This post was written by our friend, Andrew Kramer. Please check out his blog about mental health, Smiling Acrobat.
Many nonprofit leaders like to treat foundations as a type of high reward direct mail campaign. As a development leader, almost all of my Executive Directors told me that they wanted me to increase the number of grants I was sending out.
On some levels, it makes sense. The foundation usually indicates in its Form 990 whether it accepts unsolicited applications, provides an address, and instructions for how to contact them. At a minimum, a good grant writer will have done some basic research to determine even a minimal suitability for an application, what the typical range of gifts has been in the past, and some basic information on the board of directors.
My Experience as a Fundraiser
In my experience, I might start with a list of 200 prospects, and whittle that down to about 20 that might even be considered possibilities. Just 10%. Very few of my EDs or CEOs were happy with those numbers.
The issue for me was never going through the detailed and difficult process of putting together an application. Nor approaching a foundation “blind”. No, my problem was always that most people wanted to treat foundations as though they were a different type of donor than an individual or important volunteer.
I like to think of it this way:
Most executives and development professionals are used to attending events in a wide range of settings where they run into people who are prequalified to be potentially major donors (because of the type of event, usually). The executive gets to talking to some of these people and telling them about what the organization does, the great work and results, a great story, etc. A good director can easily see if the other person is interested, or just being polite.
(Ideally, the executive is asking as many questions as they are talking, but that’s another topic…)
No, most times, whether the other person is interested or not, the executive doesn’t insert in the beginning, middle or end of the conversation an ask for $20,000. At least, not without the potential donor telling the executive to make the ask then and there.
But, that is exactly what most EDs and CEOs want their development departments to do with foundations.
A Better Way to Raise Money
I won’t say that it doesn’t work in a very few cases, but generally, it’s not an effective way to raise money. Increasingly, the best and only way to raise money from new prospects is to keep working to build a strong relationship with your donors. It can take a couple of years to get a foundation to even pay attention to you, and another grant cycle after that before your grant request gets serious consideration from the board.
The gold standard of foundation fundraising,
just like with individual major donors,
is always relationships.
I had plenty of foundations where we never met in person, and it could have taken years to build the relationship to a point where we could get a gift.
The best advice I ever got from a CEO who deeply understood fundraising was to spend most of her energy on existing donors and prospects where she had an existing relationship, and only a small (5-7 at most) number of new prospects where she was trying to build a relationship.
The high-touch services that Jeremy Gregg offers are a powerful way to help build those relationships more quickly and effectively than the typical “wait and see” methods most organizations use. Not only will they help your existing donors make a favorable decision on your request, they can help new prospect foundations learn about your organization very quickly without being pushy or seeming “high pressure.”
All major gift work takes a great deal of time for each donor. Most small organizations aren’t equipped to provide the same level of consistent, high-touch grant writing services as larger organizations with dedicated grant writers. Even then, many grant writers are young and less experienced, whereas Jeremy Gregg and his team are all highly experienced development professionals with millions of dollars raised from every single donor source. They are RELATIONSHIP EXPERTS that can help you supercharge your fundraising, build a great reputation for your organization, and help foundation’s and major donors make the best decisions possible when considering your proposal.
To learn more about Gregg Partners, click here.