It's not begging; you're offering opportunities
Successful fund development begins with the right attitude, based on a key principle: You, as the development representative, are not begging; you are offering opportunities. Making that philosophical leap involves no magic, no mystery, no proprietary secrets. Believe it or not, once you’ve seen the job done successfully by one who embraces the challenge and enjoys the exchange, you will want to play an active role in fund development for your organization. My own introduction into the art of fund development might illustrate that.
Let me introduce you to Katie. She’s a “contract development professional.” That is to say, she works for a consulting firm that provides temporary development support for nonprofits that are not staffed – or don’t have the qualified volunteer force – to secure their own corporate support. I met Katie in her contractor role. She was 27, younger than either of my children, enthusiastic, calm, flexible, organized, and absolutely confident. Because she needed someone “on the inside” to share organizational data and direction as she sought fund support for our nonprofit’s major event, I had the privilege of being her “inside person.”
For several months I learned from young Katie. I saw how she got the job done and how much she enjoyed it. Then, armed with the right attitude and some basic strategies, I had the confidence to say, “I think I can do this – maybe even do it well – maybe even like it.” In no time at all, I had the beginnings of a sound development philosophy and the rudiments of good development practice. From there, I never looked back. And I’ve never forgotten dear Katie. But I have to tell you: It’s not brain surgery! It’s not rocket science!
If you are timid about seeking fund support, feel awkward about it, believe it makes your organization a “charity case,” well, you’re probably just like most other nonprofit leaders. That attitude won’t help you, but it can be changed once your eyes are opened, just as Katie helped me establish a new perspective and a new philosophy.
If you are not absolutely convinced that your nonprofit deserves support in the accomplishment of its mission, you’re the wrong person for the job. If you believe in your organization and its mission but still have serious doubts about the project or program for which you have been asked to seek support, your commitment to the work will probably remain tepid and your embrace of the task ineffective. If you’ve read this far, though, I will bet that you have a positive attitude about your organization’s core mission, record of service, operational integrity, and unimpeachable intentions. If so, you should definitely read on.
The next part of fund raising attitude shifts to those holding the funds. I remember, early in my fund development career, a colleague offering the comment that, “money is icky, but we need it.” What an attitude! And, I regret to say, that same colleague seemed to transfer the “icky-ness” of money to the corporations that have earned it and are in a position to share it. Now, I agree that we can all name corporations for whom we harbor some negative emotions. On the other hand, we all have our favorite corporate entities that make the shoes we love or our favorite processed food or the gadgets we can’t do without. The critical point here is this: How do you feel about the entities your nonprofit intends to solicit for fund support? Or, if such a list does not yet exist, and you are tasked with creating it, how do you feel about the companies you’re adding to that list?
I have to tell you that it never works to ask for support while holding your nose. Forget it. If you are rather neutral about corporate support in general and your nonprofit’s targets specifically, you’ll be just fine in the starting round. Bear in mind that attitudes don’t always change quickly. When I started seeking support from companies that offer the kinds of products and services my nonprofit’s constituents needed, those companies were just names on a spreadsheet to me. I had no personal connections with them, and no strong feelings about them. And that was a perfectly acceptable way to begin: with an open mind, an open heart, and an open hand.
We all have a lifetime legacy of feelings about money; just be aware of yours. And you have your attitude about the nonprofit you serve. That one can’t be ignored – either you’re wholeheartedly dedicated to that organization, or you’re not going to seek support for it. Then you’ve got your general feelings about corporate money and the “for-profit” world, which, like your general attitude about money, can most likely be thoughtfully put to one side. But your attitude about the prospective donors you actually intend to approach has to be positive. No nose-pinching, two-faced behavior allowed.
The final aspect of your fund support attitude revolves around your role in the process. If you’re nervous or intimidated or a little unsure of yourself – or even a lot unsure of yourself – no problem. Of course you don’t have all the confidence in the world. If you did, you’d have raised a million dollars by now. The critical point about how you perceive your role is simply this: Do you see yourself as going out and asking for help? Do you imagine you will be seeking “charity”? Do you think of approaching prospective donors as “begging”? If you do, forgive yourself. That is a most common starting point – but it’s the wrong attitude. Nobody is going to be asking for money.
You have been given the most amazing and exciting opportunity to develop win-win situations that put money to work to make a better world. You will not be asking for favors. You have been empowered to offer truly valuable opportunities to corporate partners who will recognize the value of what you offer and appreciate the invitation. That is perhaps the most critical paradigm shift required. Once the shift is made, the excitement builds, the fear subsides and the success mounts. Here is the key to a positive, successful fund raising attitude: You have something of value to offer – a marketing opportunity - and you will offer it to someone who brings value to your nonprofit – funding – and together you will both win.