The three questions we’re asked the most are:
- What are you hearing from funders?
- Can I engage funders right now?
- Are (insert category) of funders funding xyz?
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.