Nonprofit fund-raising requires effective communication, focused proposals

NON-PROFITS INC.

January 03, 1994|By LESTER A. PICKER

In the never-ending quest for funding, nonprofit agencies constantly look to private foundations and corporations to provide at least part of the mix.

But with government cutbacks, growth in the number of nonprofits, and the increased need for social services nationwide, competition for funds is at an all time high.

A recent trip to confer with a Chicago corporation's charitable- giving program gave me an opportunity on the plane (more accurately, waiting in airports) to review what I call my "Ultimate Secrets" regarding the development of proposals to private foundations and corporations.

Look at these quick tips as a sort of "dirty dozen" dos and don'ts gleaned from experience in both proposal writing and in reviewing requests for funds.

Trite, but true, people tend to give money to people, not to proposals that appear out of nowhere.

That means you should do everything in your power to meet face-to-face with likely funding sources whenever possible.

The operative word here is likely. You owe it to potential funders to do some careful research to see if your new program fits comfortably into their area of interest. Then check with your board and other supporters to see if there are any connections that you can parlay into a personal meeting.

Shotgunning proposals indiscriminately doesn't work. If you have time to send 62 photocopied proposals to foundations whose addresses you found in some reference work, you instead might try pounding your head into a wall. Both tactics will net you approximately the same amount of funding.

When you land a meeting, try to bring a team that includes the executive director and an influential volunteer. Arrive on time and dress to your audience. For a corporate meeting that means business attire. After the initial pleasantries (actually a great opportunity to establish commonalities), briefly explain your organization's mission and vision, then discuss the program for which you are considering requesting funding.

Above all LISTEN. See what the funders' perceptions of the program are. Ask for advice. See if there are any red flags which you should avoid in your proposal, or passion points which should be emphasized. Get a clear idea of the funding range that might be supported.

My next secret is to never chase money. Instead, build good programs and strong relationships with funders. They will appreciate and respect your selectivity, while you maintain your integrity. Building good programs includes conducting good program evaluations.

Next, develop a well-defined funding procurement strategy. That entails careful research on your funding sources, finding access points to those sources, and planning in advance the talking points for the initial and follow-up meetings.

Strategy involves two other key points: Demonstrate to funders a commitment to a diversified funding stream and develop a self-sustaining funding plan, if possible.

Now that the funding source has invited you to submit a proposal, get your writing team together for the development process.

The secret here is to KISS your proposals. Write simply, concisely and clearly, avoid jargon, never use abbreviations, and do not portray your programs or organization as unique, or the only one to ever face the problems the program for which you are requesting funding plans to tackle. And, please, keep your sense of humor throughout the request process. You'll need it.

Another secret to long-term success is to state clearly what it is you plan on doing through your program, then do it.

If you mess up with the program, admit the mistake and do not hesitate to ask for help. Most funders I know would happily try to help you bring in the right resources to salvage their investment, rather than see it swirl down a black hole.

One of the best kept secrets of successful proposal development is to use your enthusiasm for your agency and its programs as a motivational tool for funders. It is not their responsibility to stay energized on your work. That's your job.

I remember sitting in a corporate client's office several years ago, immediately after a visit from a community agency's executive director. The company had funded the agency's youth programs for a couple of years.

As I looked around the room, everyone was all smiles. The corporate chief executive officer looked at his contributions executive and said: "Wow, that guy always makes you feel good to be involved with those programs, doesn't he?" The check followed soon after.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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