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6 Strategies to Secure Foundation Funding

For nonprofits, foundation grants are a highly competitive source of financial support, with the ability to provide significant financial resources. These steady sources of income are more important than ever for smaller organizations, especially due to the cancellations of in-person fundraising events and the increased cost of shifting virtual or remaining in-person. Here, we have a list of 6 strategies for nonprofit professionals to secure sustainable foundation funding to support their mission.

Strengthening Foundation Relationships

Strategy #1. Survey the Foundation Landscape

Educate yourself on new trends of the ever-adjusting world of foundation funding. Given the ongoing interconnected crises of 2020, many foundations are shifting their funding priorities. The three most common themes that we’ve noticed are emergency funding for basic needs (e.g. food, housing, health), more funding for structural equity (e.g. racial justice, systemic injustices, representation), and a focus on collaboration. Examine the work being done by other organizations in your community – where does your nonprofit fit into the wider ecosystem? How do you stand apart? How can you align your work to these emerging focus areas? Are there opportunities for collaboration? When in doubt, ask your program officer about how their priorities are changing.

Strategy #2. Cultivate Personal Relationships

As with all major donors, now is the time to engage foundation staff one-on-one. Personal relationships with program officers are vital during shifting priorities. If these individuals know you, then they’ll be more likely to advocate for you when the time comes to make difficult financial decisions! Share programming updates more frequently and before you make public announcements – this will make them feel like a priority and keep your organization at the top of their mind. Reach out to simply say thank you, demonstrating your appreciation for their past support. Invite them to attend virtual events, which are more convenient to hop onto than in-person events used to be. Even if they don’t join, they’ll feel engaged by the invitation and will be reminded of your ongoing programming.

Strategy #3. Ask for Non-Financial Support

Foundations can provide more than just funds! Take advantage of their expertise, by inquiring about pro bono legal consulting, financial counseling, or general strategic advice. Foundations are also excellent networking hubs, able to connect you with a wide variety of funders, experts, and opportunities you might not be able to find through an internet search. For ongoing grants, consider asking for more administrative flexibility given the unprecedented current circumstances. For example, they might choose to extend or eliminate reporting deadlines, or allow you to use previously restricted funding for general operations purposes.

Strategy #4. Paint a Picture about Your Impact

During the 2008 Great Recession, one major shift was toward larger, but more competitive grants that leaned toward data-supported impact. When writing grants, we recommend taking a Past-Present-Future approach. This is a time of flux, so you need to cover your bases: traditional programming, new programming, and reopening plans. Use concise yet striking statistics to demonstrate your traditional programming’s effectiveness back during “normal” times – but be careful to not linger too long on the past. Then, explain how your organization has been addressing the ongoing crises, either through a scale-up of your workload or a completely novel programming pivot. Tell specific and memorable anecdotes about your clients’ challenges, your virtual programming’s successes, and your team’s innovation and resilience.

Strategy #5. Plan for an Uncertain Future

Even though nobody knows what the world will look like 6 weeks from now, foundations still want to know that you’re planning ahead. In grants, lay out your tentative strategy and budget for the next 6-12 months – even if you’re not sure! Include contingency plans for possible major variables (e.g. the presidential election, resurgences of social distancing mandates, the 2021 spring school semester) and explain how you would respond and adjust accordingly. Explain the financial implications of your new normal. What resources will you need: equipment, skill sets, software? Will your new strategy require fewer staff, new staff, or restructured staff? Be able to explain to foundations specifically how their financial support will drive your action now and in the future.

Strategy #6. Demonstrate Urgency

A foundation needs to know you are making a difference now, not just in the future post-COVID-19. Demonstrating your work’s urgency is always a crucial element to grants, even during non-crisis fundraising. Make the case about why your program needs funding now to address increased needs, emergency needs, and future needs. Explain your nonprofit’s place within the greater, long-term context of your community; you may need funds now to begin making shifts that will ensure that you will still be around to support clients during the post-crisis recovery.



8 Tips on Running a Nonprofit Virtual Board Meeting

Board engagement is a perennial challenge, and that was before COVID-19. We know that board meetings can be an important point of engagement – but with meetings remaining virtual for the foreseeable future, how do we keep our boards engaged? In order to help answer that question, we have eight things to keep in mind when planning your next virtual board meeting.

Board Meeting Engagement

  1. Communicate more frequently. Given the constantly evolving situation, you need your board to have regular, up-to-date information to inform timely decisions they might need to make. Consider a monthly check-in with your board chair and/or an email update to the entire board. The more proactively you communicate with the board, the more they will feel that your organization is under control. Monthly executive committee check-ins and a monthly all-board email is a good place to start.
  2. Use video. Despite possible technical hiccups and Zoom-fatigue, video is necessary to engage your board. Onscreen video is better for dialogue, emotional connection, and keeping your board members actively engaged during meetings.
  3. Start with a Roll Call. The simple act of asking board members to introduce themselves and share a quick update at the beginning of your virtual meetings will make them more likely to participate throughout and feel more comfortable unmuting themselves.
  4. Ask for Ideas. Provide prompting questions to stimulate conversation if you encounter pauses – but be specific. Don’t ask the overly broad question “Does anyone have an idea for fundraising?” when what you really want to know is “Does anyone have an idea about how we can engage with medium-sized local businesses?” Also, don’t be afraid to directly call on certain people during the meeting by asking for their expert opinion or advice.
  5. Chat more. Encourage the use of the chat function in video meetings; it has a lower barrier to entry than speaking up and will solicit viewpoints from more members. The poll function is an efficient way to get a quick group “pulse check” on certain topics and may save you time as well.
  6. Delegate. Before the meeting, assign various board members to lead certain sections of your agenda. This will not only give you a break, but also get others in the habit of talking and gives them a sense of ownership over the topic. Plus, more voices make it likelier that others will jump in too.
  7. Use a Consent Agenda. Send materials a week ahead of time to the board, including some of the more straightforward items. These include items like the last meeting’s minutes or programming reports. Having read these materials ahead of time, board members only need to vote Yes or No before moving on, saving everyone time. Focus the majority of your conversation on 1-2 key points that need more discussion.
  8. Craft an Engaging Agenda How you organize, phrase, and relay information in the agenda sets the meeting’s tone and focus. Try to keep your meeting to 90 minutes in length, at most. Consider the following 1-hour structure:
    • Check-In/Consent Agenda: 10 minutes
    • Financial Update: 10 minutes
    • Discussion #1: 15 minutes
    • Discussion #2: 15 minutes
    • Wrap Up and Votes: 5 minutes
    • Executive Session: 5 minutes

With these eight tips in mind, your board will feel more engaged, informed, and ready to respond to potential future challenges your nonprofit faces.


7 Tips on Engaging Grassroots Donors Virtually

Grassroots donors are a valuable asset to your nonprofit’s community. Their individual donations might be humble, but in aggregate, they come together to make your organization’s work possible. It’s vital for smaller nonprofits to solicit their donors, but even large organizations lack the time to individually reach out to every single person. In this article, we have collected 7 tips on how your organization can engage your grassroots donors virtually, especially right now during COVID-19.

Grassroots Donor Engagement
Tip #1: Make a Plan
It’s possible that your organization’s original annual communication strategy has long since been rendered outdated. If your organization has not done so already, it’s time to formally plan a new communication strategy for engaging your grassroots donors. This plan should include which team member is accomplishing what task, which messages will go out where (email, snail mail, social media, etc.), your short-term goals for donor engagement, and messaging details to ensure cohesion across platforms.

Tip #2: Communicate More Frequently
Now is not the time to be silent. Even if your organization has paused programming, it’s important to stay present on your main channels so that supporters are reminded of your mission. Your messages can be brief, but should still be filtered through the lens of current events. We suggest sending emails to donors monthly with succinct updates and plans.

Tip #3: Focus on the Short-Term
When sharing information with your supporters, keep your updates limited to the next 2-8 weeks, depending on the level of change at your organization. Right now, because of widespread uncertainty in our community, people are struggling to imagine too far into the future. Your goal is to keep supporters informed but not overwhelmed with information.

Tip #4: Use a Realistic, Yet Hopeful Tone
Mastering the right tone in your communications is an art. Your goal is a sweet spot of realistic optimism without leaning too far toward despair (which leaves donors feeling helpless) or sugarcoating (which comes across as tone-deaf). During these difficult times, donors are looking for positive content, such as stories of resilience or neighbors helping others. Try focusing your content on your programming pivot’s creativity, work, and impact.

Tip #5: Know Your Audience
Consider the “user experience.” Who is your typical grassroots donor and what do they want right now? Are they feeling isolated and looking for community? Are they younger donors interested in social media? Are they politically frustrated and looking for a way to make a difference? Given those experiences, identify their likely “pain points.” What are they missing from your programming or fundraising? Let these questions guide your team when designing resources for donors to engage in, whether it be emotionally-compelling success stories, calls-to-action, or opportunities to connect with fellow supporters.

Tip #6: Stay on Brand
Although your organization has possibly been compelled to pivot, you should still remain recognizable to your supporters. Stay in your lane and remember your organization’s values and mission. Take the time to ask yourself “does it make sense that we are doing this or saying this?” Your donors should not feel confused; they should be reminded about why they gave to your organization in the first place.

Tip #7: Provide Call-to-Actions
Asking your donors to do something aside from just donating money is an excellent way to solidify their engagement. Your organization does not necessarily have to reinvent the wheel, depending on your capacity. You can either create or curate resources for them. Some ideas for actions include a social media challenge, virtual volunteer opportunities, at-home education resources, advocacy, or participating in live-streamed events.

7 Tips on Engaging Major Donors Remotely

With a shifting and uncertain fundraising landscape, keeping our major donors engaged is more important now than ever. But how can you effectively engage them when you are unable to connect in-person? In this article, we have collected 7 tips on how to effectively engage your major donors remotely during COVID-19.

Major Donor Engagement

Tip #1. Identify and Prioritize Donors

This first tip may sound obvious, but it may be deceptively tricky to pull off efficiently. With limited time and resources, your small nonprofit cannot possibly call everybody who has ever donated, so you’ll need to stratify your donor pool. (Moments like these make investments in CRMs all the more valuable!) Your first round of calls should go to your top 50 most generous donors. Second, prioritize the donors who usually give during this time of year. Third, focus on long-time donors. And finally, focus on first-time donors who gave over $250 during the last year.

Tip #2. Plan Your Schedule

One of the upsides of social distancing is that you no longer need to factor in things like transit time when planning donor meetings. In fact, you might be able to engage major donors more frequently than you normally could! Consider this: if you assign 3 team members 2 calls a day, your organization can contact 126 donors in only 3 weeks! Consider also offering “exclusive briefings” to groups of 20 donors or less; this will both allow you to reach more people faster and will foster a sense of community with your donors.

Tip #3. Value the Relationship

If we have learned any lessons from past crisis-fundraising, it is this: relationships matter. When nonprofits are soliciting funds, they must engage their major donor as a “whole person.” Conversations should feel relational — not transactional. People give to people! The first thing you should do in a meeting is to check-in with them and ask how they are doing; life updates will help guide you in how to engage them and make the ask more tailored. Depending on the nature of the particular relationship with this individual, share about your own life as well; these conversations should be a dialogue.

Tip #4. Communicate Your Changes

Keep your major donors in the loop! Explain any programming or operational pivots due to recent circumstances. Don’t paint an overly rosy picture of your challenges, but do focus in on creativity, your team’s work ethic, and the new impact on your community. Donors will feel more confident about their past donations when they learn about your short-term plans and feel more generous when they feel hope about the future. Consider sharing significant updates with select major donors prior to widespread public announcements.

Tip #5. Keep Meetings Focused

Your virtual meetings should maintain a human touch, but still be instilled with purpose and structure. Before beginning a meeting, write down the 1-3 major updates or points you want to share. Attention spans in virtual meetings tend to drop after 30 minutes, so plan on keeping meetings a reasonable length. After all, your donor’s time is valuable too.

Tip #6. Ask for Advice.

People love being asked for their advice, especially major donors. You can ask them for advice, contacts, feedback, or examples of what they have seen other organizations doing. If possible, try to tailor your question to their specific professional background or interests. When holding your executive briefings with larger groups of donors, use the poll-function to ask for feedback or advice. This makes the donor feel engaged, valued, and involved in your work.

Tip #7. Make Your Ask Specific

Just about everyone is being affected by the economic crisis related to COVID-19 to some degree. If your major donors are facing an uncertain financial future, you need to cut through that doubt with certainty. Ask for a specific amount of money that will support a specific project and why it matters now. Contextualize these asks with stories and perspectives of staff and/or clients. By painting a clear picture, your donor will have more confidence in giving, rather than feeling uncertain about where their money is going.


Five Tips on Engaging Your Nonprofit Staff

It’s been months since your team has met in person. As a manager, how do you maintain your team’s collaboration, focus, and productivity when everybody is scattered in their respective homes and experiencing their own unique challenges? Here, we have put together 5 tips for nonprofit supervisors to engage their staff during the ongoing pandemic.

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Tip 1: Layer Your Communication

Engage Individuals. All of your staff should have a weekly 1-on-1 meeting with a supervisor. During these check-ins, ask your staff about both their work deliverables as well as how they are doing working remotely. These individual meetings will be a key opportunity for in-depth updates on strategy, goals, and team progress. If possible, try to schedule them earlier in the week to set an engaged tone for the coming days.

Engage Groups. Schedule a weekly check-in with your entire team. If you have over 15 staff members, you may need to break this up into smaller groups since video calls get difficult past 12-15 people. (For larger group meetings, consider every other week or monthly instead.) During these group meetings, ask everyone for a brief personal or professional update. Consider scheduling them for Friday, since it will allow people to report on what they have accomplished during the week.

Engage Peers. This is an important time to tap informal leaders at the organization. Encourage your staff to still reach out to each other and keep up a sense of comradery and unity as a team. One way to do this is by creating projects which require two or more people to collaborate.

Tip 2: Create a Work Plan

Set goals. Set weekly and monthly goals for the team and encourage your staff to set daily goals for themselves.

Discover pain points. Ask your staff how work is going, what is difficult, and what they need to succeed in their current situation: more communication, technology, time? Ask yourself what is difficult for everybody and what is uniquely difficult for particular team members.

Plan ahead. Hedge your bets by assuming that remote work will continue for at least two weeks longer than whatever the current government plan is saying. This will give you leeway for transitioning back. For most teams, all staff will not be back in the office at normal hours for at least another two months.

Tip 3: Balance Outreach

Balance video calls with other forms of communication. Video calls grab attention better, but if overdone they can be overwhelming for staff. If a conversation in person would have lasted 5 minutes, then it shouldn’t last 20 minutes on zoom! Balance their use with traditional voice-only phone calls and emails.

Balance productivity with social engagement. Virtual meetings should be predominantly work-focused, with social elements incorporated. You can engage the whole person by asking how people are doing during team check-ins and doing something “fun” at least every other week.

Balance equality with flexibility. Although you should treat all of your staff as equally important team members of your nonprofit, you cannot ignore that different employees are facing different challenges. Some staff are working through challenges such as insufficient childcare, weak internet connection, unusual work hours, or loud and crowded workspaces. Be flexible in providing different team members different allowances.

Tip 4: Address Burnout

Breaks. A lot of staff are working more than ever and the work/life balance is blurred at the moment. Try to find opportunities to at least give small groups some time off or at least less pressure for a day.

Share Progress. As projects get accomplished or goals are met, share with the wider team. Give your team some “wins.” Shout-out specific people who have gone above and beyond.

Be Realistic. Some of us may need to be working more than 40 hours right now and some may actually want to. Model good behavior; for example, if you’re writing an email late at night, schedule it to go out on Monday morning. Ask staff how they are feeling, not how much they are working.

Tip 5: Bring, Leave, Start.

This new remote working situation does not have to be an exact replication of the office. In many ways, this new situation is like running a nonprofit startup again!

Bring. Make a chart of the top five elements of culture and top five projects. Consider which to try to bring into remote work. You may need to adapt, pause, or abandon certain projects.

Leave. Not everything has to continue as usual during this time. Feel free to cut some meetings and pause some projects as needed. Not all of your office life will translate to remote work or is even relevant or helpful anymore to our new context.

Start. You may have new workflows and cultural norms that need to replace the old during remote work. Much of this you will discover as you “muddle along.” Be flexible and willing to adapt to ever-changing circumstances!