THE BLOG

If Fundraisers Are Known As the Best Givers, Then Should Grantmakers Be Better Fundraisers?

02/18/2015 06:06 pm ET | Updated Apr 20, 2015

As a social worker who wanted to change the world, I became a fundraiser by necessity and a grantmaker by luck. I have been raising money for and granting money to organizations for twenty years. As a CEO of a large foundation who receives grant requests of all types year-round, it is my fundraising acumen that helps my staff and me make better grantmaking decisions. Every organization likes to see its money leveraged. For our organization, an example of a successful evaluation outcome is when a nonprofit becomes self-sustaining, whether through other funders or innovative earned income streams. Here are some basic fundraising tips for grantmakers in order to help their grantees be successful in leveraging their grants:

When a grantee comes to you for advice when they want to hire a development director, thinking that it will solve their budgetary needs, offer a different alternative. Instead of a salaried employee, build them a development program and office containing a plan, staff, equipment, and board and institutional buy-in. If you cannot fund this with your own grant, help the organization take this opportunity to talk to other funders. In essence, a grant for a three-year development director is a failure without these other aspects in place.

Challenge grants have always been a great way to entice grantees to get out there and fundraise to leverage your grant. However, sometimes the program isn't as alluring as the challenge itself. Fundraising is always more successful if the funder suggests other donors who may be interested in the mission of the grant. It is also helpful if the funder is available to be involved in some of the asks. Also, a more effective approach, if a donor is less interested in the program than the challenge, is to tell the donor that his gift may be matched two- to three-to-one. Sometimes that could tip the scale for someone who has a marginal interest.

We often get caught up in semantics, so we'll tell grantees, "We don't fund operating costs, only program costs." However, you need lights and a program director in order to run a program. Likewise, sometimes grantmakers will say, "We don't fund capital campaigns or bricks and mortar." If a hospital comes to you for capital funding, then you're not necessarily building them a building, you're building what's inside the building. You are helping them recruit the best doctors, purchase vital medical equipment, and kick-starting lifesaving new programs. Capital campaigns are in essence major gifts campaigns. Another example is that some foundations do not give to endowments. That is your prerogative, but you have to consider whether you believe in your grantees' mission, or are you too focused on methodology? All of these are really just major gift programs. The term "capital campaign" is used in order to lay out the mechanics to reach a specific goal, but grantees should really perpetually be in a "capital campaign."

We are all now in disaster grantmaking. Whether you agree with this statement or not and regardless of the type of support or mission focus of your foundation, disasters impact the environment, housing, social justice, advocacy, human services, medical issues, the elderly, children, education, and the economy. Essentially, all vulnerable populations in particular are impacted by disasters. I would challenge you to find one granting organization that does not support in one of those areas. Helping communities prepare, mitigate, and recover from catastrophic disasters - natural or manmade - is the job of every sector.

The funder stifles the creativity of a grantee when he or she becomes "The House of 'No.'" Learn this statement: "No, but..." Give creative alternatives, such as reframing how they approach the grant. Instead of asking for a building, they can approach the ask from the inside out: they are not building a hospital, they're building a new medical corridor or comprehensive services for children including a state of the art facility unparalleled throughout the state. Do not be so quick to say no before helping your grantees reframe their true case. I never let an organization fail because they have asked for the wrong thing.

Don't hold the organization hostage. Grantwriting should be 10 percent of the process of fundraising for a program for the grantee. If the grantee has to spend more than that on your grant tool, perhaps your foundation needs to consider a more nimble decision-making process.

Remember every single day that you have the best job. I leave my office every day and say "I have the best job in the world." My last name is not the same as the last name of the foundation for which I work. However, they trust me to advise them to invest their money wisely. If we find an organization's mission and vision to be compelling to our board as well as relevant and solution-focused to the needs in our community, then we are honored to partner with their mission. When nonprofits leave our office, many times they thank us for supporting and partnering with their organization and helping them carry out their mission. I know that funders often like to see it the other way around, but I usually tell these organizations that "quite frankly, our foundation would not exist without you."