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What to do when funders reject your ask?

Thursday, October 27, 2022

How do I get a “foot in the door”? How do I get funders’ attention? Why am I only getting short term funder? These are frequent questions in the fundraising industry, and a lot of them boil down to: how you are planning for, setting up and nurturing your relationships with funders.

Whether you are crowdfunding from thousands or targeting individual funders, every donation comes with a relationship.

Fundraising is about relationships. I don’t mean contacts or networks only, I mean real human to human trusting, honest and fulfilling exchanges of information and dreams that mix together to create change. Relationships that don’t just result in shared outcomes but also alter each individuals’ dreams, goals and sense of accomplishment.

On many levels, funding relationships are no different to any other relationship: they start with a spark introduction, progress to an exchange of ideas, dreams, beliefs, and then either build up to a situation of trust where a shared intent is set and jointly nurtured over time OR loose traction and interest and fall back into oblivion as they are just not identified as being the priority at that moment in time.

Take a new friendship between two children that meet for the first time and decide to play a new game together.

They start by shyly introducing themselves and testing the ground.

Then they set intent and agree on a game, and explain the rules of it to each other and how it will work “ I will hide here, you will step into this square boundary etc..”

Once the two children start playing, more often than not something goes wrong and someone gets upset: one child is spending more time using a toy or is not respecting the chalk boundaries drawn on the pavement...

Whatever the reason, it is almost inevitable that at some point one child’s actions will not be what the other child expected - and therefore will be cause of disappointment, misunderstanding or conflict.

Now children have many innovative ways of dealing with these situations: bargaining, role playing, being forceful, changing game altogether or bursting into tears of misunderstanding and hate, for example.

Whatever approach they choose, the two children’s response to unforeseen disagreements is what will determine the outcome of the game (whether they continue playing at all) and ultimately the quality and future of the friendship.

In fundraising it is quite similar, we reach out to a sea of people in search of our ideal funders that are aligned with our interests and want to work with us on our plan.

We introduce ourselves, trying to hold attention long enough to get a message through, and if we are successful in this first endeavour, progress to engage in further stages of information exchange where we explore whether or not we can build something great together and if so what that would look like.

However, in fundraising sometimes we forget the nature of the relationship we are trying to build with funders and forget the people behind the funding.

We sometimes risk treating funding as the ultimate end, forgetting that funding is merely the means through which we acquire the freedom to drive more of the changemaking work we know is urgently needed on the ground and within our organisations. Ironically, it is much easier to get funding if the focus is on the change, the value created, the relationship and not on the money.

So how do we refocus our fundraising back on our core intent and not on the means?

Below are 3 simple things that you must never forget when building new funding relationships. I have been using these for over 10 years and these will not only help you to effectively manage limited fundraising resources (time, staff, expertise, knowledge, communication,marketing etc…) but also maximise your chances of effortless, fruitful and long-lasting funding relationships.

1. Understanding the activities you are fundraising for and being 100% committed to the value they create - If you don’t believe your chosen priority activity and cause will move the needle and make a difference, or don’t have evidence to explain your belief, neither will your audience. It is common to make the mistake of focusing only on only telling funders what you think they want to hear. This may get some support, but it won’t be enough to interest serious investors and supporters in the long run. If you are asking others to spend their own hard own money on something you believe in, you need to walk the talk and make them see the initiatives through your eyes. Why is it needed? What happens and what is the cost to people if that is not funded? What change will that funding achieve? Why does your ask have the parameters for measuring success it does?... are only a few of the questions you should be very comfortable answering.

2. Making vague links between activities and impact crystal clear and visible - Change and especially social change is complex. This means there is not one single cause and effect relationships but many intertwined factors. People cannot engage with or support something they do not understand, so it is a fundraisers’ responsibility to make their audience understand the key links. So that they can follow with their thinking the logical train of thought (or chain of impact) that starts from their decision to fund and ends with the benefits being delivered for beneficiaries on the ground.

3. Strategy in who and how you target your audience - There is the opportunity to adopt many strategies in different contexts and there is no one size fits all, but it is important to clearly set out beforehand what type of funder you are trying to engage - a monthly supporter, a high value one off supporter, an expert who will not only contribute funding but skills and expertise, a large foundation or organisation, individuals etc. Whatever strategy and method of engagement you use, it must be tailored to your target audience. A face to face outreach that might work in public squares to engage passer bys, will probably not work to attract high net worth individuals or large trusts. Likewise you wouldn’t of course draft grant proposals for each passerby on a street? Each method of engagement will set different parameters of how much time you have to build trust with your prospect funder, how much preparation you need to do upfront, what depth of relationship are you aspiring too, what queries your funder will have etc. So make sure you are choosing the strategy and outreach method only because you are convinced and have previous evidence to show that it is the best way of engaging that target group, not because it happens to be something that worked somewhere else for someone else in the past. Choosing the right profile of funder and means of engaging them will hugely help with improving success and retention rates and avoid wasted efforts.

At the end of the day, fundraising is no different to building any other relationship or managing an existing one by leading a team or recruiting volunteers : it is an exercise in helping someone understand you, see your specific problem area, intent and solution through your own eyes and understand it well enough to be incentivised and driven to play a role in it.

To do this you need to establish a common purpose or shared similar goals capable of driving an initial engagement and use honest concise communication to lighten up existing interests. You then must simply and clearly explain how the chosen activities requiring immediate funding are merely an obvious milestone along the path towards a shared goal and finally build this initial conversation into a long-term foundation of trust.

There is generosity, wonder and excitement in building a shared understanding of a problem and joining forces with a team of funders to achieve something great together (and this is definitely what keeps me driven!) and I hope all you fundraisers out there have the pleasure of experiencing it too.

Anna Bruni Sabhaney.jpg

Hi, I Am Anna Bruni Sabhaney

Founder Of The Confluencers

I believe non-profit missions deserve to be funded through flexible trust based funding and that to do that we need to shift power dynamics in Philanthropy. Here you will see me share ideas and experiences I have developed so far to make this happen.