Building Relationships with Donors, Supporters,
Funders and Resources
by Robert J. Vickers, Founder/President, Artful Askers, Bob@ArtfulAskers.com
Brief Summary Abstract: Acquiring funding for meeting needs is not a secret—it is a process. You can pay others who know the process and they can help get support for you—and you’ll pay them well—the average grant-writer or funding expert in America today makes about $350 per hour. OR, you can acquire the knowledge for yourself, avoid paying someone else each time you need help and never worry about support again. It is your choice. Most people don’t know what they don’t know—but why pay someone who knows it? Why not gain the knowledge for yourself?!
You must learn to tell who you are, what you do, where it is done, how much it costs to do it and more. BUT the largest part of the process is learning to think about the process from the perspective of the Donor (grant-giver). To acquire the knowledge, skill and ability to do that, you will need a coach, mentor or educator—NOT a consultant—someone willing to invest their knowledge into you—you will need to be willing to learn the process.
Bob Vickers has spent his entire life as an educator working both sides with Doers and Donors and developing materials and models to convert people to understand and engage in the learning process to acquire the knowledge and engage in an updated version of philanthropy! It has been said, “Doing your best is good enough.” BUT we teach W. Edwards Deming, “It is NOT good enough to do your best; You must KNOW what to do—THEN, do your best!” Please challenge yourself to learn this process of building relationships between Doers and Donors!
Paradigm Shift and Overview. . . A typical day in the office coaching, mentoring, advising and answering questions to a daily average of 25 to 30 community- and faith-based leaders (Doers) to access funding or other resources to meet needs in their community. Also answering questions, coaching and mentoring a daily average of 3 to 5 Donors how to give more efficiently and effectively and receive a larger Return on Investment (R.O.I.)! After 35 years in the industry saying the same thing to everyone who calls because the principles do not change from one inquiry to the next—they are all basic proven principles that work because they are relational!
Some principles are religious in nature although I don’t use religious words—and I encourage others to NOT use religious words—rather focus on social value. Some of the principles are rooted in Scripture and work because the Bible works. Through workshops and speaking engagements teaching more than 34,000 “Doers” and more than 3,400 “Donors,” I say the same thing over and over applying them to finding support: getting ready to receive, sharing your vision, recording the steps you are taking in a language Donors can understand and being good stewards all the way to knowing what to look for in knowing who is ready to receive and who will be a good steward. I repeat the same principles to Doers and Donors from the opposite side of the same coin! They are principles applied to many relationship-building materials, too.
I recite words from phone calls in my sleep and am often awakened by my wife doing just that! Executive Directors, Board Members, Pastors, retired Volunteers, Supporters and ministry-leaders call wanting help. They say:
• “I need to hire a grant-writer to find more money to meet more needs in my community!”
• “I don’t want to learn anything you teach, I just want the cash I need. Money is my only problem!”
• “I’m brand new and need millions to accomplish my vision given me by God.”
Old timers in this industry remember when you could write a grant, send out a bunch of copies, and wait 6 weeks to start receiving and cashing the checks. It simply doesn’t work that way anymore! There is no magic funding dust!
Consider these startling realities:
1. Only 27% of nonprofits and less than 9% of churches are “ready to receive.”
2. Only 10% of the nonprofits and churches have a “sufficient written document.” The average document is 22 pages long.
3. Less than 10% of the 10% who have a written document focus on their vision with a “sufficient vision document.”
4. The average funder’s “look” at a document is 18 seconds before they decide to screen you to rejection or consider it.
5. Sizable corporate or foundation Donors are asked on average 28 times each working day for money!
6. The average in-person funder meeting is a result of 5 contacts BUT only lasts 6 to 8 minutes before losing the attention.
7. Most nonprofits and churches don’t know what they don’t know (they lack knowledge).
8. Doers (fund-seekers) do NOT speak Donor (fund-giver) language and have no clue what they mean by a question!
9. Most approvals start with rejection. If you do NOT learn to steward the rejections appropriately, you will never receive!
10. If you fold your document to deliver it (in person or by mail), 92% of the time it will be rejected!
11. Most nonprofits don’t speak the language, don’t understand nor do they understand the process of grantmakers.
12. Using blue ink to sign the document and hand address the envelope increase the probability it will be looked at 27%.
13. Donors do not fund lone rangers any longer—they want to see you work together tin communities and experiencing the "tide effect.” The tide effect is when we work together, our tide rises and brings everyone else up with ours!
The industry has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. The internet and smart-phones have changed the industry for good! Grant-writers or grant-writing workshops are now a dime a dozen BUT most do not teach relationship-building! You can write the best proposal ever written BUT if you don’t know what to do with it and don’t understand the process of relationship-building and communication, it will be an excellent but worthless document. You MUST understand and engage in the larger “process” and no-one can do that on your behalf.
It simply doesn’t work the same way anymore. Why? There are more than a million I.R.S.-recognized nonprofits in the U.S. today. When counting the organizations under each umbrella, that number goes to about 2.3 million. Add the number of churches in America and you have about 3 million domestic nonprofits and churches. Guess how many of them need money? 100% of them! Every single nonprofit and church in the United States or around the world needs money!
Sure, there are more than 104,000 foundations and more than 125,000 corporate-giving programs. In addition, many churches support social causes and the American public is the most giving and generous group of people in the world. People give to people and giving is an emotional response. Hundreds of billions of dollars are given every year–and cash only accounts for about 7.3% of all giving. In other words, even though hundreds of billions of dollars are given for philanthropic causes, more than a trillion dollars in in-kind giving—92.7% of ALL giving—takes place through Gifts in Kind or In-Kind giving with products, services, stock and bond transfers, donations of cars, boats, homes, land, and so much more. Yet most churches and organizations don’t have the ability nor capacity to receive or are not aware or even have a simple understanding of in-kind giving, how to document, how to leverage and how to steward in-kind gifts.
The average donor in America who gives one million dollars or more annually is asked an average of 28 times every single working day for money. The amazing thing is that funders know money is never the problem nor the solution. They want to support vision and its’ impact on people served NOT a request focused on need for money. When you do what everyone else does, you get what everyone else gets. When people consider the entire presentation of the concepts, they experience freedom from the pressure to accomplish something beyond themselves. It is an amazing transformation to those that have ears to hear. If people perish from a lack of knowledge–and they don’t know what they don’t know, how can they learn? Someone must help them gain the knowledge! Please consider the process—please, hear it out.
Building Relationships with Funders. . .
I. What is meant, “Building” relationship? Relationship equals communication. And relationships and communication take hard work. People make that commitment in marriage, parenting, in our jobs, in friendships–why not in funding and accessing other resources? We must take time in any meaningful relationship—including those that involve funding, to incorporate strategies that build on common understandings and methods. If successful relationships are those that are other-oriented, and they clearly are, we must take the time to do due diligence and engage those that have similar interests, desires, goals—Doers and Donors in order to have meaningful relationships. We must cooperate and collaborate with people around us to meet the needs in our community by working together and creating meaningful relationships.
Think of “building” as being the entire farming process NOT just harvesting a crop. We must take more time than just our immediate need for cash to discover much more than we know about ourselves, the population we are serving, the step-by-step process we engage in serving those around us and people that share our desire to help those we are helping as-well-as those who potentially support us. We must communicate well with others who are placed around us to support us.
II. What do you mean, “based on proven Scriptural” processes? We must look at philanthropy and ministry through a different set of eyes and seek to understand the responsibility that has been entrusted to us. If the perish is truly caused by a “lack of knowledge,” we must gain the knowledge! We must first BE (which is the personal development, realization and knowledge piece) and then DO (engage in loving your neighbor as yourself). BEing and DOing your part (He will BE and DO His part, the provision). Think of it this way: BE –> DO –> and you will HAVE.
We need to follow the measuring of grant-writing and fundraising against the teaching built on proven, successful models and start with that understanding. We cannot violate important principles of relationship-building and expect to be successful, can we?
What is the “social value” of what you do and its’ measurable effect on those we serve and the community?
What is the R.O.I.? Can you speak that language with Donors and Supporters?
III. What is meant by “Relationship?” There are numerous key common qualities and characteristics that are necessary for successful relationships. We must relate to all people in all relationships to be successful in the longer term—we cannot treat Donors and Supporters good and homeless and needy individuals poorly. . . We must take an interest in a prospective funder enough that we learn who they are, what their interests are, and what they do BEFORE we approach them and seek their support. We must be other-oriented and do our homework to know them BEFORE we approach them. We must always interact with respect, honor, and dignity and many other characteristics and character qualities and be positive NOT negative. We must respect and appreciate the things they are involved in whether we directly see a connection to us or not.
Remember, “where the money is the heart is” so we need to take the time to learn the heart of others who provide resources and learn to conform our understanding to theirs–NOT expect them to conform to ours (or any of the 3 million faith- and community-based organizations out there). Where the money is, the heart will be! Where the heart is, the money will be! We know the three variables that determine 72% of all positive funding decisions so focus on these: 1) do you know them or someone who knows them, 2) are you tied geographically, and/or 3) do you share with them a common field or topic of interest. So, these three variables will be paramount in our consideration and learning of the ones around us who are placed by God for our support.
IV. With “Funders or Donors?” We also must be a good steward of ALL that is around us. This includes Board Members, volunteers, our staff, the people we serve and many others: We must assess, document their good-faith efforts, appreciate them sufficiently, see to their time, document and leverage their time adequately, and remember that people who give know others who give. Giving may refer to money BUT giving may also be of another type of their resource like their time, energy, expertise, of their relationships and connections, encouragement, their vision, support, affirmation, of their inspiration, and much more! Funders or Donors are not cash cows and you should NOT look at them with dollar signs in your eyes!
We have many supporters around us already (Board Members, family, community, other churches). So, we must share our vision with the right people at the right time requesting the right resource. We must use gleaners, leveragers, and multiply talents with contacts, supporters, Donors and funders around us. We need to know who the foundations, community foundations, corporations, churches, individuals, State and Federal sources of funding are that are givers in our area. We must also learn how they think, what they look for, how they make decisions, when they give, and so much more.
Once you are ready to receive, have embraced these concepts, and weighed them openly on your heart and mind as you ask, seek, knock, and look to find and have a good foundation, there are only 3 simple parts to the process. . .
The Three Parts to the Process—The Primary Tools!
The first and largest part of the process is to have a written document that shares your vision in a convincing, compelling and concise manner. It should be focused on meeting needs of people and it must reflect your vision before sharing it with others. A full 65% of the effectiveness of the written document is content. What you say matters. However, a full one-third is format--not only does WHAT you say matter—but how you say it does as well. It should be other-oriented and focused on meeting a need around you. The written document accounts for 33% of the success of the overall process.
A written document must share your other-oriented vision in a convincing, compelling, and concise manner focused on those you serve. Then, you must engage, follow-up and follow-through!
Create a written piece that will enhance your chances of being considered and minimize an immediate rejection. In general, you must know what you know and be able to express it in writing without telling everything! Donors don’t want to know all that you know—NOR do they want to know what you want to tell them! They want to know what they need to know to make a decision. Your written document gets an average look of 18 seconds! Most fund-makers have supported specific areas enough that they know as much if not more than you about specified area of interest—remember, where your money is, your heart is. They don't want to know all that you know but they want to know that you know it.
With a very few exceptions, the written document will be a 1-page cover letter (we know what to put where in every paragraph, what to bold and underline and a lot more!), a 1-page Summary Page that gives them everything they need to legally cut a check, and a 2-page proposal with a simple Budget. Share your vision in 3- to 5-pages in an “other-orientation” focused on those you serve. We know everything needed to know about your written document including the font and font size to use, the preferred margins of the pages, and nearly everything physical for the written document. We know what to bold and underline, emphasize, how long the sections should be, etc. We know the fatal flaws to avoid in order to get into the door of consideration. We know the timing for submissions in order to be more likely considered, and almost everything else for the format and content to be successful in gaining a few minutes of extra consideration for an opportunity to share your vision with a decision-maker and get positive consideration. Your proposal will work with individuals, corporations, foundations, churches, and even the government's faith-based and community initiative. (You can receive the electronic file in MSWord of the template by request of Bob@ArtfulAskers.com.)
The research is the second step in the process. Stewarding the relationships around you, your Staff, your Volunteers, Board Members, corporations present and involved in your community, foundations in your city, state, region, and more. You probably have many contacts with funders BUT don't know what you don't know. Often, there is enough money within a 50-mile radius of you, your Board members, Volunteers and primary Supporters to meet needs. You can do your due diligence to know and steward the relationships around you. If you don’t have local credibility and support, you will never have support at all!
We know where to go at the public library and on the internet to find the research of prospects and even know the three variables to look for that account for 72% of all positive funding decisions. This research accounts for 25% of the success of the overall process. We believe and teach that we already have enough contacts with first- or second-generation relationships to fund everything that God has called us to do. However, there are other websites that will give you access to many topic-related funders for a small, fair, annual price. There are many websites that focus on money available to help the poor and needy, children and youth from underserved populations, etc. BUT you must learn the words they are currently using in the industry. YOU must gain the knowledge to seek and find them! And the internet and smart phones have made it MUCH easier to search and find these! Search and find them, learn all about their interests and ask if you align with them or not, peruse each funders’ 990 if you can to see what types of groups they have supported and for what interests, and find out their geographic focus, contact information, deadlines for submissions, and much more. But again, with our actions–NOT the religious words.
We encourage you to follow the template we suggest you use for individual approaches and “record your vision, inscribe it on tablets and prepare to share it.” Once you get it in writing, share it with your Board Members, staff and current supporters and ask for feedback—remember, iron sharpens iron! Get your document ready IN PRINT in a template BEFORE DOING ANYTHING ELSE! Now, about online submissions. . .
According to the research, in the past 10 years, we have reached a point that 90% of grant proposals to corporations, foundations and wealthy benefactors are requested electronically! However, the same research suggests that as much as 72% of online submissions are composed as they are entered. If you are “composing something” as you are entering it, is it as well thought out and written the best as it possibly could be? Of course not! We want you to write it out and have people help you make it better BEFORE even considering doing anything it. Then, when you are going to mail it or hand deliver it, it is ready BUT if you choose to submit it online, you can cut-and-paste it from your written document into their online form and then tweak it as needed to make it better!
Foundations, corporations, Community Foundations and other Donors may have different forms for you to fill out, different boxes and requests, or a single unified form they require for anyone in their state. This is not uncommon. However, if you complete the template we teach you to use, you can generally combine categories or sections or change some verbiage to meet the requirements BUT at minimum, you have thought out and previously written your thoughts and responses—you are not composing it as you are entering it! (Many research files and suggestions are available at www.ArtfulAskers.com or by request of Bob@ArtfulAskers.com.)
The third part and final step in the process is engaging in the relationships whether through rejection, approval, large gift, widow's mite, or whatever. More than 50% of the success of the overall process is developing the relationship with a funder through either an approval OR rejection: Ten lepers got what they wanted but only one returned to show sufficient appreciation–and they got what they wanted! Be grateful, appreciative and expressive! Learn to write “sufficient Thank Yous and learn the current requirements funders have for documenting their giving so you can follow it. Again, gain the knowledge and us it to your advantage. But don't show appreciation if you don’t mean it–that is manipulation.
Learn to feel and express honest appreciation and compassion through Thank You notes and Thank You Anyway notes. Then, WRITE MANY! Find excuses to write them!
When you get money or other support, be appreciative and expressive! Write an immediate Thank You note within 3 to 5 days and then engage in an appropriate expression of appreciation. Appreciate the $50 dollar gift AND appreciate the $100,000 dollar gift. You don’t have to do the same things for everyone BUT develop a process and follow it and BE grateful and express it! According to the research, only 50% of financial awards made receive an “I.R.S.-sufficient Thank You note.” How do you think that makes the Donor feel to NOT receive a sufficient Thank You? A sufficient Thank You is a one-page note on letterhead that is a tool for receipting, a Thank You and a donor-education letter. (You can request a sample or template electronically from Bob@ArtfulAskers.com). It contains appropriate language for the I.R.S. and everything Donors are required to document for their records (your E.I.N., a legal signature of receipt, etc.).
But what about when you are rejected and don't get what you want? When you are rejected, take the time to be gracious and appreciative for the consideration and thank them for what they are doing to meet the needs of people in your community even if you don't financially benefit. Taking the time to write this Thank You Anyway note, if you really mean it, will open an opportunity many times. But it is the right thing to do. And when you do the right thing, your stature grows in their eyes! (You can also download a Sample Template of this letter from our website.)
Then, engage in a more formal follow-up and follow-through 30 days later involving a phone call and another interaction with them. This 60-second engagement will let them know you are serious BUT will also allow you to ask for a referral without being pushy. Then, allow you to write them a Thank you for the time on the phone, too. Remember, only half the people they are financially supporting are writing them a sufficient Thank You and receipt and only 4% to 7% are writing them anything when they are rejected. Less than 7% of in-kind gifts are sufficiently acknowledged. And here you are engaging them and being grateful, appreciative and expressive every step of the way. At some point, you will impress them with your tenacity, stick-to-it-iveness and consistency.
Building the relationship this way is 50% of the success of the overall process and we know the steps to take toward sufficient appreciation whether you are rejected or approved. I walk you through some of the key considerations of building this relationship and help you understand how to develop healthier habits and practices.
Most of all, find a mentor, coach, Advisor or helped—someone who knows the changes in the industry and keeps up on the latest information in the industry or can help you hone your skills. Find someone who doesn’t charge a lot of money and has the heart to transfer knowledge and help you learn.
In summary and conclusion, here are the important things to know about current philanthropy:
1. There are many funders BUT your approval will almost always start with rejection. Develop relationships with people around you, your staff, your Board, your Supporters, your Volunteers, your community.
2. Money and resources are available: You must learn how funders think, who they are, how they speak and who they give to.
3. Learn the process, get ready to receive, know your mission, calling, and purpose, write it down, share it, and create and steward the connection.
4. Know how to leverage (leveraging, gleaning, multiplying talents) and all that is around you—cash and in-kind.
5. Cooperate and collaborate in your organization, your industry, your community, your region, etc. Then, share!
6. Have a written document that is convincing, compelling, and concise and other oriented—3-to 5-page maximum!
7. Know the connections and relationships around you—first- and second-generation.
8. Intentionally and purposefully engage to build relationships through other-orientation.
9. In approval, be grateful, appreciative, and engage in expressing sufficient appreciation to build a relationship.
10. In rejection, be gracious, grateful, and engage in expressing sufficient appreciation to build a relationship.
11. Teach others what you know and help them to learn the process in meeting needs.
12. We must cooperate and collaborate with each other as we seek to meet needs in our common communities. Remember the ‘tide effect?” If we can work together and our tide rises, everyone around us will rise with the tide!
13. Be open and help replicate success with other communities and in other states, too, empower their success and tide effect.
Questions, Additional Information or Need Help? Email us!
Please remember: Bob is an educator NOT a consultant. He will help you gain the knowledge, learn what to do and how to get ready, help you with a written document, engage in the process and help you to help yourself. He will help you to be successful such that you can help yourself and others, too!
Author’s NOTE:The title of this article is what it is because every principle utilized can be found in the Bible. Trying to be transparent and honest of the source and explain why they worked—because The Bible worked, I wanted to take the focus OFF of myself as an individual, grant-writer, researcher, nonprofit executive, entrepreneur, writer or whatever and give credit where credit was due. These are NOT my ideas nor a process I created! Although all the principles are still based in Scripture, the principles work whether you are a religious person, a faith-based nonprofit or not. If you are meeting the needs of the poor, widow, orphan, less fortunate, or other needy in your community, the process works! You don’t have to be a religious person, but you will need to learn to record your vision, share it with others, glean, leverage (multiply talents), being grateful and expressing it appropriately, stewarding or creating a relationship and many other principles (all of which are found in Scripture). Please don’t be offended nor threatened, just be assured that the process works because the principles work—and learn them! “Our Daddy owns the cattle on a thousand hills!” Even “the wealth of the wicked is laid up for the righteous!” And if He provides for the sparrow, “how much more does He love us!”