How Do Donors View Your Organization?

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Written by Alex Comfort, CFRE

Mountain Nonprofit Solutions

I have had a truly amazing experience for the past 22 years. I am on an advisory board that gives away $50,000 per year to six non-profit agencies in an 18-county area of North Carolina. The grants continue for two years after the initial grant for a total payout of $150,000.

The beauty of these particular grants is that they are intended to make a good nonprofit sustainable. They can use the money to get their first development director, hire consultants, or do whatever it takes to truly make them sustainable. Imagine how that would help your organization!

Every three years, we go through a long process to make our decisions. This year, we heard 12 verbal presentations as the final step in the process and chose six fortunate organizations to receive the awards. For me, as a professional fundraiser, it is a chance to sit on the other side of the table and see what a funder sees.

Here’s what I have learned over the years.

- Of the 50 to 80 proposals we receive in each three-year cycle, it is clear that 20% don’t even listen to our requirements.

- Another 20% request funding for programmatic operations, like most foundations generally fund. Our contributions are intended to provide sustainability for the organization, not programming.

- While I love the mission of the foundation, it’s excruciating to know we cannot fund the entirety of the other 60%.

How do we make the final difficult decisions? Here are some of the things we look for in an organization:

  1. Do we trust the organization's leadership? Do we have indications that the executive director and other key staff know what they are doing? Are they people we’d like to sit and have a cup of coffee with? Do they bring the enthusiasm we would bring to their mission if we were in charge?
  2. Is the board of directors involved and ready to “take the next step?” Are they invested? Do at least some of them know that their job is bringing in money as well as monitoring how it is spent?
  3. Will the ways they propose to spend our money really help them? Can we see reasons they are making a bad decision? Will it cause “mission creep” – over-extending them in ways that are not helpful?
  4. Will they be able to find funding for what they propose in some other way? Do they really need our money? Is it a useless investment for us?
  5. Is it too much money for them at this stage? Will they fall apart after three years when we stop our funding? Are they really poised to grow the way they think they are?

Please note that the first two things are the people involved. Your donors are just as interested in who you are as to what your mission is. Maybe that’s wrong, but we see our funding as a sacred investment. The point is that you need to really look at yourselves as non-profit professionals and make sure you appear impressive and trustworthy. IT TRULY MATTERS!

Also consider that your donors are focused on making a worthwhile investment. Just like you are careful using your own money, so are they. There’s no difference.

Finally, we try to look at the Big Picture. Will the community support who we are funding? Is our geographical diversity appropriate? Are we happy to have our recipients publicized?

Your donors are just people like you trying to do what is best. Try to think like your donor whether it be a foundation or an individual. 


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