Is your fundraising approach unreasonable enough to succeed?
In his 1903 book Man and Superman; Maxims for Revolutionists’ George Bernard Shaw wrote: ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’ He could have been writing about fundraisers and bid writers, as in my experience they are usually far too reasonable and for that reason, while successful to an extent, can demand a lot of support and are not always quite as successful as you’d hoped.
Let me explain. I don’t pretend to be a fundraiser or bid writer, but I have successfully raised millions for projects I’ve been involved with, and so write from experience. I should also say that I have the greatest respect for those who find it easy to squeeze a compelling request for funding support into the word count demanded by a grant makers’ online application form. This is something I find difficult and only do as a last resort. And finally, I should perhaps tell you that I’ve sat on local, regional and national grant making panels, so have a sense of what grant-makers are looking for.
You see I have been most successful in raising money when I’ve stepped away from the conventional, form filling approach, carefully researched who I feel is most likely to fund, and considered why this might be the case, before engaging people who know them better than me in conversation. Grant makers do not operate in isolation and former trustees, professional advisers and public sector bodies with an interest in seeing the need you want to meet, being met, all have the potential to become powerful advocates, lobbying behind the scenes on your behalf.
You may think my approach is unreasonable, but that is exactly why it works! Finally, when I’ve sat on grant panels, there are some common own goals that many seem adept at scoring:
1. Does your website tell the same story as your application? When reviewing a grant application, most will look at your website, some your personal Facebook page and a few will check out what you’ve been saying on Twitter. Bear that in mind next time you feel the urge to sound off about something online.
2. Are you asking for what you want, or what you need? Once I converted a capital appeal into a revenue appeal, by making a building project modular so that it could be lease purchased over 15 years. They wanted and got a building because they stopped competing for capital grants.
3. Do the figures add up? Every grant panel I’ve sat on that makes big grants, has an accountant who has forensically combed through the figures you’ve provided. Unless they’re completely bombproof, your application will be canned without any real discussion.
4. Statistics are helpful, but case studies sell. Of course you have to show what the impact of the grant you’re seeking will be, but what will really make a difference is one or two short, punchy, tear-jerking case studies. Make sure there are some on your website, if not in your pitch. Videos of service users telling their story are particularly powerful.
5. Tailor your pitch to each audience. Research the trustees and decision makers you want to influence. What are their interests and what can your pitch include that will resonate strongly with them? Identify your most likely supporter on the panel and write your application as if just for them. Then they might just champion your cause in the grant panel meeting.
If you feel that my approach is unreasonable, then I have achieved my goal. Fundraising should not be a numbers game, but all about forming connections and building relationships. People buy from people, and whatever you might think, applying for a grant is all about selling, so focus on how funding you will help your funder realise their own goals and ambitions. Happy hunting!