High Success Fundraising – 6 Mistakes Even Experienced Fundraisers Make and How to Avoid Them

1. Make Sure You’re Asking for the Right Amount
2. Keep Track of Your Success Rate
3. Learn the Rules, Then Break Them
4. Keep in Touch with Your Grantors, Even When You Aren’t Asking for Money
5. Participate in Grant Review Committees and Learn How Proposals Are Scored First Hand
6. If You Get Declined, Find Out Why

A Closer Look

1) Make Sure You’re Asking for the Right Amount -When submitting a grant proposal, it’s really important to learn the grant making organizations average gift size so that your request is on target. You can learn this by looking at their 990’s, which are public documents available through the Foundation Center, the Guidestar directory, or even a public records office. Most foundations and corporate charitable giving arms list their grantees names and award amount on their website, but if you want to dig a little deeper, The Foundation Center directory will allow you to pull up a page that shows you the average gift size, the largest gift and smallest gift each foundation has made in the last couple of years. Their grants are usually larger than people think and many nonprofits err on the side of asking for too little. Don’t get caught in the cycle of asking for $20,000 every year just because you always have. You may find out another organization with a similar mission and operational budget is getting $30,000 or $50,000 and you haven’t gotten more just because you didn’t ask for it.

2) Do the Math, Track Your Success Rate -If you want to increase your grant dollars, it’s very important to know what your success rate is in order to raise the amount you need. In other words, you have to calculate how many proposals you submitted last year, for what amount, and how many were funded. If you only got 30% of what you asked for, and you need to raise $100,000 in grant funding this year, you need submit requests totaling $300,000. Then you will find that doing step 1, making sure you’re asking for the right amount will help you plan the total number of proposals and dollar amount per proposals to submit to meet your goal in one fiscal year. This is also assuming that you’re asking for funding from places that you already know are a good match, are interested in your cause and have either funded your nonprofit in the past or support other groups like yours.

3) Know the Rules to Break Them – You can compare to the next point to writing; it’s like learning good grammar and punctuation, it’s really important to learn these things to become a good writer, but once you become one you can intentionally break the rules to establish your own style. This is something I saw frequently in the past two years when the economy hit nonprofits particularly hard. I saw several organizations in Washington, DC that were at risk of closing their doors from a deficit go to foundations for the funding they needed to carry through. It’s so important to remember that these grant making organizations are not banks, but made up of real people who care about your missions, probably for some very personal reasons. If you need emergency funding or have a time sensitive project, go to your grantors outside of their grants cycle, explain your situation and ask to submit a special request. This won’t work with government grants or corporate giving arms, but it is likely to work with small family foundations where you have good personal relationships with people that care about your work.

4) Keep in Touch With Your Grantors Even When You Aren’t Asking for Money -Make a habit of sending a monthly update to your grantors and donors so that they stay current on what’s going on with your organization. There are several things you can do to keep communication open, such as sending a newspaper clip if your nonprofit gets mentioned in the paper, send out photos of special events, and if your major donors are accessible set a date to have lunch once in a while. It’s very important to make sure they know when you reach certain milestones and when you’re really struggling, and find out what they’re interested in funding. You may not always want to grow or operate in exactly the way your donors think you should, but keeping communications open and giving them plenty of opportunities to feel good about supporting you will help you strengthen your partnerships and make it a lot easier for you to go to them for extra funding when you need it.

5) Volunteer on Review Committees and Learn How Proposals Are Scored – Grants from government agencies, places like the United Way and many private foundations use volunteer review committees to score proposals and distribute funds in various categories. A great way to learn about this scoring and distribution process is to volunteer on one of these committees. Some divide the proposals into sections, score each section individually, and then fund the ones with the overall highest score. Participating in one of these scoring committees is a great way to learn the process firsthand. Plus, you’re just being a good citizen and getting involved in your community by doing this. It’s best to avoid any conflict of interest, so if for example you have an arts organization, you might want to volunteer to be on a grants review committee for something around education because the process is the same and it will help you understand how people outside of your world who might be evaluating your proposals view your work.

6) If You Get Declined, Find Out Why -You may have to ask more than once to get a real answer, but if your proposals are declined, do not accept the standard response form that says thank you for submitting your request but we have limited funding. Make sure you have a real conversation with the foundation’s program officer about why you were turned down, and if there was a review committee, ask to see how the proposal scored, read the reviewer’s comments and share that information with your colleagues. It’s impossible to improve your overall success rate as described in tip 2 if you don’t have a full understanding of why the proposal was turned down Sometimes the answer is truly that there was not enough funding, but if you keep the conversation going with each decline, you will eventually improve your process and get more grants.

If you’re doing all these things: strategically planning out your funding requests, building good relationships, and getting solid feedback on your declines, you’re going to get a lot more funding than you would if you’re just waiting to see what funding opportunity pops up and giving it a shot and you’ll find your success rate will improve within one year.

Listen to a free podcast on this topic at: http://www.amandajohnstonconsulting.com

About Amanda: Amanda Johnston understands the frustrations and challenges dedicated nonprofit leaders face and shares your passion for social change and innovation. In 2009, she raised $7 million for more than 12 medical, social and educational programs at a time when many nonprofits were closing their doors. She has helped many organizations move to the next level including a federally qualified health center, an international women’s rights organization, a refugee social service agency, and organizations promoting quality of life for people with disabilities. Amanda can help you raise more funds, develop a strategic plan and create a stronger board.

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