Updated: Oct 6
I get a lot of phone calls (in case you couldn't tell) from people who want to know how to get money for their organization from funders they do not know or have not reached out to. I feel like a broken record sometimes when I go on and on about stewarding relationships with funders. It is nearly impossible to get money for your organization without doing some legwork to establish yourself in your community - and funders are included in that community.
Broken record time.
Stewardship is key for nonprofits to win competitive grants. You can read more about that here or here or here.
Stewardship is in the nature of nonprofits, and that may not be for everyone. A few months ago I wrote a post about starting a nonprofit, but what I didn't mention is that an important part of deciding whether a nonprofit is right for you is knowing whether or not you are comfortable "schmoozing" with funders to get money. That is not everyone's cup of tea - it certainly isn't mine. That's why I write grants for other organizations, so that they can get out to the events, meet the people they need to know, and tell me what I should include in the proposal all from the comfort of my private office (or living room couch in PJs).
Being a public entity entails a lot of things - transparent budgeting, extra reporting to the IRS, being held accountable to your community and more. But it also means that sometimes you're going to have to attend events, meetings and conferences to get your organization and your name on funders' radars.
Recently I spoke with the founder of a nonprofit who was new to Tulsa and to the nonprofit sector. They started their organization as a for-profit business then made the switch to nonprofit - something that has been done many times before. However, they were running into roadblocks. They could not figure out why they weren't getting funding for something that was so needed in the community. During our conversation, we came to realize that they hadn't been plugged into the greater Tulsa community nor had they been out meeting people, potential organizational partners or researching Tulsa-based funders. Right off the bat, I could think of dozens of people and funders who would be fantastic fits, but that nonprofit leader hadn't done any of the stewardship work (and they weren't comfortable doing it). Suddenly, we realized what those roadblocks were, and it all made sense.
It breaks my heart to see nonprofits struggling to get support especially when they are providing such a vital service to the community, but it takes more than a passion to serve to run a successful nonprofit. In this case, they left my office with a long list of people to contact and steps to take. I sincerely hope that they do it, but only time will tell. Stewardship takes a lot of energy, time and dedication. I'm not saying that you have to best the most outgoing, energized extrovert in order to build relationships, but you will have to pick up the phone, send that introductory email and (sometimes) attend dinners, conferences, meetings and other fundraising events.
When you're thinking about starting a nonprofit, read through my earlier blog post, but also have an honest conversation with yourself and ask, "Is a life of stewardship right for me?"
It's okay if the answer is no, and that doesn't mean you can't start the nonprofit your community has always needed. It may mean that you'll need a partner (or two). It could mean that nonprofit leadership isn't right for you, but you'd be a wonderful asset at another organization. You could be called to volunteer or assist nonprofits in another way (like grant writing). Or maybe it's the kick in the pants you've always needed to get yourself out there and comfortable talking to people and asking for money.
Ask yourself that question, know the answer, identify what steps you'll need to take to implement a successful fundraising strategy (including stewardship) and start making the world a better place.