In talking with many funders, and tapping into broader funding networks, I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to any of this. Instead of thinking about a broad-brush-approach, we’re advocating for dexterity. Instead of choosing one strategy, have three (ask) scenarios and then be able to maneuver toward the appropriate scenario(s) with any individual funder.
Here is the sorting framework (PDF download) we’ve been using.
Impact: Start with disruption and innovation.
Impact drives Income. Before we talk about funding let’s get straight (strategically and then in terms of messaging) about how your impact, or the need for your impact, has changed. Your ability to raise funds successfully assumes that you have made hard decisions (if applicable), prepared scenarios, and generally optimized for impact in this environment.
The scenarios here are too numerous to catalog but would include words you see flying around like: restructure, respond, pivot, pop-up, scale-up, or ‘getting lean’.
At a minimum, every funder is asking (rightly), “How has COVID-19 impacted your work?”
Income: Then sort and package your funding needs (asks) into one, two, or three buckets.
What is required right now is dexterity. I can’t tell you when a category of funders will turn toward recovery, I can only say that you should be able to speak about your impact and opportunity TODAY (in a response time) and TOMORROW (in a recovery time). It’s also going to be helpful to put both of those in the context of TIMELESS needs.
As you’re talking to funders, I think we need to be prepared to talk about what you’re seeing in all three of these lenses and then have funding opportunities — or the ability to contextualize your funding needs — around all three lenses.
Implications and reminders:
You don’t need a COVID program; you only need a COVID-context for your discussion. It could be as simple as, “This is what we’re seeing and where we need the most help, today.” Or, it could be more elaborate such as, “Our mission has always been about X, in this time we’ve reconfigured to do X in this way.”
Don’t make decisions for your prospects. Don’t predetermine their interest, affinity, or timing. Some funders are trying to double-down right now. Others are trying to think 4-5 moves ahead. And, I think we’re far enough along in this crisis that most are thinking about today AND tomorrow.
An organization focused on a recovery opportunity does not need to be hibernating right now. You can be leading around recovery. Eg. “When we’re ready to start thinking about recovery it’s going to be really important that we think about x and that’s why we’re having conversations today about y.”
This strategy will maximize funding when timing is right for everyone. I remain very optimistic that overall funding and philanthropy for the social sector — when all is said and accounted for — will be higher overall over the next 18 months. What that looks like to your organization is most likely going to be a reflection of your impact in the COVID-context and your preparedness to speak to that impact at the right time.
Last week I wrote about the Five Mindsets To Help You Think in “These Crazy Times.” Building on that email, we started offering ‘Sorting Sessions’ – conference calls to help our past clients, Boot Camp alumni, and WOW readership sort out everything. We will continue offering sorting sessions to help social sector leaders on a no-cost, first-come, first-serve basis. To sign-up just email me directly firstname.lastname@example.org).
In this post, I’m sharing selected concepts and framing people have found helpful.
These nuggets can appear to be unrelated and disjointed. However, they all speak to CONTEXT. Context is what gives meaning to everything. One common thread to all the advice we’re giving is to examine everything in a new – and changing – context.
Disruption Innovation is the context for impact. Clayton Christensen introduced the notion of Disruptive Innovation. But right now we’re all seeing something different: Disruption Innovation. Entire business models (for-profit and not-for-profit) were disrupted overnight. Look at the disruption + innovation happening in food-service-delivery, online education, and late-night television – last week alone!
I truly believe these next six months will be the most innovative of my lifetime.
Disruption + Innovation. Depending on what you’re doing and what day it is, this can be fear-filled, or hope-filled. It can be surrender or starting anew. I think all emotions and reactions are normal right now.
Disruption. Much of the world is not like it was two weeks ago. This doesn’t mean we should stop fundraising, for instance, it just means that everything lives in a new and still-changing context.
Innovation. There is enormous hope and opportunity for the work we do, for the populations we serve, for the problems we’re solving. New tools and new norms will emerge in the coming months. Be ready to test new ideas… move fast… inspire others and be inspired by others as humanity innovates together.
COVID-19 *is* the context for funding.
When you talk to funders, don’t wonder if COVID-19 is going to come up. It will.
Generally, our advice around a fundraising approach has been falling into a few categories. (There is no one-size-fits-all. I was on a call this morning where I encouraged someone to use these as three different approaches for three different prospects!)
Urgent Impact: The ‘Now More than Ever Category.’
If you’re in relief services, helping vulnerable families. Don’t be bashful. Engage. Ask. NOW MORE THAN EVER!
Timeless Impact (but not COVID urgent)
Whereas our usual ForImpact mantra is JUST ASK, there are times this week when we’ve said, “JUST CONNECT! Don’t focus on the close, or trying to figure out how to secure that gift by April 20. Time is standing still right now in the world of the funding conversations you’re having. Funders will be there for you, just let them sort everything out.”
We’re not saying you can’t close gifts. In fact, we have many examples of closed gifts from this week. What we’re saying is, right now – this week/month – let the close come to you. If you need help with a specific language around this, sign up for a sorting session. I’ll also try to write up several examples on our blog at forimpact.org.
Remember: “Sales is not a business transaction. It is first and foremost the forging of the human connection.” – Bob Burg
Recovery Opportunity Impact.
I spoke with one entrepreneur who runs an ‘innovation lab’. He wanted to know how he should talk to funders about helping him to make his Q2 goals happen. My advice was blunt. “Don’t. Throw those goals out the window. Take a deep breath. We’re going to need you on the other side of this. Today, your quarterly numbers are just noise. Tomorrow, I can’t think of a sector, a city, or a company that won’t stand to benefit from the impact you can provide.”
We put together strategy and messaging to connect with funders today in the coming weeks/months, but we’re focusing our conversations around the ‘recovery opportunity impact’, not urgent crisis. The strategy doesn’t stop fundraising activity; it’s just realistic and prudent.
Shared Humanity is the context for all-of-us.
Impact Drives Income is our point of view. It’s also a great way to think about managing a conversation (with a funder) starting with the impact and then driving toward the income. During this time, we’ve been advising social sector leaders to envision a ‘shared humanity’ – transcendent to Impact and Income. Start with that. Then you can move into how your organization is having an impact IN this shared humanity and – in the COVID Context – talk about funding.
I’ve probably been on the phone with 30 different nonprofit leaders in the past 30 hours. It’s interesting that they say something like:
“It’s a really interesting time.”
“Wow, things are really crazy.”
Everyone is trying to pick the right words…. the right words so that they are not too fearful… and the right words so that they are not too cavalier.
Right now, I want to share some mindsets I’ve been using for myself and with nonprofit leaders. I think they’ve proven helpful as a way to sort out scenario planning and action… sanity and opportunity.
Before I share the mindsets, I need to share a metaphor, which I quickly latched onto, offered by Sasha Dichter (THANK YOU, SASHA!) about information and experience waves.
Sasha writes, “One thing I’ve noticed over the past week is that we’re all on different Coronavirus waves. Each wave is separated by a few days or maybe weeks, and each brings with it a different experience of how real, and close, this pandemic is. I expect that what’s going on in Westchester County, where I live, is a lot like what happened in Northern Italy two or three weeks ago, and that what we’re experiencing will soon happen in other parts of the country.”
I’m fielding calls from all over the world and the first thing I try to understand is which ‘wave’ the other person is riding.
Last week I was in Florida speaking to 150 people and many people were still shaking hands. This week I was with a smaller group closer to home (Ohio) and nobody even thought for a second about trying to explain the social awkwardness or uncertainty of shaking hands. It was full-on social distancing. Those realities are one to two waves apart. I also talk to people in parts of the country where the Coronavirus is just a news story; they’re two to three waves behind.
This wave framework has allowed me to start to build out five different mindsets. I’ve been working in this world by deliberately shifting between five minds:
Current Wave. In terms of sorting things out there are a lot of unknowns. So it’s been helpful to say to others, “The conversation we’re having at this moment is in the context of the current wave.”
Fourth Wave. The ‘fourth wave’ scenarios are tough to talk about because others can perceive them as fear-mongering, especially if they’re two waves behind or ONLY focused on the current wave. But we NEED to be preparing for the fourth wave, and then we need to hope that all those scenarios are not needed.
For example, internal to our business at For Impact: We’ve been preparing virtual training scenarios for weeks. We’ve been expecting key conferences to get canceled, and we are prepared for how to help nonprofit leaders when everything goes virtual once an organization or a community is on some kind of lockdown.
It has really helped to slip back and forth in thinking between waves. It’s been helpful to say, “Bear with me, but this is a fourth wave conversation we need to have.”
Today’s Work. Thinking (about waves and scenarios is essential!) but there is also work to be done TODAY. ‘Today’s work isn’t about a ‘wave’. It’s about what’s in front of us RIGHT NOW. There are hungry people who need fed at lunch – right now. Or more simply, there might be something like payroll which needs to be run (today’s work performed). Those actions need to happen. And so this is a third mindset: “I am working on what’s in front of me at this moment and I’m going to give it my/our all!”
The Other Side. I have no idea what’s going to happen. But I know this: at some point, the waves will stop coming. I have found myself coaching other leaders to stop thinking — in this mindset — about the waves, and jump to the end.
“What will be needed of your team?”
“What will your community need?”
“How will we have the most impact, once we are on the other side?”
On the other side of this, I know…
Funders will actually step up more than ever. In 2008-09 I remember meeting with a private equity partner and asking him, “How are you doing in this economy?” He LAUGHED and said, “We’re gobbling up companies at pennies on the dollar.” That year, ‘charitable giving’ went from around $306Billion in the US to $303Billion. The stock market tanked 40% and in ‘Charitable Giving terms’ it was not even what the stock market would consider a correction.
The big-time philanthropists will double- or triple-down on helping others and the human spirit will show up as it always does. We are already hearing stories from the field of philanthropists accelerating their gifts, and taking other actions to ensure the continuing health of the non-profits they support. For example, I spoke with a wonderful philanthropic leader and dear friend yesterday and she said, “While it’s socially responsible to be canceling these events, it is our (social) responsibility to help these organizations now more than ever. It’s just going to take us a few weeks to figure out what that looks like.”
Humanity (A more meta fifth mindset).
The comparative mythologist, Joseph Campbell, observed that it is the ‘fight against something’ which is what brings cultures together. As we look around the past few years this has been used in a divisive way around the world — creating partisan politics and tribes. Strongly uniting small cultures. This crisis has the potential to unite more of us around common causes; it all depends on each of our responses.
People will begin to say, “Hey, science DOES matter!”’
We will rise above partisanship.
We will unite in a way that gives us a chance with even bigger challenges, like climate change.
Trying to sort everything coming at me was really getting to be a challenge. I needed to stop and have a way to THINK and WORK in the now. To THINK and PREPARE for the just-in-case. And then I have made a habit of jumping to the CERTAINTY of tomorrow… what we can control in terms of the IMPACT and OPPORTUNITY after these waves subside.
For Impact exists to help nonprofit leaders and social entrepreneurs overcome their greatest barriers to impact. For us, that principle means helping them FUND their impact, no matter what. It also means building the STORY for funding, and funding the PEOPLE to make that happen.
Today, I think the biggest thing the For Impact team can do is to be available as a sounding board for our clients, alumni and readers to help them sort and plan. Over the past 24 hours, we’ve put together something we’re calling SORTING SESSIONS. These are coaching sessions at no charge to help sector leaders sort out what’s happening today and to be ready for tomorrow. You are likely having these conversations in various settings already. If you would like our help facilitating via frameworks and with our perspective on what is going on in the sector, let us know.
Examples of conversations we’re having:
“We are travel restricted and we’re supposed to be having funder conversations. What should we do?”
“We are canceling our annual meeting. How should we engage with our attendees?”
“I have a big ask scheduled with a funder next week. Should I offer to cancel? Keep it? Move to video? Do I ask like nothing is going on?”
To sign up for one of these, just email email@example.com or one of our coaches.
This is a simple framework we first started to develop 25+ years ago with private schools as a way of asking annual fund supporters to continue to impact students TODAY while investing in priorities that would benefit the school TOMORROW. (It was a way of ensuring continued participation in the annual fund AND making a special gift for a bricks and mortar project.)
Over the years we’ve continued to tweak how we apply the framework to benefit almost any funding initiative, for any sized organization, in any sector. It’s now a versatile tool to help you navigate a funding conversation and maximize a relationship.
Use this framework to:
Get numbers on the table. A big part of success is simply getting numbers on the table for dialogue and engagement. In our experience funding conversations happen 40% more frequently simply because the numbers are there — in front of you and the prospect, on a sheet of paper. They can’t be avoided! Even if you’re insecure the funder will often take over and start talking about ways they can help.
Predispose for later ask(s). Let’s suppose you have a campaign or a special project on the horizon. You can visit TODAY and start discussions about what they might fund TOMORROW.
Talk about Planned Giving, often! With most organizations planned giving is a ‘someday maybe’ idea. Or, we only discuss it when someone requests information. Using this framework you can
Maximize relationships using the Triple Ask! (Watch the explainer video above for more.)
Reframe Annual Fund / Capital Campaign. Historically organizations asked supporters to make an annual contribution. Periodically they would organize a special ‘capital campaign’ for special needs. While there might be circumstances where this is still a good strategy, many organizations either should ALWAYS be in campaign mode or, at least, ALWAYS be funding using a tomorrow and tomorrow funding model to fund operations + special projects.
Applying the framework:
Keep it simple! You don’t have to use this framework. It’s just a helpful tool. If you’re raising money for one project, or a special campaign, don’t get too cute by trying to adopt the framework to your presentation.
For younger organizations: you might benefit from talking about impact TODAY and TOMORROW (you might not need FOREVER).
Three ways to think about TODAY/TOMORROW/FOREVER. I walk through these in the explainer video above.
I’m constantly trying to get people to think about what it means TO
ENGAGE! I think we’re taught how to present, but we’re not always
taught how to engage.
I define engagement as a dynamic within a relationship that holds attention, heightens interest and motivates action.
Think about a movie or a performance you’ve attended where you were
engaged and left with that feeling of being present and excited. Think
about how that engagement consumed your mind! Now think about how you
felt the next day.
I believe engagement has a 12-hour half-life. That is, if we could measure engagement in some way, it seems to dissipate by half every 12 hours.
This means that within 24 hours of your visit the prospect has an engagement level at 25% of what it was after your visit.
THINK ABOUT THE IMPLICATIONS!
As salespeople, we need to be making engaging presentations and asks.
And, more importantly, we need to pounce on timely follow-up. It’s
better to follow-up immediately, even if it’s 60% of your best effort,
than it is to wait three days. At three or more days you’re just working
to recapture engagement.
“Without an action plan, the executive becomes a prisoner of events.” – Peter Drucker in What Makes an Effective Executive
Drucker goes on to write, “The action pan has to become the basis for the executive’s time management. Time is an executive’s scarcest and most precious resource. And organizations — whether government agencies, businesses, or nonprofits — are inherently time wasters.”
Today we reflect on the life and message of Martin Luther King Jr. Here are some nuggets about the I Have a Dream speech. Appropriately, it comes up again and again, in studies of metaphor, engagement and story.
Dr. King finished writing his speech at 4am, just hours before his address. It was originally entitled, “Normalcy, Never Again.”
King used over FIFTY metaphors in his speech! Contained therein was was an extended and powerful frame of the biblical struggle for freedom and the American struggle for freedom.
“I Have a Dream” represents a CHANGE of story to INSPIRE and LEAD! In The Story Factor, Annette Simmons writes that Dr. King’s refrain offers a positive vision that, “inspires generations to change their story from “I have been oppressed” to “I have a dream.””
The original and prepared speech did not contain the phrase, “I Have a Dream!” 11 mins into the speech gospel singer Mahalia Jackson — sitting behind Dr. King — shouted “Tell ’em about the ‘dream,’ Martin, tell ’em about the ‘dream’!”
Dr. King recalled that he ‘just decided’ to go with it! In front of millions, he started RIFFING!
There is no substitute for authenticity. When I listen to Dr. King’s speech I believe I can FEEL his heart kick it up a notch with each riff. (Dr. King’s final speech ended up being DOUBLE the length of his prepared remarks.)
– Story recounted in Originals by Adam Grant, and Shortcut.
A Funding Rationale is — simply — why you need the funds and what they will do for your impact. More completely, the arrival at a compelling funding rationale is part messaging and part cost-accounting. A funding rationale describes the funding-need, or ‘ask’, in terms of a compelling project, program, or priority-initiative.
Another way to explain funding rationales is in the context of a sales operation. If you’re committed to sales — as a system for fundraising — then the funding rationales are your ‘products’ and ‘services’ – they’re the compelling things you have to sell — around your IMPACT! A funding goal without a strong funding rationale is like having a quarterly sales goal without any specific products to sell.
Examples of funding rationales:
A Program: Programs are elements of your ongoing impact. Often, you have line-items in your budget for programs — or you have a regular practice of cost-accounting your personnel across programs. How you package and frame the program (for funding) is the funding rationale. This could be:
In terms of ongoing support/subsidy.
Funding a unit of impact. (Eg. It requires $1000 to underwrite the gap for each school.)
Around a time-based goal/outcome. This describes where you are taking the program over the next 3-5-10 years, for example.
A ‘Project’: While ‘project’ can have many applications, we commonly refer to incremental and time-based expenditures as ‘projects’. Examples:
Prototyping a new program.
A building project.
The focus should be on framing the project in a compelling way so that it supports the vision, or offers a compelling vision in-and-of-itself.
Note: Most organizations are familiar with ‘projects’ since the grantmaking world favors project-related-funding.
A Priority Initiative: Priority Initiatives are like mini-campaigns within the context of your total vision. They enable you to package (or bucket) a number of projects and/or programs and build a narrative (typically self-evident from the way the priority initiatives are named/framed — and goals are described).
A Vision (a ‘campaign’ as a project): You can package a total funding need in terms of the vision and the outcome. The vision-as-a-project works best when the project and vision are one-and-the-same, like a new hospital. For more complex plans, the vision is more likely to serve as a container for multiple funding rationales.
Bonus: The examples above speak to the cost-accounting/budgeting approach. There are select times when a funding rationale can be effective when built around the role of the funder’s involvement (eg. leadership, legacy and transformation).