For Impact


Top-Up Selling

Daily Nuggets | | Nick Fellers

You’ve probably heard of these traditional sales strategies: ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’.

But here’s a different way to think about strategy with foundations, specifically –  What if you sold TOP-UP?

Top-down selling focuses on the CEO, or leadership. Getting them on board with your cause or case. Bottom-up would focus on the rest of the foundation/organization. By way of example, this might mean analysts, or program directors.

Top-up selling is when you help the funder develop strategy, effecting greater impact, alignment and (often times) income.

Foundations are constantly reinventing strategy. I joke that airports and foundations are two things in a perpetual state of renovation. There are lots of reasons for this (and I’ll save them for another post.) For now, just know that it’s a tough job to run a foundation…

You’re giving away someone else’s money (or your responsible for shaping strategy so that they can give it away)…

The definition of impact is ever changing….

As are focus areas….

And further, how we (society) measure impact is not always clear. So, not only are the goals shifting, but often it’s not clear what the goal even is…

Let’s empathize with this challenge for a moment. It’s very often the case that YOU (the organization, the thought leader, the lifelong-devotee-to-this-challenge) know MORE about the problem than the head of the foundation that just decided to tackle this problem as of 2016…

This is where we (again) invoke the For Impact Point of View: Impact drives Income.  

Instead of trying to think about how to get grants, think instead about trying to offer your expertise… assistance… perspective to help the foundation to clarify strategy and have impact. This changes the approach. It may or may not result in funds to your cause, but it should result in more impact for society AND a much stronger relationship when it comes to funding.

Story from the field:

Several years ago we were working with a Senior Center. The organizational leadership had a combined 74 years of experience working in the sector and the Executive Director was a published author on the subject of ‘Aging in Place’.  

A new foundation had just been established to fund ‘aging in place,’ and the benefactors had hired their own Executive Director to create a strategy and run the foundation.

The Senior Center applied for a grant and had been rejected.

If we’re thinking about the INCOME, then this stings a little bit, and it is what it is. If we’re thinking about the IMPACT, it reframes the potential for the relationship.

So, here was our coaching to the Senior Center, “Go back and meet with the Executive Director. Ask her about her strategy. Don’t focus on your own funding. Genuinely offer yourself as a willing partner with YEARS of experience in this area to help.”

Long story short, it was a great approach. The foundation had a greater impact. AND, the ED of the Senior Center was introduced to the foundation benefactors directly. They became some of the largest financial supporters of the foundation AND lead funders to the Senior Center’s subsequent Capital Campaign.