Happy February! Yes, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, but if you’re like most nonprofits, the kind of love you’re thinking about this time of year is good old-fashioned funder love. You know what I’m talking about—that symbiotic meeting of the missions, where the work your organization does perfectly aligns with the priorities of the funder…
But wait, that’s just in the movies, right? How is a nonprofit gal or guy supposed to find grantor/grantee bliss?
I do think of myself as a bit of a matchmaker when it comes to finding the right funder prospects. And I’m certainly not the first to notice the resemblance between the grant seeking and dating processes. Fundraising colleagues have written posts on the ways grant seeking is like online dating, and provided tips on how to develop a long-term funder relationship. There's great stuff here that I couldn’t agree with more!
But too often, organizations look to jump into a relationship with a funder without doing the difficult work of self-reflection and assessment. Personal relationships are more likely to succeed if you know your values, know what you are looking for in a mate, and are ready to talk about the tough stuff. Turns out, these are great ready-to-date criteria for nonprofits, too.
Know your values, and be confidently rooted in them. Nonprofits need to know, deep down, who they are: who they serve, to what end, and via what means. Often, this identity is reflected in the organization’s vision and mission statements—they are the center from which the nonprofit’s values naturally flow, and are guideposts for the community work that the organization undertakes. (If, by the way, your nonprofit's mission doesn’t reflect its identity, your organization may be suffering from mission creep, and would be wise to revisit its mission statement.) This sort of deep and confident embrace of an organization’s values is critical not only to successfully articulating the organization’s goals to potential funders, but also to ensuring that a meaningful alignment exists between the nonprofit and the funder. After all, how can funders know that you have priorities in common if you’re not able to identify what your values are?
Know what you are looking for—and what you can accept—in a (funding) mate. If you’re a quiet-walks-on-the-beach kind of person, you are not necessarily looking for a high-flying, adventurous type to be your mate. Likewise, not all funders are going to be a good fit for every nonprofit. It’s important to be honest about what you are looking for in a funder to ensure a good fit. Maybe your organization is a small nonprofit, debating whether to apply for grants at all. Perhaps it's a medium-sized grassroots organization, and you prefer an accessible, hands-on funder with whom you can communicate directly. Local funders and smaller family foundations may be a good bet for your organization. Has your nonprofit experienced success with smaller regional funders, and you are seeking to raise its profile? State or national funders might be a logical next step. Is your heart set on securing funds for a capital improvement project? Then funders that are committed to program giving are probably not going to be a good match, no matter how well you make your case.
Just as important, your organization needs to be honest with itself about the types of funder relationships it can accept. Is that government grant opportunity tempting your organization, but you worry that your staff of two won’t be able to manage the reporting? It may be wise to seek other funders whose requirements won’t overwhelm your organization, or perhaps postpone applying until your staff capacity improves.
Be ready to discuss the difficult stuff. Nonprofits have to be ready to acknowledge their weaknesses as well as their strengths. Fundraising limitations, budget constraints, programmatic shortcomings—none of these is easy or fun to discuss. But it’s important as an organization to recognize areas for improvement, to realistically assess the bad with the good, and to be prepared to discuss both. The organization that is able to own its challenges is more likely to communicate with a funder in an open, honest way—a key to any successful relationship.
What other similarities do you see between dating and grant seeking? What other steps do nonprofits need to take to be ready for a “funder relationship”?