It's the Opportunity, Stupid

January 23, 2012 | 1 Comments

With apologies to a presidential candidate some of our readers are too young to remember, we urge grant professionals everywhere to adopt this new mantra. (Ok, my mother would never allow her children to call anyone stupid, so you can drop that part, but be sure to keep the opportunity part.)

In fact, I must give credit to Sandy Edwards, a renowned fundraising professional in Northwest Arkansas who is at that new little art place we have here called Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. She recently spoke to the northwest Arkansas chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. Can you imagine the challenges of raising money for an organization that everyone thinks has already been completely paid for?!?

Sandy said, “Don’t focus on the need. Focus on the opportunity!”  The opportunity to be a part of something big, something exciting, something that is changing lives is what motivates donors. Well, guess what? Those foundation prospects of yours are “donors” too. Funding decisions are made by people. And people like to work with winners.

Am I suggesting that you leave the Need section out of your proposals? No. I recently had a client tell me that our description of the challenges facing her neighborhood made her want to cry. (Took that as a compliment, you know.) Of course, you must have the Need section.

However, what separtes a great grant proposal from an average one is how you quickly turn that Need into an opportunity. Instead of presenting such a dire a situation that the reader feels there is no hope of making a difference, you spell out exactly how, with the parternship of the funder your are approaching, your organization can make a dent in this need. Foundations want to invest in a cleaner, safer, healthier world. (Just listen to their promos in the national media.) You are giving them a chance to do just that.

While communicating the real needs you plan to address, don’t forget to weave in real-life stories about real people that show your organization has a track record of meeting those needs. This is how you communicate that you are a "winner" the foundation should work with.

However, just tooting your own horn is not enough. Don't spend all of your time getting the funder motivated to help through your touching Need section, getting the funder excited about addressing this need through your fantastic organization in the Organizational Profile, only to fall flat when it comes to the program.

Don’t try to pass off a poorly-planned project and hope the funder doesn’t notice. They will. In these days of penny-pinching, even at foundations, it is more important than ever to have a strong project design that dots all of its i's and crosses all of its t's. In other words, the funder has to be confident that if they give you their money, you will spend it in a well-thought-out manner that can achieve real results. No more resting on our laurels and, in essence, expecting funders to "just trust us."

Convey that your organization has its act together and is a wise investment. Convey that your people are top-notch and have the education and experience to do what you are planning. And convey that you have an excellent, realistic plan for helping that foundation achieve its mission to make the world a better place.

That is how you create an Opportunity.

Tips to Take-Away - Keep on the Sunny Side:

1. Show how your organization is perfect to meet the need

2. Share exciting stories that demonstrate success is possible

3. Make sure your proposal has a clear, convincing plan

4. Keep a tone of invitation, not begging or dire need


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  • Good advice--especially avoiding language that laments a dire need. No one wants to throw money on a ship that appears to be sinking. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by Melanie, 24/01/2012 9:40am (7 years ago)

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