6 Things I Learned the Last 6 Years
I hope you will indulge me for a little different blog post this time. You see, six years ago today – on August 1, 2011, I embarked on an adventure when I left the comfort of my job to focus full-time on my business that allows me to do what I love: helping nonprofit organization succeed with grant writing, fundraising consultation, strategic planning facilitation, and leadership and board development training. Scary at times, the results have wildly exceeded my expectations.
A journey like this does not happen overnight or alone. I have way too many people to thank for your support along the way beginning with the 101 clients who have trusted me to help them make their ideas happen; my husband and son who have put up with me through the ups, downs and late nights; and the people who have given me their time to provide advice and counsel.
But this blog isn’t about me. It’s about the bigger picture: the fundraising environment in which many of us work. While I work with clients around the country, the majority live right here in the Quad Cities. These examples come from my work in the Quad Cities. If you live elsewhere, I hope you can draw similar conclusions about your community and the broader fundraising environment in which you work.
As I reflect on the last six years, I think about what I learned on this journey so far and want to share those insights in the hope that they will help you in your work with nonprofits or your journey in life.
The Quad Cities has many very generous individuals. In fact, this country has many generous individuals. Giving USA reported that giving for 2016 increased by 2.5% over the previous year and gave nearly $400 million to charitable organizations. That’s larger than the GDP of many countries! I spend most of my time helping organizations raise money either from individuals or through grants. When you know where to look, you can find people willing to give their hard-earned money to help those in need. In fact, a 2012 report by How America Gives estimates that individuals in Scott and Rock Island County gave more than $150 million to nonprofit organization that year. Given the annual increases in contributions in the last five years, that number is likely closer to $175 million today. But donor don’t just fall out of trees. They need a passion for your organization (see #3) which you can help them find.
The Quad Cities has many very generous organizations. I started my nonprofit career nearly 30 years ago writing grants, a passion that continues today. I find it very disheartening to hear nonprofits say no money exists in local corporations and foundations for them. Other than a very few, specialized organizations (I’m thinking Wells 4 Wellnessthat builds wells in Niger, Africa), I find that very hard to believe. I very conservatively estimate that local foundations and corporations invest more than $20 million into local nonprofits annually – and probably closer to $40 million. Nonprofits from all sectors benefit from these grants: education, health care, human services, religion, animals, environmental, arts and culture. I believe that most organizations that cannot find funding from local organizational donors either do not know where to look or have not invested sufficiently in developing relationships with the local funders.
Money follows passion. Have you ever asked your donors why they contribute to your organization? I have. When I’ve asked donors at all levels and from many different organizations that question, their answers mirror what the research tells us: (1) Someone asked them; and (2) They have a great passion for the organization’s mission. The donors I’ve met like to talk about why they invest in a certain organization. Ask yours and see what you can learn from them.
The Quad Cities has a very caring community. Every time I learn about a new nonprofit organization or a new cause that someone or some group has dedicated time to solving, the very care and compassion of this community shines through. With 630 nonprofit organizations in the greater Quad Cities, we have no shortage of places where people can turn to find these very caring and compassionate individuals willing to help them.
We have a very giving community and I don’t just mean monetarily. People who work in the local nonprofit sectors – and frankly most Quad Citizens – share their time and expertise freely. The local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals provides a great example of professionals helping others learn fundraising and navigate its changing waters. Most grant funders will also freely give their time to meet with prospective applicants and help them through their process as well and introduce them to others potential collaborators in the community. I have also called on former colleagues and community leaders to ask advice. My mantra is that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you ask and get a no, you are no worse off than before you asked.
Relationships rule. You have probably heard it throughout your professional life: “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While I see great importance in what you know, I have seen firsthand the value of building and maintaining meaningful relationships reiterated over and over throughout the last six years. Those relationships have helped me secure new clients through referrals; helped me connect people with similar missions or needs together; and allowed me to connect with someone who has a skill set, knowledge base or network that can help me or a client. Organizations run on social capital; building yours can help strengthen your organization and your personal and professional life.
What would you add to this list of characteristics of your local fundraising community or environment?