We need to unravel the narratives about fundraising and replace it with fresh thinking; to figure out how we can move toward a more productive relationship between funder and fundraiser. Each of us in CSI has a part to play. We are all just human beings, and want the respect of being heard without judgment.
Communication and listening are crucial to the funder/fundraiser relationship. Both sides should admit that they do not have all the answers to the challenges faced by NPOs and funders. These conversations are necessary, and there are not nearly enough of them. Get-togethers like The Great Funders’ Conference are an excellent opportunity for non-profits to speak up and for corporates to do more listening than speaking. Corporates are often criticised for power-playing in their relationships with NPO partners. Many are becoming aware of this, and are focused on taming it down so that their partnerships are more equal.
Complicated relationship dynamics exist between funders and fundraisers both pre- and post-investment. Dianne Richards, Manager for Monitoring and Evaluation for the Old Mutual Foundation, says, ‘As a funder, it is very important to ask myself what I could do differently. You have to start with yourself. One of our challenges was with a co-funded project, where we were brought in as the last funder. We rushed through the process and did not spend enough time with the community. As a funder, it’s very important to spend time with the community one indirectly funds; to understand them and explain what you’re bringing to the party.’ It is crucial to communicate abilities and limitations, and to set realistic deadlines, so that expectations are managed.
When handled correctly, the relationship between funder and fundraiser can yield many positive experiences. Both parties feel encouraged when they see unexpected and unintended positive spin-offs of a project and an overall positive impact on a community.
When non-profits collaborate, communication and funding are made easier. Funders sit with many applications from hundreds of NPOs, who end up competing with one another. When they come together as a united front, seeking joint funding, the decision-making process is made easier for the funder in terms of motivating trustees to agree to the proposal. In addition, it is crucial that NPOs speak openly and honestly regarding their needs.
In the end, however, the struggle is real when it comes to fundraising, and it’s a long journey that never ends. Fundraisers need to communicate funders’ responses and requests with their team, and make sure everyone is on board for the purpose of a common goal.
NPOs need several funding streams. Susan Daly, Fundraising Manager for Kids Haven, says, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You cannot rely on relationships because people change.’ We know, for instance, that 90-day and 150-day payment terms can completely destabilise an NPO. So NPOs need diverse funding streams, which means hard work. Why should someone give you money? You have to work for it, seeking funding in many places. Human activity and movement is unpredictable, and fundraisers cannot rely on one or two sources only. Aim for a broad range of funding sources.
Communication and the quality of relationships are more important than people realise. One needs to ensure that relationships are treated with care, and have more than one linking relationship within a corporate in order to ensure successful funding. The concept of bringing people together and asking them to help you think differently, or to request open and honest advice, is invaluable. These constructive conversations that point out shortfalls and strengths lead to relationships, and strong relationships develop trust, which – together with excellent presentation and clear thinking – are more likely to lead to funding.