For most people, the first-time fundraising for a non-profit is a daunting task. Many people start off “doing a non-profit” because they found a passion that they cannot help but do something about. It starts with a lot of passion, but the road ahead is long. Few people that start non-profit have adequate training for the road ahead. Being prepared for the process ahead helps.
More likely than not, you are starting a non-profit by yourself or with a couple of friends. You and they have full-time jobs, families and commitments, and the non-profit is not going to pay the bills – at least for a while. You have not scored a big deal, and a bunch of people do not owe you favors. Most people know only a few rich people, and it turns out that paper wealth is very different from liquid wealth.
There are a lot of books on successful fundraising, including how to write and apply for grants. Craigslist Foundation and others run conferences for non-profits. The Foundation Center and others have data. Books on successful grant writing do not tell you all that you need to know. There are very few mentors that will take you through the ups and downs are few and far in-between. It seems that everyone who is starting out is in the same position as you – frustrated.
The reality is that starting and building a successful non-profit for the first-time is in many ways more difficult than building a for-profit business. You have no profits to distribute. This means that you don’t have greed working for you. Although the competition may not be as intense as in for-profit, you have no intellectual property to protect yourself either. Furthermore, the product that you sell as a non-profit, even when you make the sale to a donor, changes in value depending on the financial position of the buyer at the time. Because its an affinity sale, the value of the same product varies from buyer to buyer.
The reality is that starting a non-profit is very hard work. You have told your family and friends that you are going to do it. You have managed the expectations with those that you are going to help. Two months in, you seem to have it a dead end. All the people that you thought you can count on are not there, or less helpful than you thought. You have learned that people who are paper rich as not necessarily cash rich. You have learned that it is not personal, and do not waste any energy reading into it any more.
There is no magic. The reality is that you have to be every bit as scrappy as an entrepreneur and more. Before the internet age, it used to take seven years to build a business. You should apply for foundation grants when they are a good fit, but don’t invest the resources in a spray and pray method. Second, find local businesses that give a little something to a lot of organizations, like your local utilities companies, and local businesses and community foundations, and apply. You will get their cash and their big name. You have to take the hundreds, and occasionally, the thousands, whenever you can get them. Third, find out who works for companies that have matching grants, and make sure that you take advantage of them. This is easy money. Finally, use the media to get you a presence for free. Run successful event and invite the media. These days everyone can pick up a camcorder, a camera or a pen and post their events on their website as well. Over the course of a few years, all these small grants and your presence will give you a much better chance at a successful large grant.
Applying for grant funding, especially ones for capacity building, is very competitive. Grant funding is a very scarce resource, and grant makers like to fund scrappy and successful non-profits just like private investors.
I wrote another article on success fundraising. http://bit.ly/bP1oEl Thank you.