this way.
- “How will you measure results?” Not everybody, but a lot of donors want to hear about results. They want the bottom line. Always have this information available for them.
I find these 11 questions to be particularly helpful for me as I prepare for donor visits. I like keeping these questions in the back of my mind. Even if a donor never outright asks any of these, you should assume it is what they are thinking.
All of them come down to a matter of respect, validation, and appreciation. Take a the time to listen to people, to understand them, and to respond to their needs. That is what’s most important.
“Online Giving Continues to Grow, but at a Slower Pace, Chronicle Study Finds”
June 18, 2010
In another Chronicle of Philanthropy article. they highlight online giving. While recently they wrote about overall charitable giving being down by 11% for the Top 400 charities (article here), now they talk about online giving, which actually rose by 5% in 2009, according to the Chronicle’s annual survey.
I don’t think this is surprising. It is very possible for overall donations to be down, while donations over the Internet continue to go up. This only reflects a trend in society of more online usage. The majority of Americans now shop online. They are increasingly more confident in giving their credit card information online. So it only makes sense they start to do more charitable donations online as well.
Also, a lot of charities have become more savvy in promoting their website, and making online giving more accessible. And because of the various social networks and charitable giving portals out there, it is a lot easier to research and access a particular nonprofit group.
I will venture to say that Internet giving is going to increase year over year for the next decade. And while it won’t become exponentially greater, there will certainly be a steady increase.
It is good for nonprofit organizations to immerse themselves more in social media, more effective websites, and more innovative campaigns to reach people through technology – especially the younger demographics that is more accustomed to doing things online.
As an individual gifts fundraiser, I have found one of the most difficult parts of my jobs to be getting donor visits scheduled.
I understand why people wouldn’t want to meet with me. They have every reason in the world. They are busy at work all day, and when they are not at work they are at home with the kids. And even if they don’t have a job or kids to raise, they don’t want a stranger coming into their home, soliciting them for their hard earned money. I get it.
With that said, it is my job and my duty to meet with donors. They have chosen to support my organization financially, and therefore I would like to meet with them and discuss the organization further; to learn of their interest in supporting us, and in what ways I can better serve them.
Here are some good methods for getting visits:
- Create a matrix. Determine how many visits you need to make in a week, and how many in a month. Then determine how many phone calls it will take to set up those visits each week. Create a schedule to make your calls and make your visits. And stick to the schedule.
- Focus on phone calls. Set one day a week aside to do nothing but schedule a minimum number of visits Be open to early morning and late appointments – whatever works for the donor needs to work for you.
- Create a strategy. With every donor that you speak to, have in mind a year-long cultivation and solicitation plan for them. That way you know when to mail them info, when to call them, and when to make the ask.
- Make a reason to call. It is not a good idea to just fly by the seat of your pants. Donors don’t want you to call just to chat. There should be a good and justified reason why you are calling and why they should meet with you.
- Who should they meet with? Sometime you aren’t the best person for the meeting. When dealing with high-profile executive, perhaps it is better that they meet with your CEO. Or maybe it should be a Board Member in a similar industry. Or maybe they want to meet with a woman. Or a man. The point is, you should cater to each individual and their needs.
- Ask for their opinion. A good method for getting your foot in the door is to ask for their advice. If they support your group, they most certainly have opinions on your work, and things you could do to improve. Develop a questionnaire or survey that you can bring, which works especially well for busy folks who don’t have a lot of time to meet. This makes your meeting feel more official and formal.
- Bring a gift. It is a good idea to not show up to a meeting empty handed. I like to bring a certificate for the donor, that honors all of their past giving. This makes them feel good. If they are not interested in a certificate, then perhaps a pin, or a sticker, or something else. Anything at all to show you care.
- Friendly competition. Use the staff around you to push you to be more aggressive. Perhaps you can compete for visits each week, month, and year. Whatever is necessary to provide extra motivation.
- Weekly staff updates. It is a good habit to meet each week with staff to report back, review progress, seek advice, and develop strategies. This is beneficial to step back and take a breath, too.
- Patience and persistence. You may not have a good phone call with a donor. But this does not mean that you should stop calling. Don’t give up on anyone. Just find the right strategy that you won’t be completely shut out.
These are ten tips that I have personally found useful. It is still a frustrating process, or at least it can be if you allow it to be. I believe a good mantra to have is that you’re not desperate. You’re not begging for a meeting. Rather, you are adding value to their lives by presenting to them all the good things your organization does, and how it improves the lives of everyone else.
People like to be appreciated. They like to be happy. So if nothing else, bring happiness to them.
Start with this fact: Individuals – not companies or foundations – give over 84% of all philanthropic dollars in the U.S. annually. If you want to know where the majority of your raised funds are coming from, it should be individuals.
With that said, the easiest way to build a major donor prospect list is to start with those that have a history of giving to your organization. Create a master list of prospects using these 5 simple steps below. :
- Arrange your list of donors by those that can give larger gifts to those that can give smaller gifts, or from involved donors to less involved donors.
- Has your prospect ever volunteered for you before? Are they a member of the board? How many times have they donated in the past, and at what level?
- Research your prospect’s relationships. What company do they work for? What clubs are they members of? What nonprofit boards do they serve on?
- Research and assess each prospect’s ability to give – can they write the check?
- Prioritize your list
To help you refine your major donor prospect list, here is where you will always find your best prospects:
- Existing major gift donors
- Board of Directors and Former Board Members
- Other volunteers
- Direct mail donors with the capability to give larger gifts
- People who give to similar organizations
- Movers and shakers in the community
- Business leaders
- Civic leaders
- Community groups
If anybody has any secrets about other ways to prospect and research, then I would love to hear them.
Also, remember that any good relationship takes time to build.