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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

FOI Summit: Coalition Sustainability and Fundraising

Chris Pabon, director of development for the Project on Government Oversight (clockwise from top), Katherine Sawyer, fundraiser, Douglas Stewart, director of foundation relations with the Center for Health, Environment & Justice, and Jennifer Cox, development director for Taxpayers for Common Sense, discuss fundraising strategies and tactics for non-profit organizations. (Photo by Michael T. Martinez)

Because the Knight FOI Fund to support Freedom of Information litigation requires grants of more than $5,000 to receive matching funds, the panelists spoken on tips and best practices for fundraising. Here are notes from the FOI Summit session, "Coalition Sustainability and Fundraising":
  • There are four steps to fundraising, according to Cox. "Plan, plan, plan, work your plan."
  • "If you don't ask for money, you won't get it," reminded Pabon. Pabon emphasized the need to ask for support for your organization. He suggests adding an ask in the signature line of your e-mail, such as "Please support us in our work."
  • Cox added that involving people in the work of your organization makes it easier to ask for money. Share the vision of your work and show donors how your organizations have common goals and ambitions, reminded Cox. Pabon suggested sending donors a small note or e-mail showing them what you are doing with their money.
  • "Thank before you bank," reminded Cox. Remember that a person or an institution gave you money. Pabon said the thank you note conveys the image and impression of your organization, and as such, it should be timely, sincere, and typo-free.
  • Cox highlighted the importance of diversifying your donors, and argues against going back to the same donors time and again. Cox also pointed out that small gifts can add up, and suggested asking for support from little and big donors.
  • "People have the right to say no," said Cox. If you are rejected, do not try to change their minds, but simply keep them updated about your work and move on.
  • With respect to fundraising from foundations, Stewart said there's no magic bullet and reminded attendees that it's "long work" in which the grant proposal is the last step, not the first.
  • "Less is more" in institutional fundraising, said Stewart. Remember that the people tasked with reading grant proposals are bombarded with proposals. Keep a letter of inquiry short no more than two pages in length. Pabon suggested using an appropriate font and margins to make the letters earsy to read, and put in the first paragraph who you are, what you're asking for, and why. Pabon also recommended using bullet points for deliverables, and closing with a paragraph that identifies other donors who are supporting your organization.
  • Stewart reminded attendees to network with other grantees of the foundation. He called this technique the "press the flesh policy."
  • Sawyer advised attendees to be thoughtful and strategic with respect to events. "If you don't have to do an event, don't," she advised. "It's a lot of work and details." Like letters of inquiry, Stewart said less is more with events also. She advised attendees to consider smaller, more frequent events that allow for more quality time with the donors than larger, annual events. "It's not about dollars," added Cox. "You spend money to meet people" and then follow-up after the face-to-face interaction.
  • The panelists favored "house parties," a small dinner or cocktail party that allows the executive director of your organization to introduce the organization to 5 - 10 potential donors in one to two hours. The house party should end with a pitch from the organizer along the lines of "If you love what we're doing, please support our work."
  • Be strategic about selecting a host for a house party, though. Pabon said the host is "key" to a successful house party. Others suggested inviting guests to the house party who would want to network with each other (e.g., local lawyers and business owners).
  • The panelists reminded attendees not to trim development expenses. Development work should be viewed as an investment, not an expense, said Pabon.
  • Finally, the panelists encouraged attendees not to give up or get discouraged. "A rejection once is not final," said Pabon. Just keep following up!
  • The panelists recommended Kim Klein's article, "The Ten Most Important Things You can Know about Fundraising" available from the Grassroots Institute for Fundraising Training.

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