We live in times of unmatched speed of wealth creation and of general agreement that the private sector has an equally unmatched responsibility over development in the Global South. Yet, these are also times where competition for philanthropic fundraising is fierce, especially when it is about attracting and securing private sector capital.
‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’, as the saying goes. Well-worn and simplistic it may be, yet this adage contains the very essence of an effective and efficient fundraising strategy.
There is no big secret, nothing too technical, no complex strategy. What is essential, however, is meticulous attention to how you employ two key resources with your target funders: your communication skills and your interpersonal skills.
‘It’s a good cause’, ‘It’s a just cause’, ‘It’s an emergency, we need your help’, ‘You will be useful and will be doing good’. How many budget directors can tell stories of being put in a tricky position by arguments that are as unanswerable as they are tragically common because those making them, unfortunately, fail to consider the challenges that financial backers face in testing economic times?
How can a financial backer make out which of all the legitimate requests and demands that it receives is ‘better’ than another, ‘more just’ than another, ‘more urgent’ or ‘more generous’ than another? Those are genuine questions and the starting point for a proper dialogue.
If you are looking for a way to improve your fundraising strategy and to see beyond the immediate, here are two pitfalls to avoid and two hints to take on board:
1.) Resist the temptation to appeal to a ‘saviour’
When you lack funding, it is tempting, either to beg a major backer to provide the funds necessary for completing a project, or to highlight all the work already done that will go to waste if funding cannot be found.
This creates a sense of urgency, but it is that of the risky bet. While it is beneficial for humanitarian causes that call for something huge to take place in a record time, it rarely helps with development projects, which require mobilisation over the long term.
2.) Kill off the address-book myth
If you think that your fund-raising strategy depends solely on your network, you risk overestimating some sources of funding while making yourself invisible to others.
The strength of a network is being, first and foremost, clearly based on personal relationships. Yet staff turnover has become, in all organisations, common currency, for both donors and fund-raisers.
What is more, backers these days are subject to greater demands in terms of governance and transparency as regards how they manage their budgets, which is leading to the rationalisation of their procedures for awarding funds and limits space for impulse decisions. To ensure that funding is sustainable, a more strategic approach is to institutionalise it and make it independent of purely individual relationships.
3.) Find how your cause serves the interests of your backer (or prospect)
The more you can show a backer that you get their core business, vision, challenges, etc. and that your cause will raise their profile in a timely and beneficial way, the more open they will be to it.
Whether political, economic, operational, social, environmental, ethical or financial, your cause must have a clear value proposition of its own that resonates with your donors or prospects’ core interests and philanthropic values.
Alike it must have a demonstrable ROI, whether it is understood as ‘Return on Investment’ or ‘Results Outcomes Impact’. Give that some thought. It is your springboard to strategic communication and constructive exchanges.
4.) Build up branded experiences with your financial backer (or prospect)
We all live under the reign of two key concepts: accountability and transparency. But too many NGOs limit their relationships with financial backers to activity reports filled with more or less meaningful figures on the operations they run, hoping these will build engagement.
Not enough time and resources are spent on sharing the living and human experience of implementing a specific project with its ups and downs. Recognise that? Then try a different perspective: view your cause through the lens of a donor experience just like brands create customer-centric experiences.
Your cause is your brand, and your donors are your customers. Consider that your primary goal is not fundraising but fostering reciprocal fulfilling relationships around shared philanthropic purposes and experiences.
View, treat and manage your donors as stakeholders. Create the kind of emotional involvement in your cause that leads to deep-rooted brand loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing.
Explore every route towards making your backer feel a sense of belonging, of closeness, and make sure you always keep in touch with them.
Take the time to think about it. As another saying goes, ‘The juice is worth the squeeze’.
You have everything to gain from improving the way you apply your communication skills and interpersonal skills to your current, potential and future backers.
Marie-Gabrielle Cajoly is Funder & Director at CorporatEngagement.