PSGA Ken's Corner

Observations and advice on grant writing from the other side of the desk

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Boards and fundraising

Is your board involved in fund raising?

Has a funder asked you that lately? It seems more and more funders want to understand the full span of an organization’s development work.

The challenge is that many good board members dread fund raising. Yet my experience shows me that often that is the result of one key error—the desire to have board members solicit new donors.

Talking to new donors feels a lot like selling, and few people like selling. But listening is a skill and a task that most people find in their comfort zone. So who should they be listening to and why?

Nonprofits and small businesses alike tend to make the same mistake, looking for new donors (customers) and failing to actively retain current/past donors (customers). How do you come up with a list of names, especially for the past donors who haven’t given in a year or so? Here is where you test the capacity of your fund raising resources—its ability to provide you with the information you need in a meaningful format.

Get a list of everyone—primarily individual donors—who has given to your organization over the past 5 years starting with your last complete fiscal year; say 2013 back to the beginning of 2009. You need the list of names and the total amount each person gave by year. Lay it out on a spreadsheet, donor names down the left hand column and then a column for 2009, 2010, 2011, etc. Make you save your work often and when you finish save that sheet with a name like Base Data. Make a copy of that sheet for the calculations that follow. This will ensure that if you make an error, you still have all your hard work saved.

On the new sheet select the entire range from the row above first name (this includes the year headers on each column) to the amount given by the last donor on the list in 2013, even if that cell is blank because that donor didn’t give in 2013. Go to Data and Sort and set up your sort:

• Click on the My Data has Headers, it will make organizing the sort easier
• On the first line for sorting, set it to sort on 2009, on values, and from A to Z (that means highest to lowest value)
• Click on Add a Level, and repeat for 2010
• Repeat until you’ve set five levels for all the columns, 2009 to 2013

Hit OK and you’ll see some interesting patterns emerge.

The top rows will be your continuous donors, donors who have given every year since 2009. At the bottom of the sheet you’ll find all the newer donors, such as those people who gave in 2013 but who never gave before that. In between you’ll find a variety of patterns, or groupings, of donors. For example, you may find people who gave in 2009 and 2010 but haven’t given since. You can cut each group and past them to a different worksheet. As you to this, think of questions your board members could ask of each group to elicit information about your organization and their giving.

Don’t give your board members a long list of questions. Since they will likely be a little nervous, their natural reaction would be to read the whole list. You only need a few questions, and a few reminders that their goal is really to listen so that can share the observations. The questions could be along these lines:

• I want to thank you for supporting our organization back in 2009; how did you get involved?
• You’ve given to us off and on for a few years; I want to thank you for that support. What work of ours attracted your support?
• I want to thank you for your past giving. How do you perceive our organization and what it does in the community?

Since these are past donors, and perhaps people your board members know, asking your board members to talk with them should be easier than talking to people who haven’t given in the past. This process gives your board members a way to participate in an important task.

Why is this important to grantwriting? First, improving any funding source helps. Second, you can answer that question from funders, sharing any lessons your organization learn along the way. These encounters will likely produce some great stories. Also, it shows that your board is involved and cares. Finally, you may find that board members who enjoy these visits; these board members may be great resources in the future.

If you found this an intriguing approach consider attending the Specialized Training Workshop coming up in early August. Laurence Chen will be teaching the how to use your data in Excel. The PSGA email notifications will announce registration for the Friday, August 8th event soon.