Asking for Money for Your Nonprofit

In this short blog, I’ll share an introduction to some of the things I’ve learned in my years of working with donors who have a passion for the work of nonprofit organizations. Whole books are written on the subject, but I will address just a few fundamentals in my blog. This is fresh in my mind because our board at Rooftop 519 just asked me to share a presentation on how to appeal to a donor or potential donor for funding. Today’s post relates to my recent article on Starting a Nonprofit.

The population of the U.S. is far more generous than other people groups. This isn’t because of our wealth, as we have had a history of compassion and philanthropy for centuries. I believe our biblical foundations for philanthropy as a Christian nation has created an environment for blessing, and we are currently reaping the benefit of our forefather’s stewardship.

Americans donate more each year than Portugal, Greece, Finland, Ireland, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Australia, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Italy, Spain, Netherlands and China combined. We contribute exactly twice as much as the next most generous population: Germany. There are other statistics that show we have drastically declined in our generosity (percentages of per capita and GNI giving are both on the decline in the U.S.), but we are still a very generous people. We have contributed in excess of $300 billion each year for at least the last three years.

People give to their passions. The key to helping advance an organization or cause is connecting people to that organization around their passions. For instance, it’s easy to ask a carpenter who loves his church, his community and his children to volunteer his time and talent to build a swingset for the children of the church to use. It probably creates a lot of joy for the pastor or lay leader to ask the carpenter to donate some or all of the work necessary to complete the project. Couple his work with other people of complimentary passions (a gardner, a concrete worker, a sign maker and a landscape retailer), and you have the makings of a wonderful “barn raising” party that will create a tremendous amount of synergy and accomplishment.

In the same way, financial resources can combine to do something synergistically that cannot otherwise be done. This requires someone to present a case for support to a donor for a financial contribution. An appeal like this is never singularly minded (we never just want money). The best appeal is to someone who would fulfill their passions and receive joy and purpose in their gift, as well as their giftedness. Money should never be the central theme of any relationship.

The process of determining who to ask should always start with careful understanding of your organization’s Guiding Principles. Trying to connect a potential donor to something that does not match their passions is a miserable thing to do. Asking our hypothetical carpenter to design a flyer for the local kenel club, assuming he doesn’t use Photoshop and care much about dogs, is a totally unrealistic appeal. Likewise, philanthropists are limited in their investment interests.

Here is the Board of Directors Presentation I gave this Friday that explains the roles of directors and the CEO as it relates to funding your organization. The introduction is borrowed heavily from Dr. R. Scott Rodin’s “Four Theological Foundations for a Capital Campaign”.

Whether you are raising money for a mission trip or a youth sport, you have to understand that people give to people for people. The power of matching passions is usually connected to a story that gives a compelling illustration of your mission in action. In the powerpoint above, Dr. Rodin shares the five rights of an appeal: The right person ask the right donor for the right amount for the right project at the right time.

One of our core values at Rooftop 519 is “Relationship is the Prize”. Understanding the relational nature of fundraising helps to break away from transactional thinking. Fundraising is an essential part of any nonprofit, but it is never the primary reason for a relationship.

I would love questions about nonprofit fundraising in the comments section. I’ll do my best to respond quickly.

Vision Goals

Vision Goals

We’ve just presented the strategic plan for the next 2.5 years of Rooftop 519. There are a lot of back-stories about how Rooftop 519 formed, how God anointed our board members to their respective positions, and all of the legwork we’ve put in to making this movement glorify God, but for today, I’d like to tell you what we are agreeing to be.

I asked one of our board members (the youngest guy on the board by about 10 years), Ryan Hart, what he took away from today’s meeting. “We have the best foundation possible for this organization”. I’m pretty sure he’s right. I know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men, and I know what Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.”

We’ve poured over and prayed over our goals. I told my friends, this board of directors, that we would only give organizational resources to things that are within the goals, and we would guard against things that might sound like good ideas but are not in the plan. This conversation lead us to make a list of things that we called “inactive vision”; things that we might include in a goal at some point, but we’re not willing to put into action right now or possibly ever. We’ll review these things at our annual retreat in February (and possibly at other board meetings when needed).

Here, in draft form, are our goals:
1. We are engaging one million advocates to advance our cause by December 15, 2011.
2. Our model for inbound medical services is the premier model for bringing children from one country to another for severe illnesses and injuries by December 15, 2011.
3. We create the employee team and operational procedures that enables us to practice a standard of excellence in processes and efficiency, and develops a culture that lives our organizational values by March 31, 2011
4. We build the Crisis Response System for Complex Humanitarian Emergencies worldwide by January 1, 2013
5. We locate our corporate offices in a location that best suits the needs of Rooftop 519 and the constituencies we serve by May 1, 2013

My wife really cares about #5, and I don’t blame her. I’m figuring that it we focus on what the Lord has directed us to do, where we live will work out OK.

We don’t want to try to do too much. There are a lot of really good ideas, and some organizations who start out doing one or two things end up doing five, ten or a hundred different things. Jack of all trades, master of none? I like Jim Collin’s hedgehog. We do one thing, and we do it to the very best of our ability. What we do is vision goal #2.

Our inactive vision is as follows:
1. Sending medical teams abroad
2. Training other surgeons and medical professionals out of country
3. Sending children to other countries for treatment
4. Treating children in the U.S. for illnesses and injuries
5. Disease prevention education

I’ve already heard from a lot of people who make suggestions like, “What about kids here in the U.S.?” and, “What about helping more kids by sending doctors over seas?” While these are both noble, important and totally aligned with our mission, they are not something we can do right now. There are also a lot of really great people who are doing those things (from community children’s hospitals to Doctors Without Borders).

Our Board Chair, Greg Abell, made a comment today that really puts it in perspective. We need to spend more time on our knees than developing the plan. That’s what we’re attempting to do. If you’ve read this far, I would ask that you pray for us as we seek God’s direction, discernment and wisdom. God expects this of us. Broken kids are counting on us.