As a serious voice student in high school, one of the most useful skills I learned was to imagine the muscle connection between my voice and my vocal exercises. When I was able to do this, it meant that I could reach a note or practice my chords accordingly. That ability to imagine what I cannot see, but yet visualize my goal into reality turned out to be an immeasurable skill as a fundraiser.
In terms of fundraising for a cause, my first thought is why we are doing this mission, before the what are the programs and how are we paying for it? It’s the work of building your case for support that leads to success in the how and what later. I visualize the messaging, the audience I am talking to and how I will reach them. It’s very much like working on a strategic plan for fundraising specifically. I ask other people their thoughts as I develop my case for support. It’s an activity that can take many conversations and lots of redrafting. It’s also the piece of the puzzle that I find young nonprofits often miss first.
New nonprofits are right to take pride in the accomplishment of getting their organizations off the ground, building a board, setting up governance processes and instituting their mission into programs. Perhaps, there is a sense that “if you build it, they will come.”
Consultants will then be asked how they can build out funding for the program from foundation, individual and corporate support. This is where I will often hold up the stop sign and suggest the organization revisit how its talking about its core mission and messaging and review their current relationships before asking the consultant to jump into funding solutions--a very transactional way of looking at fundraising.
The conversation really has to start why the mission matters to you, your targeted audience and how they might want to be meaningfully involved in growing or sustaining the mission. That is a very different conversation than how much money can one give for a specific program.
When we allow the case for support and the focused relationship to be the start of the process, we open the possibilities of a larger scope of support beyond our expectations. If one is only focused on transactional fundraising, time, treasure and talent are lost as a result. And, it takes vision, discipline, relationship building and imagination to allow this process to work. If you start with a strong, inspired central message and a healthy respect for relationship building—you can see success at the end of the road in a variety of ways financially.