Fundraising can be one of the most daunting aspects of running a startup, whether for-profit or nonprofit. Asking someone to give you money can feel extremely uncomfortable, and there are a multitude of factors to take into account when cultivating relationships with funders and perfecting your pitch. Where for-profit startups traditionally raise in rounds, for nonprofits, fundraising is an ongoing initiative year in and year out, and funding is often much slower to close.
Many of our teams are thinking about ways to ramp up their fundraising efforts this summer, so we brought in what we think of as the fundraising A-Team to engage in a conversational panel about fundraising tips, tricks, and challenges.
What’s the best advice you’ve gotten for fundraising?
- Believe in yourself and your mission and you will find the right funders.
- Be fearless.
- Ask a lot. A “no” isn’t always a “no.” If you are getting a lot of rejections in the beginning it means you’re doing your job.
Any tricks? What if you’ve asked a funder 3 times and keep getting a “no?”
- If you get a “no” after the first ask, inquire as to if your missions are not aligned. Ask probing questions to find out why you’re getting that response.
- Be as honest as possible. If you are forthright, they will be too, and that is key to getting real answers.
- It’s critical to build relationships with your funders or potential funders and think about their needs. Think about how you can be an asset to them. The most strategic long-term relationships weren’t just about one round of funding, it was about the relationship.
What are the mechanics of building those relationships?
- Keep all context around these relationships and connections organized in a spreadsheet.
- Get daily updates from key publications like The Chronicle of Philanthropy and Inside Philanthropy. Be a voracious reader and when you see relevant articles, share them with your funders.
What should you not do?
- Make an ask too early. You need to have a good sense of when a relationship is at an inflection point.
- Inversely, don’t wait too long. People always wonder if there’s a perfect time to make the ask, but fundraising is truly an art not a science. Be intuitive, read into things, ask the right questions, and make true connections. Think about how you can use the funder’s money for a higher purpose.
- Do not go into conversations without doing your research. It’s imperative that you go in feeling confident in your ability to show that you can help the funder solve the problems they care about. Check out their presence on social media to see what causes they care about and what conferences they are attending. This helps to create a fluid dialogue.
What do you look for in hiring a badass fundraiser?
- Passion and perseverance. Fundraising is really hard and you need someone who can keep the asks going and stay motivated because they truly believe in your mission.
- Know who your target funder is and take that into consideration when hiring. Foundation funding is a different conversation than fundraising from individuals.
- You need people who are good at process but also good at working a room and starting up conversation with anyone. These skills do not necessarily live in the same person.
How do you think about soup to nuts timelines with individuals or corporations?
- Typically the sales cycle for corporations is 18 months. One practical rule of thumb is that when you’re creating your pipeline and know a funder is interested in your specific cause, keep their fiscal year in mind so you can time your ask appropriately.
- Typically a big ask takes around 18 months to close. More immediate opportunities include sponsorship, which could close in less than 6 months for example.
We can’t thank Maria, Lisa and Chad enough for coming in and leading such an informative and actionable session! So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start fundraising!