The Engine of Impact: Funding

Somewhat paradoxically, most nonprofit executives spend more time and effort on financial matters than their counterparts in the business sector do. For people in the nonprofit sector, that’s an unfortunate fact of life. Nonprofit leaders, whether they like it or not, must take seriously their obligation to secure adequate funding for their organizations. Funding is one component of the engine of impact that every nonprofit organization must build and tune to become truly effective.

Go Where the Money Is. When the bank robber Willie Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he gave a memorable (if perhaps apocryphal) reply: “Because that’s where the money is.” Going “where the money is” means recognizing that individuals account for most philanthropic giving in the United States today. In 2016, Americans gave $389 billion to charitable causes, and 72 percent of that sum came from individual donors. (Foundations accounted for 15 percent, bequests for 8 percent, and corporations for only 5 percent.)

Meet Donors Where They Are. Successful fundraisers interact with donors on their terms and enable them to give in a way that makes them comfortable. Once you have identified and investigated a potential donor, create a roadmap for your conversation with that person. Then, in the meeting, resist the urge to wax rhapsodic about how compelling your nonprofit is, and instead focus on asking questions in order to understand what motivates the donor. In this way, you will be able to establish points of connection between your organization and the donor’s interests.

Master the Ask. “The ask” is the essential, albeit often daunting, process of asking a specific donor for money to support your organization. Be ready to provide a plan for how your organization will use the donation and a clear explanation of how the donated funds will further your mission. In considering how much to request, aim to specify an amount that will enable your organization to cover the full costs of a program or project, including overhead expenses. Then, once you receive a donation, don’t forget to express your gratitude. “Stewardship is by far the most ignored and overlooked aspect of fundraising. If you thank your donors and steward their donation with care, you’ll find that asking them for money gets easier, not harder.”

[Excerpts from “Engine of Impact” by William Meehan and Kim Starkey Jonker]

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