A Template For Fundraising

BY JIM ESKIN
 
Fundraising is incredibly competitive. There are more one million non-profit organizations in the U.S. registered with the IRS. There are more than 5,000 non-profits in the San Antonio area alone.
 
That means donors are being bombarded with requests, many more than they can possibly fund. And, they’re not forced to choose between the good and bad, they have to choose between the good and the good.
 
How do you succeed in such a competitive environment? Though, it typically takes a lot of hard work, fundraising doesn’t have to be complicated. Most of our principles and best practices are based on common sense.
 
I like organizing resource development work with a template featuring five distinct phases: Funding Priorities-Prospect Identification-Cultivation-Solicitation-Stewardship, or FP-PI-C-S-S for short. Let’s take a closer look at each of these five phases.
 
• Funding Priorities (FP): Your organization’s funding priorities need to be framed, presented and advanced to maximize appeal in the funding community. This critical opening phase probes needs and places them in the context of a competitive philanthropic environment. Guiding questions include: (a) What are the top priorities and their approximate costs? (b) How do these funding priorities touch and change lives, and improve the quality of life? (c) What makes these funding priorities unique and distinctive from those of other good causes? (d) What conveys a sense of urgency for giving now not later?
 
• Prospect Identification (PI): This phase spotlights the prospects most likely to contribute, and pertinent background information. The focus is on financial capacity, philanthropic nature, and interest or potential interest in the mission, as each prospect is rated for a stretch yet realistic gift. Guiding questions include: (a) Who among your annual donors is a good prospect for a major gift? (b) Which non-donors can board members, current donors and other friends introduce to the organization who are good prospect for a gift?
 
• Cultivation (C): This phase pays enormous dividends and is tantamount to success. A cultivation program engages prospective donors so they form a personal and emotional bond to your organization, a prerequisite in achieving a successful solicitation. Best practices include tours, program visits, small luncheons asking for advice, and guest lecture invitations. Everything that happens in the life of your organization represents a potential cultivation opportunity. Guiding questions include: (a) What are the most effective ways to give prospective donors a genuine sense of appreciation of the mission? (b) Who from your organization can most effectively convey the story and key messages?
 
• Solicitation (S): The solicitation of a major gift can and should be an uplifting experience for everyone involved. Preparation of senior staff and board leadership allays fears and instills confidence. Guiding questions include: (a) Who from your organization will be credible and effective making asks? (b) In addition to the prospective donor’s home and office, what strong venues does your organization have for making the ask? (c) What collateral material and data will reinforce the request?
 
• Stewardship (S): Stewardship confirms the donor’s wisdom in making the gift and draws him or her closer to the organization. A system needs to be devised so donors are promptly acknowledged and thanked for their gifts, a prudent step in gaining continued and larger gifts in the future. Rule of thumb—donors should be thanked at least seven different times during a year. Guiding questions include: (a) What public events does your organization hold that could be used to recognize donors? (b) What print, digital and electronic tools does your organization have that could be used to recognize donors?
 
A good start in the FP-PI-C-S-S process is simply having board members, development committee members, senior staff, and others discuss these questions and capturing the responses on paper. Then a leadership group can collate and refine a consensus document that provides a blueprint for a resource development plan.
 
This planning template has been at the heart of our work at the Alamo Colleges Foundation in recent years. Like most community colleges across the country, impressive results had been achieved in obtaining government grants, but we were not devoting enough attention to private philanthropy. With this approach, we’ve become much more strategic and intentional in the pursuit of private gifts from individuals, businesses and foundations. 
Remember this: The only truly bad ask is the ask never made. The essential resolution is keeping to a commitment to actively cultivate and solicit individuals, businesses and foundations who will support the future of your mission.
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