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It is fun to imagine sitting in the waiting area of a corporate office on the top floor of a soaring skyscraper with multiple copies of a handsome, full-color funding proposal in hand that explains exactly why that company should support your agency for the next 5 years. Or, to picture yourself sitting in the quiet boardroom of a large private foundation, admiring the art on the walls as you wait to talk with a friendly program officer, a laptop humming beside you with a concise and persuasive PowerPoint presentation that clearly elucidates why the foundation should become the lead donor for your groundbreaking project. It is even more fun to imagine that, as you wait, you are completely confident that you will achieve these outcomes.
But how to get there? A few months ago in this space, I discussed some of the reasons that a public health agency might want to raise private funds as well as some things to consider before choosing this path. In this column, I will describe steps necessary to prepare you and your agency to raise support from corporations and foundations.
If you wish to create a successful corporate and foundation fundraising program, you would do well to remember an old saw: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail." Ideally, you have a strategic plan that identifies your agency's priorities for fulfilling its responsibilities over the short term and long term. These responsibilities include activities mandated and funded by your state or local government, but you should also consider how discretionary initiatives may support your organizational goals as well. It is these discretionary initiatives that provide the opportunity to raise private support.
Developing your agency's overall priorities demonstrates to a foundation or corporation that you are serious and thoughtful about the direction your organization is taking and a contributor's potential role in it. In my experience, donors give to programs that move an organization forward and help accomplish a mission that aligns with the donor's own philanthropic goals. To understand this concept, think of your own philanthropy. If you give a sacred object to your church's new sanctuary, you would like to know how it would serve the growing congregation. If you give to a homeless shelter, you would like to know how the organization is coping with homelessness in the long term. The larger the gift, the more this is true. Major donors want to know how their money will be used. Beginning the fundraising process with organizational priorities is crucial.
The priorities you adopt should reflect your agency's strengths and the challenges faced by your community. They will be different for every organization. An agency may want to reduce obesity or improve water quality or design a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan. Whatever you decide, ensure that the entire organization is committed to these goals and that they are possible to accomplish.*
Once you have established your agency's priorities, create projects with the potential to receive private support that will help you reach organizational objectives. If, for example, your priority is to reduce obesity in your community, first research the literature to determine what approaches have been effective:
* educating the general population about healthy food choices,
* starting neighborhood-based walking clubs with a nutrition education component,
* targeting students with nutrition and exercise information that will spread virally to their families, or
* some combination of these or other approaches.
Use your skills at analyzing programs to identify the best approach for your community to adopt, than commit to finding the funding for it.
What type of program will appeal to corporate and foundation donors? Development officers talk about the latest trends in grant making or "buzz words" that should be included in any proposal. My philosophy is that if an organization builds the best program in its community to accomplish a goal, it will find a funder. Certainly take care to make your venture understandable to your audience, but to most donors-and especially institutional donors-a fundable project is one that works. The agency might not find all the support the program needs to thrive, and the program may not succeed in the long run. But most of the time, a great idea coupled with the right approach will find champions.
Once you have a program you believe will succeed, break the project down into smaller chunks that can be funded by a variety of sources. Here, agency leadership must take a long, hard look at its own finances and revenue to find sources of support that can be coupled with private donations to fund a new venture. If an organization is able to find other funding sources, the donor's confidence increases greatly as does the likelihood of a gift. Donors prefer not to be sole funders of significant programs for a number of reasons:
* other revenue sources spread the risk around,
* broad support in the community indicates better chances of success, and
* the donor has limited resources and may wish to limit his or her gift to the program.
Of course, there are exceptions. If a donor is approached to make a gift to a building on a college campus, he or she may want to make the gift exclusively to obtain recognition in the form of his or her name on the structure. But in the case of programs or initiatives, especially new ones, donors prefer funding partners.
Sources that you could review for possible funding include the following:
* your agency's own funds (even if a small amount),
* personnel time or other agency "in-kind" contributions,
* state funds available for the type of program you are creating, and
* local partners who could cost-share with you (eg, a hospital who could lend a nutritionist to develop obesity reduction materials or who could educate the public about the risks of obesity).
This list will pain many readers. As I write, I hear a question in my head that I have heard often: "If I had the money for the program, why would I need private support?" I understand this perspective but look at the donor as an investor. An investor does not want to be the only one taking the risk for a program-especially a new program developed by an organization that probably has not received a gift or grant from that investor before. Also, you look stronger if you attract other funders, and you can bet that the nonprofits who are your stiffest competition for the grant will include additional funding sources in their proposals.
One more point. Although you cannot predict if all the revenue sources that you outline in the grant will come through, you must make a good faith effort to secure them. You cannot forecast if you will receive a state grant, for example, or if a partner will absolutely join your initiative. But if they do not, you will have to explain why when reporting back to the funder. Focus on realistic funding sources for your new initiatives and try very hard to obtain them.1
The final step in building the foundation for a private fundraising program is to identify prospects that are likely to support your initiatives. As with most aspects of fundraising, this process begins with those who are closest to the agency and moves out from there:
* Previous donors. If you have received grants or gifts from corporations or foundations, these past donors are your best prospects for future contributions. Start your list here.
* Friends of the agency. These could be program officers from local foundations you have met while sitting on task forces or local boards, members of a community advisory council you have put together for a grant, or the spouse of one of your staff members who has an executive position at a local corporation. Knowledge of your organization's past work helps do your job of cultivation.
* Vendors to the agency. These could be medical supply vendors to your free clinic or the supplier of the vaccine you use for free shots. Be creative and think about where your organization spends most of its budget. There should not be a quid pro quo relationship, but there is no reason not to approach vendors to consider giving to the same program or agency from which they are profiting.
* Local businesses or foundations. These organizations are more likely to have heard about you and your good work than organizations working 3 states away. When compiling your list, think of the largest local businesses and foundations as well as national companies with local plants or work sites.
* Funder directories. After you have exhausted the options outlined above, it may be time to do some research in a directory of funding sources. There may be a good, local directory of institutional donors. Calling your local Association of Fundraising Professionals chapter should yield this answer. If there is not one, I have found the Foundation Center Directory to be the most comprehensive national database of corporate and foundation contributors.
Research using a funder directory warrants additional comments. These compilations can be accessed at a local library, and a reference librarian can help navigate the electronic or print version. Focus your search on funders who target your state or community for their funding. It is highly unlikely that a corporation or foundation with a nationwide grantmaking program would be interested in supporting a local initiative.* Also, target only funders who give to the discipline area of your program (ie, health programs if you are developing an obesity reduction initiative). Do not waste your time on funders who "should" be interested in your organization-just find those who are.
It is not essential-or even possible sometimes-to complete each of these steps before launching a fundraising program. But taking these steps will ensure the best program for your agency in the long run. In my next installment of the Management Moment, I will move beyond fundraising preparation to execution. In the meantime, I would enjoy hearing your feedback about this column and suggestions for other fundraising-related topics via e-mail.
1. Orton SN, Menkens AJ, and Santos P. Public Health Business Planning: A Practical Guide. Jones & Bartlett: "Competitors and Partners" is especially good on how and why to develop partnerships; 2007:7. [Context Link]
*For a comprehensive look at strategic planning for public health, see the special issue devoted to the public health planning tool MAPP mobilizing for action through planning and partnerships. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2005;11(5). [Context Link]
*There are exceptions to the local funder rule, like the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), which offers small grants to public health agencies. But these national organizations attract many applicants, so an individual agency's chances of winning a grant from them are relatively low. [Context Link]
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