Funding Tips and Strategies - Three Foundations to Help You Succeed

Submitted by Bill Swan, Osprey Communications & Columbia Valley Botanical Gardens With Thanks to Tim Maloney, Director of Advancement, The Land Conservancy of British Columbia.
Bill Swan

While attending a stewardship conference a few years ago I experienced one of those wonderful ah-ha moments that changed and solidified the way I undertook fund raising. The workshop was entitled “Meet the Funders” and it presented an opportunity to individuals and organizations to meet representatives of major funding sources and hear their perspectives on what they are looking for from those in need of funding support.

An immediate impression was made on me by the large number of quality funding sources and receivers at the session. “Why are all these funders here, don’t they get overwhelmed as it is with all the requests for funding? And isn’t funding a bit of a secretive business? Why are all these people sharing their ideas and sources of funding so openly?”

The reason those funders were there and so enthusiastically encouraging us to apply for funding was that they needed us. What? The funders need us, the never-ending river of projects and organizations in need of money! Those in need of funds were there and sharing because money is not the limiting factor and investing in relationships, networking and training are keys to success and we all know how contagious success can be.

The light bulb that came on at that session gave me three main tenants that I return to over and over in fund raising:

Change ‘Cap in Hand’ to ‘Hand in Hand’
Be Bold, Take Risks, there is no shortage of money
Build Relationships, projects will follow

1) Change ‘Cap in Hand’ to “Hand in Hand”

By embracing the view that the funder/funded relationship is a symbiotic one is a crucial step in becoming a successful fundraiser. Do you currently approach your funding needs with an attitude of “Oh, I hope we get it” or one of “We are so fortunate to have found each other and this excellent project to support” Your answer to this question may have close links with your current success rate in fund raising.

It was at the aforementioned ‘Meet the Funder’ session that the funders emphasized to us that they too were in a constant search of excellent people, organizations and projects to support that in turn helps them to succeed in meeting their organization’s mandate while simultaneously advancing their credibility and reputation as a leaders and enablers of change and development in the sectors in which they work.

Those funders sound a lot like plant conservation and education professionals with projects to deliver don’t they?

This is much more than a ‘think positive, Dr. Phil-like approach’ I am encouraging you to adopt here. In every fund raising engagement be they by phone, in person, written application or email you must passionately believe at a ‘core of your being level’ in yourself and the people you work with, in the vision, mission and values of your organization and in the excellence of your project.

You must because isn’t this precisely what you are asking the funder to do?

2) Be Bold and Take Risks, Money is Not the Limiting Factor (…by the way, it may not be where you’ve been looking for it.) Funders look for people and projects that make their hearts fly. We and our projects must Resonate and connect with our and the donor’s Values.

It is a key to success in fund raising that we appreciate the potential of emotional engagement by everyone that comes in contact with our people, organizations and their exciting projects.

“Personally, I look for the ones that make me jump up and shout, WOW! in our review of the proposals put before us.”

This statement by a major Foundation Director took many attending the ‘Meet the Funders’ workshop by surprise. “Wow”?, is this the terminology used by those in charge of all that cash, I thought? The answer is yes.

Just like our own excitement about our project, funders are drawn to ventures that are bold, incite imagination and action AND have a solid plan in that they meet all the prerequisite criteria - well researched, organized, leveraged, accountable, dependable, replicable, achievable, strategic, timely, meets needs, mandates and criteria… the foundational structure of good proposals and projects.

All too often though funding asks are developed without enough emphasis on the bold vision part of the equation. When Martin Luther King stood at the podium on that day in Washington with millions listening he didn’t boldly declare, “I have a Plan!” He had a DREAM.

Understanding that there is no shortage of funds for bold and organized projects can be a very liberating and exciting aspect of fund raising, moving it out of the scary and into the fun and creative arenas. This widening of our understanding must also extend to a widening of identifying sources of funding. All too often we first turn to traditional environmental, conservation and education sources for project support that quickly get over-subscribed and reduce our chance of success.

Go lateral. Try to visualize, draw, dream and brainstorm about the way your venture connects to non-traditional audiences and potential support sources. Current projects in the Columbia Valley Botanical Gardens and Centre for Sustainable Living for example enjoy the support of health organizations, a high end restraunteur and golf resort, a community foundation created by a major ski hill, senior’s service providers and food security advocates.

At first glance these supporters may not appear to have strong connections to plants and biodiversity but of course they do and it is a strong element in most Botanical Garden’s mission and goals that we are all dependent on the plant world. In fund raising as in education programs, it is our role as fund raisers to enter into conversations with these ‘non-traditional’ audiences and develop the relationships that reveal the connections and open them to supporting our good work.

“Vision without action is merely a dream, Action without vision is a poor use of time, Vision with action can change the world.”
-Joel Barker

3) Build Relationships, Projects will Follow Good speakers are often also good listeners. If we seek to gain the support of individuals and organizations we must begin with understanding their values and needs before proceeding to asking for their support.

In his To the Heart of the Matter funding workshop, Tim Maloney of the Land Conservancy of British Columbia stresses, “people fund people, not projects.” This statement speaks to the need for relationship building as a fundamental requirement of successful fund raising. Professionalism, integrity and honesty should immediately come into play in the growth and development of these relationships in order to create the environment of trust that results in both the asker and the giver gaining from the experience.

“The process of asking should be one in which the asker feels the pride of inviting investment and in which the donor feels not pressure, but release.”
-Tim Maloney

The skills and strategies required for successful fund raising change with the type of fund raising being undertaken. Large asks require that we put as much as 95% of our effort into the preparation, relationship building, and only 5% in the actual asking. Smaller and annual funding asks requires the greater investment of effort in the asking.

Training in fund raising can help us attain skills and strategies more quickly and also builds confidence and contacts with others in the world of fund raising. The Funding Training and Resources section lists sources of training opportunities for you to consider. Invest in this training and it will return the dividends you and your organization require.

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