We all know how it feels to run out of suitable funders for our cause. With the usual approach — looking up funders whose stated interests match our programs — we always seems to find the same small pool of funders. Why is is that research so limited? The reason is because of two (not so) big secrets we want to share:
Secret #1: Funders don’t fund programs and projects.
They fund outcomes and issues. Funders are trying to solve big problems, like “youth leadership” or “helping the community.” They aren’t looking for specific programs to support, but they are interested in supporting programs that address the issues they’re interested in. Take the example of capital projects — very few funders have a passion for constructing buildings for the sake of buildings. But, they are interested in supporting buildings that enable the work that addresses the problems they care about.
Secret #2: Funders do a bad job at communicating their funding interests.
Some of them use the wrong words. Some of them don’t publish any information at all (or haven’t even figured out, for themselves, what they fund). Some of them even say the opposite of what they actually fund. So, if you exclude funders based on what they say, then you are actually excluding yourself from new funding.
Ok, so now what?
To get around these two (frustrating) facts, we have to see our organizations as more than our mission, and change how we look at funders.
1. See yourself as more than your mission: Finding more funders outside of the usual circle requires looking outside of the normal areas - thinking really outside of the box. Let's say you are fundraising for a food bank. Only 27 funders were included in a recent assessment of food philanthropy by Community Foundations Canada — a pretty small pool if you’re only looking for food funders. But food banks work on way more issues than just delivering food to the needy. Let’s look at just a few program examples:
- Community kitchens teach people about nutrition and improve community health
- Production gardening supports environmental responsibility
- Partnerships with schools and workshops provide education as well as support for youth
The same goes for any charity — there are plenty of funders interested in all of those issues — we just have to make it clear to them how our work affects the areas they work on.
2. Change how you look at funders: It’s rare (though still great) to find funding criteria that matches our organization perfectly. Instead of evaluating the match between funders and our organization, we can get better results by figuring out how to describe our organization according to the language and criteria expressed by funders. Take an education charity, for example. You might find a foundation whose mission is to build a healthy and creative society. They don’t mention education, but it's still a great fit — education leads to a healthy society. All you have to do is explain how your work is relevant to the funder’s issue.
Find more prospects, get more support
These two approaches are great ways to expand your circle of potential funders and find more prospects. Raising that number is really important, because fundraising is basically a numbers game — it takes lots of requests to get money coming in. Limiting research to narrow categories decreases the amount of potential funding. So start writing those requests, and be prepared for that first “no” — that’s when the relationship with a new funder really starts.