In episode 73 of Mission: Impact, Carol Hamilton and her guest, Cindy Wagman discuss:
Cindy Wagman is the President & CEO of The Good Partnership. She helps small nonprofits raise more money and reluctant fundraisers learn to love fundraising.
Important Links and Resources:
Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Cindy Wagman. Mission: Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I’m Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast we explore how to make your organization more effective and innovative. We dig into how to build organizational cultures where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers. All of this is for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
Cindy and I talk about how our social norms around not talking about money make it hard for folks to want to do fundraising, some of the common things that get in the way of success for new fundraisers, and how to start building your fundraising muscles.
Welcome Cindy. Welcome to Mission: Impact. Thanks so much for having me. I'd like to start each conversation with a question around what drew you to the work that you do? What motivates you and what would you describe as your why?
Cindy Wagman: Oh my goodness. I feel like that is a question that goes, it's answer starts so many years ago. I've always been. Involved in the nonprofit sector. I volunteered when I was in high school. When I was in university. I ran the women's empowerment committee and raised money for local women's organizations. It's always been what I would say defines my experiences. So my university, when I look back at university, it wasn't the academics, it was my community involvement. So it's always just been in my blood and I actually am one of the few people who, when I was in university and I said, I wanna be a fundraiser. Most people fall into it. But I knew, and I have really, my only professional job has been a fundraiser until I started consulting and now I help other fundraisers.
Carol: What was it that made you decide, I wanna be a fundraiser?
Cindy: So, It's fun. Funnily, I met two people who were professional fundraisers in the same summer. I never knew that that was an option growing up. It wasn't something we talked about. When don't you talk about what, what do you wanna do when you're older? So I was working and there was a regular. I worked in the cafe slash home decor store and there was a woman who was a regular. Dan is her name, and she came in and we would always chat and she was a fundraiser. And at the same time I started dating someone who is now my husband and his aunt was a professional fundraiser. So that same summer just hit me in the face.
Carol: Which is cool. That is, I would say definitely unusual. Trying to even think of what would have been my first connection to, I did work in one of my work study jobs at college, working in the development office or the advancement office. I don't remember what they called them. Typically I think I. I filed donor reports. Mm-hmm. It was back to paper, paper and files. Oh, I remember that. So I did a lot of alphabetizing. Oh God. I don't think I learned a lot more about fundraising, but while I was doing it, except of course that keeping track of who your donors are was important.
Cindy: I remember when we used to have to dial in the monthly donations and press the credit card information with the keypad on your phone, on your landline to process all the monthly gifts. So I've been, I've been doing this a while, but it's cool. I have to say one thing as I look at my story and how I came to this work. It makes me very happy to see my own kids think about what they wanna do when they're older. And aside from like be a world famous soccer player, my one son is very much he is like, I wanna, I wanna run a food bank, or I wanna do, he's already thinking about charitable work, which
Carol: That is awesome. My daughter after doing a gap year where she did AmeriCorps and did City Year, she ended up in the nonprofit sector and, and now is just moving over to the Phil philanthropy side in terms of giving away the money instead of mm-hmm. Raising the money. But,so, so you work with small nonprofits on their fundraising and most people. Don't decide right. When they're in college to become a fundraiser, or even when they, when they start an organization or they join an organization they may not, put their hand up or maybe they don't move back fast enough. Exactly. Why would you say it's so hard for people to do a fundraiser?
Cindy: So this is a huge problem in our sector because most people don't wanna fundraise, and it's not just in our sector. I always tell the story, like, and actually my husband tells a story because I didn't remember it as well as he does, but we were at a wedding, a friend's wedding, and we were just chatting with people and, talking to, oh, what do you do? And when I said the word fundraiser, it. People had a physical reaction and like that, it shut down the conversation.
And so we have these pervasive stories about fundraising and money, both in society in general, right? Like you, polite conversations do not include talking about money. And so that makes our jobs a lot harder. But then in our sector we have this sense. Money is taboo or even, I mean, there's so many different stories around this work, we don't do this work. It's not about the money. We should be. I hear a lot of people saying we should be volunteering our time. I've actually had people ask me, oh, so you're a volunteer, like you volunteer? So all of that adds up.
And I think increasingly we have these stories about what philanthropy looks like, which generally is becoming in the public eye a sense of really big donations, millions multi millions, hundreds of millions of dollars donated. And so I think. Means that for you and I and the rest of us like normal people, there's a further gap between what, how we see ourselves and our contributions as philanthropists or how we see our generosity in our commitments to our community. And so I, when I introduced myself as a fundraiser, aside from people just not wanting to talk to me they don't understand what it is, I. They don't see it as relating to their lives. They say, oh, you're just gonna ask me for money, or they ask if I'm an event planner, which I'm not. So, it’s vastly misunderstood. And our brains as we grow into the people that we are, our brains develop shortcuts and patterns that keep us safe and familiar. And what that means is often our, like, if we have these stories about fundraising being bad, our brain is gonna tell us you don't wanna do that. And so we don't.
Carol: And yet, If we really want to have functional organizations somebody's gonna have to bring in some revenue. So what, what, what do you, what would you say helps people move beyond their reluctance or move beyond some of those stories?
Cindy: Absolutely. So I would say that meeting donors is a big one, very often. Project our own feelings and beliefs onto other people. So I think things, stories like, our donors are so fatigued who wants to stay for soccer? Okay. So we project onto other people our feelings and beliefs about fundraising that we just talked about, how we develop those. And so we don't want to, we see, we write the stories for donors before we get to know them. And so getting to know your donors, meeting people understand. When I say I have a donor meeting, most people think of asking for money. But I just mean getting to know your supporters, individuals, corporations, foundations. Why do they care about the work that you're doing? That is actually the number one thing I recommend because as we get to know our supporters, we actually get to see that they're much more like us than we think. And they're not these like multimillionaires out there in the world, that everyday people care about what we do. They want us to be successful in our mission. And they're willing to contribute and that starts to change those stories we have in our brains about fundraising and its utility in the work that we do.
Carol: I like that point that you made about, people we read in the news about these big gifts, and I'm blanking. It was the wife of Jeff Bezos.
Cindy: Mackenzie Scott. Mackenzie Scott.
Carol: Mackenzie Scott. Right. So you, we read about her gifts. Right. And we think, well, we can't do that. So what's the point?
Cindy: Exactly, exactly.
Carol: And we think, but what do you say to people around, around that story?
Cindy: I mean, listen, Mackenzie Scott is doing some really cool things around Absolutely. Philanthropy and power to her. But That's not the lifeblood of organizations. And when I present to a board of directors or when I used to work within organizations, like the number one thing I would hear people say is we don't know anyone who can give. And because we're thinking, I don't know anyone like Mackenzie Scott or I think I think Harvard like as of today, just got a huge gift, like massive. They renamed a school after this donor. But it's like, of course we don't know people like that. I don't know people like that.
But most of the generosity that I see in organizations comes from people who are already known to the organization. I've had donors who give $250 a year, eventually give $250,000 or who give 10,000 who end up giving. A hundred thousand right now. Those are big dollars for smaller organizations. We think we don't know these people, but chances are we do. And even if someone doesn't have the capacity, I mean, I can, this, I can get on a soapbox and talk about just because someone doesn't even have the capacity to give a hundred dollars, let alone a hundred thousand dollars, their gift is still really important to organizations.
And I, I actually wrote a thesis on this 20 years ago talking about the value of Engaging your community in giving so that they have ownership over the work that you do and you're accountable to them. And so often I see organizations make decisions on behalf of the communities that they serve, which I think is an incredibly disempowering act. So, Every dollar I think is important. And I think the act of giving is a very meaningful one for all of us to engage in, to build the world that we wanna, that we wanna live in.
Carol: Right, right. So what are some steps that would be used? Would you say that people can, can, can take to move through? I mean, I, I had said move beyond, but I'm like, well actually maybe it's, you just need to move through some of those stories or that projection that you're doing on, all the fears that I have about asking someone for money. Onto the donor and why they're there. What are some things that have started?
Cindy: There's, there's a couple things. I mean, the first thing is awareness. And like if you, if anyone's ever seen a therapist or gone worked with a coach like you have to. Be self-aware. You have to do the work and understand, because all of our stories are individual to us. They're, they come from the houses that we grew up in or the environments that we grew up in and our experiences and the people around us and how their influence on us. So we have to understand our own origin story and that usually, like you can do it on your own, but sometimes it's helpful to have some help with that.
So understand what your origin story is, and then you can start to see these false narratives. And then as I said, my favorite way to reverse those narratives is to meet with your donors, get to know them, and that process can be really simple. So often people get caught up in Who do I meet? How do I reach out to them? How do I have a conversation? And in reality, it's actually so, so simple. So who to reach out to? Who is the least intimidating for you? What is the path of least resistance? These meetings are like having these meetings are like a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. So if it's easiest, I literally have worked with organizations who said, oh, well my aunt made a donation last year. I'm gonna start with her great monthly donors, board members, whoever. I just want you to start and get in the habit and reach out.
And my biggest advice around this is tell donors what your intentions are and follow through. So tell them what to expect and then deliver on that. So, for example, you're gonna tell them, what we're, I'm trying to get to know our donors. I really wanna understand why you support our work, and I want to hear from you about why this is important to you. And you have a meeting and you ask questions that align with that purpose. And if you're ever in a position, this is a tangent, but if you're ever in a position to ask someone for a donation face-to-face or at a meeting, you are going to tell them when you book the meeting. I would love to talk to you about a contribution or can we meet to talk about a donation so that again, you are telling them what to expect and then they're following through. So that's a side. But for this, the purpose of this, you're not even asking for money. You're just saying, I wanna get to know you. Will everyone say yes to a meeting? No. Is that okay? Absolutely. Find the people who are gonna say, And then have a conversation.
The best fundraisers are curious. So you can have a couple like starter questions or spark questions I call them that's kinda like, oh, tell me about how you first learned about this work. Better work. Or, tell me about why this work is important to you. And then just listen and have a real conversation. And that's it. It is. Simple. The magic is when you do it over and over and over again and you get to know your donors, you get to know them once, but then you can reach out and say, oh, it's been a few months since we last spoke. I'd love to catch up. And you start to build those relationships. And again, I'm not just talking about major donors. I'm talking, All your donors, obviously you might not be in a position to meet with them always all the time, but you wanna have a good sense of where your champions are, who's really passionate, and give everyone in your donor base the opportunity to deep, more deeply engage with you, with you and your organization by just inviting them that first.
Carol: When you said start with someone that's like the least intimidating, it makes me think back to when I started this podcast. Mm-hmm. And that's exactly what I did because it felt like a big thing to do. I mean, now by the time this episode comes out, it'll be, we'll be in 70 something episodes. But,I thought of like, who were five people that have no, I have no anxiety about having a conversation with, and even then, that very first one, I was nervous. I was so nervous before the conversation. So,it's so true about like start, make it, make the stakes low and then start building that muscle, that habit, that,that practice. exactly. I really appreciate it.
You also talked about setting expectations and that you would've actually told someone. When you get to the point where you're asking them for money, you've given, you've let them know it, they're not being sideswiped, they're not being surprised. Those people at the wedding, you can tell, tell them, calm down because my practice is that I would've told you. Exactly. I was gonna ask you for money. Exactly. So it lets everybody know what the purpose is.
Cindy: I have a friend, his name's Kipp. And I met him actually through work. Just, he supports a number of organizations that I have been involved with over the years. And every now and then we'll go for lunch and he'll say, okay, this organization just asked me for a coffee. What does it mean? And it gives him a donor of like decent means. I would say He is definitely not like,off the charts, but he gives substantially to organizations and it actually causes him anxiety when he's like, what are they gonna ask me for? And he tries to decipher and decode all of the stuff and like, is this, what do, what do I expect? And he wants to be prepared.
And so I, I'm such a fan of transparency and letting people know, and by the time, like if, if you say it to someone, and again, most people don't actually ask face-to-face in small organizations, it's actually not a dominant fundraising strategy. But if you are doing major gifts or face-to-face asking and they, and you say, I'd like to talk to you about a contribution, and they say yes to the meeting, They're not likely to say no to a gift. It's really then a question of how much and what's meaningful. And so that I just, I think it's so critical to build that trust with your donors and to really make them feel like they're part of a community. And that you trust and respect them in the way that you also, you are asking them to trust and respect you.
Carol: Right? Cuz he's anticipating being invited for coffee.
Cindy: But like, can you give to us this year? And like, sometimes the answer is no. And honestly, like he has I mean, the one thing I'll say, getting to know your donors is like, Feels bad when he has to say no or when his, and, and no one's gonna give away all their wealth. Even Mackenzie Scott is sitting like she's not going to be comfortable, her lifestyle's not going to suffer because of her philanthropy. Right. So everyone is gonna give, and they're going to, not everyone gives, but who, who the people who are giving are giving in a way that's meaningful and they want to, and it makes them feel good, but also they do have a limit. And if you're putting them in a position where they have to, where you haven't prepped them for the ask It actually makes the giving experience feel bad. And that's not what we want. We want them to feel good about these conversations.
Carol: And I feel like that bait and switch is actually what people think of. It's one of those stupid things that people think of when they're like, Ooh, I don't want to do that. It's, they don't wanna, they don't wanna manipulate people, or they don't wanna pretend that they're wanting one thing when actually they're gonna, oh, by the way,
Cindy: Exactly. It's buying a car, like, oh, and there's so many memes in comedy about this, but, I hate, hate, hate buying a car because you go in, then there's the list price, and then you talk to someone and then they negotiate it down. And then if you're still, then they bring in their manager to negotiate it down. Like, come on, it, it is, it feels icky. And I walk out of there and I think you don't respect me. And this is a game, and I don't, none of us wanna feel that way when it comes to our generosity. So . And I will say fairly, this is a.
Experience that our sector has reinforced, right? There are a lot of fundraisers who still do it that way, and so there's this stereotype, but we can be part of the change to make it a different experience for people.
Carol: What would you say helps people move from being reluctant about fundraising to being more confident in that role?
Cindy: What I think that. Getting a better understanding of what fundraising actually is. So as we sit here talking about these, like one-to-one asks, that is not how most organizations fundraise. It's through appeals, it's through grant writing, it's through, sometimes it's through events. Maybe there's some small events or fundraising. So Get to know your donors and get to understand how they give, like what are also the vehicles, what do they respond to? I'm telling you, most people are gonna respond to an appeal whether it's emailed or mailed or what have you. So know your donors understand what fundraising is and isn't. And the more you do these things, the more you start to see that again, we're all on this journey together to make the world a better place. And if we can be on the same team with that, fundraising's gonna feel a lot better for both the fundraiser and the donors.
Carol: You mentioned fundraising, isn't this, that, or the other? What are some of the misconceptions or what are some of the like, well, fundraising is not X that most people believe it is.
Cindy: Okay. So the big ones I get all the time. All the time, especially from boards. One is like, we just need to go ask the companies for money. In Canada, it's the big banks or whoever, like, we need to ask the big companies to give us money. And I think that the idea behind that is very much they're not gonna miss the money. They have it. And so, and it's a corporation, so I don't have to ask someone. And it feels, so there is this idea that like the, the companies are just sitting there. Loads of cash waiting to give it to our organization if only we ask.
That's generally not true. Most giving comes from individuals. Most, funding for, for nonprofits and charities comes from individuals. So that's one big misconception, and I'm not saying that you don't need, like, don't ask companies for money, but understanding how they give and understanding the different vehicles in which they give allows you to be more successful and find out what type of corporate giving aligns with your organization. As I said before, events like people think I'm an event planner. I get that a lot. Events are like the least profitable way to raise money. They have the highest cost associated with them. I have certainly run events in the past, but that's generally not how most organizations, again, are, are raising money. So like within individual giving, there's so many different ways within. Corporate, there's so many different ways, even with events like a big gala is not necessarily like I I, my favorite events are small events where there's like 15, 20 people. And I've done a ton of those. So it's just so much broader.
And the best fundraising again, comes from understanding your donors and how they want, what does a relationship with your organization look like? And also you have to balance that with what's meaningful for your organization and mission, obviously. Those two should be aligned. Otherwise, you're not really on the same journey, right? That's right. So you wanna make sure your donors are on that same journey and that there's alignment and then it's a lot easier to find out what fundraising makes sense for your organization.
Carol: So at the end of each episode, I ask, I have a couple random icebreaker questions here. So. What would you say is one of the best gifts you've ever received?
Cindy: Oh my goodness. I'm a notoriously hard person to buy gifts for. I know. Actually, no. Okay. I am a notoriously hard person to buy gifts for because I usually, if I want, I'll buy it for myself. And I'm very particular about my style and what I like. A couple years ago, actually, I think it was in 2020, it was my birthday. It was a milestone birthday, and my team at work actually got together. It was during Covid. And they got together and they sent me this gift, which was like so bang on. I felt so seen and understood. And so it was a, just like a sweatshirt, like a concert sweatshirt from a band called Veruca Salt. If anyone from like knows from the mid nineties I happened to like a lot of like mid nineties female singer songwriters and like, not Riot Girl, but like Girl Rock stuff. And then they also had custom designs, it's so funny that the custom designed press on nails that were like in my brand colors. Cause I like, I, this was, I was doing my nails at home a lot cuz everything was closed and I'm in Toronto and we were shut down for a very, very long time. So I was like doing my own nails and all this stuff. I'm playing around with that and they know I love branding and like everything being on brand. That was the best gift I've ever received. That's
Carol: Awesome. That's awesome. I will definitely have to look up Ru salt, Ru salt and, and play a little bit this afternoon. So what, what are you excited about? What's, what's up for you? What's emerging in your work these days?
Cindy: So our network is growing. So for the last number of years we've been offering a service called fractional fundraising, which is kind of, Down for you. Long term, long term fundraising with someone very experienced, but only you get a fraction of their time. And this has been working really well with small organizations and so we're growing that network. They're not staff of mine, they're independent consultants, but I teach them how to consult. I teach 'em how to build their business, and I teach 'em how to deliver this service. And I feel like this is an idea whose time has come. We've tested it. There's demand. Small organizations need help.
And quite frankly, hiring inexperienced staff usually adds to their frustration and does not relieve it. And so getting them access to experience. Fundraisers who understand strategy and like to implement and do it at an affordable cost. And like to me it just, it's a win-win all around and it feels really good. So this is what I am super excited about and is a big focus in my life right now.
Carol: That sounds awesome. cuz it's, it's clearly important to come up with the plan, the plan and the strategy, but if you don't have the staff to implement it . Then that . It was nice but not great. Exactly. Awesome. Awesome. Well thank you so much.
Cindy: Thank you for having me.
Carol: I appreciated what Cindy said about getting in your reps. And starting small – who is the easiest person for you to reach out to when you are getting started with fundraising? Who can you reach out to who already supports your organization to further cultivate the relationship? That principle of starting small and working upwards and outwards applies to so many things when you are developing a new skill.
It is why I love Duolingo – I have been learning Spanish very slowly over the past year and the Duolingo app has that very principle built in. Each lesson takes 3-5 minutes to complete. And I just have to do one lesson a day to keep my streak – I am up past 400 days now. Plus they build in all sorts of virtual gold stars and prizes into the process – and really they don’t mean anything – and yet – they keep me moving. So how can you celebrate your small successes along the way?
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Cindy Wagman, her bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as Cindy Rivera Grazer of 100 Ninjas for her production support. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it on your favorite social media platform and tag us. We appreciate you helping us get the word out. And until next time, thank you for everything you do to contribute and make an impact.
In episode 50 of Mission: Impact, Carol went solo to discuss:
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Carol Hamilton: Welcome to Mission: Impact. Today, I'm celebrating my 50th podcast episode. I'm going solo. I'm going to discuss why more money and more staff isn't always the answer. Mission: Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause.
I'm Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant. On this podcast, we explore how to make your organization more effective and more innovative. We dig into how to build an organizational culture where your work in the world is aligned with how you work together as staff, board members and volunteers, and all of this for the purpose of creating greater mission impact.
When I'm doing strategic planning, I often ask in my interviews and in focus groups, if you had three wishes for your organization and you could change anything that you want, what would you wish for? And frequently, I would say 90% of the people that I talked to say that they want more funding for more staff. why isn't that always the answer? I think it comes down to the assumption that more money and more staff is always going to be less work. And when it often doesn't our culture really emphasizes growth. Capitalism depends on growth. If the economy is not growing, even if it's just staying steady, folks, fear a recession. we have a proclivity to always want to grow.
And certainly growing your organization, having more resources to meet the demand. Further your mission addresses the needs that you're addressing. All of those are certainly good things, and I'm not arguing against any of those. I'm not arguing against scaling your organization to meet the needs. What I'm saying is that people fall into a false fallacy where they equate more staff and more funding as a way to get out of overwhelm, overwork and overcome. With the idea that if we just had more staff, I would have people to delegate to, I would have less on my plate, but what I have found and what I have noticed in all my years of working in the nonprofit sector is that the reality is that nonprofit leaders are very ambitious. They have big dreams and goals. Most vision statements, mission statements are way beyond what that organization can actually deliver. And growing is the only way to move towards that. As I said, the need is often greater than your current capacity.
When you grow, when you add them more staff, when you get more funding, it's authentic. Take on new projects, new programs, new services, you try to serve more people. You have a serve, serve additional audiences. You broaden your policy agenda. The work grows with the capacity. In the end you're still overloaded and overwhelmed. And running the organization actually becomes more complicated because you have more people and more things to keep track of. more funding, if we just had more money, everything would be fine. We could hire more people and achieve our goals, but unfortunately, in the scenario above where it does not lighten the load at all. And oftentimes funding rarely covers the full cost of those new initiatives, restricted funding. Doesn't contribute to your overhead. you're expected to find a match for your funding. And now you have more money to attract new reports, to write and new funders to please, as I said before, none of these are inherently bad goals.
I'm not arguing against them being able to serve more people and turn fewer people away is important. Being able to provide them with more comprehensive services, being more ambitious in your policy or research agenda. Having more staff to focus on fundraising, marketing, operations, HR, financial systems, all the things that it takes to run an organization. All of these are good things, but the assumption, as I said that I often hear embedded, is that if I just have more staff just have more funding. When I get that, I will finally be able to relax. Whether it's as a board member, as an executive director, as a lead program person or the development director. The assumption is my to-do list will be shorter. I can finally take that long postponed vacation. I can feel less guilty about taking care of myself, but unfortunately that's only true if you choose not to grow the amount of work with the growth in staff and instead redistribute the work for the pieces of the work pie to be small. The pie has to say the same size and mostly what's embedded in more staff, more funding is certainly growth and therefore does not get you out of the overall.
On episode 38. I explored a related question. What if you did less? If you haven't listened to that, I invite you to, and I also recommend Third studios, recent blog posts, headlines of “what if you did less,” that also looks at our current state of burnout and reflects on why just individual responses to the current state we're in is just not enough. I will post the link to that blog post in the show notes.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and with my guests. You can find a full transcript of the show as well as any links and resources that I mentioned in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production, as well as April Koester of a 100 Ninjas for her production support.
And if you enjoyed this episode, I really would love it. If you would share it with a colleague or friend, we appreciate your help in getting the word out; and the easiest way to do that is to go to pod.link.com/mission impact. Again, that's podlink, mission impact one word, and use that URL to share the show. Then your friend or colleague can listen to the show on whatever their favorite podcast player. Thanks again. I appreciate your time.
In episode 49 of Mission: Impact, Carol and her guest, Lewis Flax discuss:
Lewis Flax specializes in assisting nonprofits and associations generate additional revenue. His hands-on approach has helped numerous organizations implement strategies and tactics to increase sponsorship, partnership, and other funding streams. His firm, Flax Associates, established in 2008, serves as a partner in driving revenue and results.
Lewis understands the challenges nonprofits face, both from an outside consultant's point of view and from the internal perspective of a nonprofit executive. Previously, Lewis served as a Vice President for IEG (a sponsorship consulting firm) and served on the leadership team at Financial Executives International (FEI).
He is a certified instructor for Dale Carnegie Training (Winning with Relationship Selling) and an AFP (Association of Fundraising Professionals) Master Trainer.
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Carol Hamilton: My guest today on Mission Impact is Lewis Flax. Lewis and I talk about sponsorships. We explore why companies are interested in sponsorships, some of the misconceptions, and why to create real value you will need to get beyond your traditional bronze, silver, and gold-level sponsorships.
Mission Impact is the podcast for progressive nonprofit leaders who want to build a better world without becoming a martyr to the cause. I am Carol Hamilton, your podcast host and nonprofit strategic planning consultant.
Welcome Lewis. Welcome to the podcast.
Lewis Flax: Thanks, Carol pleasure to be here and looking forward to discussing sponsorship and the tie in with associations and nonprofits.
Carol: Absolutely. So I like to start at the beginning, I guess the sound of music inspires that, but start at the very beginning, but, but what w what drew you to the work that you do? What, what motivates you and what would you say is your why?
Lewis: When. First started working within the nonprofit world, realized when it came to sponsorship and how to go about it. When it came to how to structure and set up a sponsorship, when it came to how they go ahead and sell it, there was a lack of knowledge. There, there was a lack of awareness and the idea of how they work. Corporations and funders where they needed assistance and guidance. I felt a need or an urge to help, to give back through assistance and support. So I went to work for a larger consulting firm and then started my own firm in 2008.
Carol: All right. So you've been around the block a few times. So as you said, you work with nonprofits and associations on sponsorships. Just so folks have some context. Can you define sponsorship first?
Lewis: So sponsorship is where a company or an organization is paying a fee. Back to a property, the association or nonprofit where they're gaining specific benefits or specific rights which they value.
Carol: And what would you say motivates organizations to enter into those sponsorships? And I'm saying from the corporation side, what, what, what do they see as you a give get of what they're getting from that relationship?
Lewis: Sure. So they're aligning with an organization that can add value. So on the association side, often it's visibility awareness connection to thought leadership on the traditional non-profit side. It's aligning with a good cause, it's connecting with an organization which aligns with their values.
Carol: And what would you say are some of the key misconceptions that people have about sponsorships? You said that when you started there was a lack of knowledge. What are the things that you have to help people understand about those misconceptions?
Lewis: Sure. When it comes to sponsorship, often organizations on the nonprofit side look at, okay, well, put together a perspective. Especially now, given the pandemic things that have occurred, sending out a prospectus is not nearly enough, here's a standard offering of gold, silver, bronze, and this is what you get. That's not the way to generate higher revenue. That's not the way to customize your target in a way that's meaningful to a potential.
Carol: So what, what would you have organizations do instead?
Lewis: Well, there are a number of steps to take in working with different organizations. I walked them through a process that I term step up in terms of how to go about what it is that you can offer, whether a sponsor is interested in it, and then how you could structure your program to connect with the potential sponsors and align with your culture and your organization.
Carol: Can you give me an example of when you've seen that work well in terms of building that, building that relationship.
Lewis: Yeah. There are, there are many instances. So for example, with different associations it's well, what is it that they're offering? That's a value. So in working with one group, they have an awards program, safety awards. And for a sponsor, that's in a space where they're tied into safety. So say an insurance company or other types of companies. Well, if they can get involved with the safety program and they're providing insurance to the members of that association, all of a sudden it changes. Because if an insurance company is working with those who submit, apply or are involved in a safety awards program, well, they want to insure them. And if they can provide guidance as to how to handle safety procedures at a, in a manufacturing plant, or how to handle safety procedures in a different environment, that's who they want. So if they can get involved either on the selection committee or get involved in terms of articles on safety or debt involved in terms of working with an awards program that offers far more value than having your name and your logo on the website and on signage and pasted anywhere and everywhere. So when it aligns with what the company is seeking. And the specific association or nonprofit it's far greater. So I tossed out an awards program because I've seen that work a number of times.
Carol: What are some other misconceptions that you see folks have about sponsorships,
Lewis: Offering? They view it as a connection with a board member and the board member knows someone. And as a result, oh, we'll set up this. Offering and they think that that's the key value where the board member leaves and often boom, the sponsorship disappears.
Carol: So what would you say are some of the challenges that organizations are facing in terms of sponsorships and building those partnerships?
Lewis: New issue often that they face is the idea of corporate involvement and how we go about it moving beyond. Well, we can offer a webinar or we can offer a slot at a conference, or we can offer a table at a gala because those are just tools. They'll just tools in a toolbox, but what is it that the sponsor wants? How do they want to get involved? What's meaningful to them. And often on the association, nonprofit side, they only see it as well. What can we offer without thinking about it from the lens or from the perspective of the sponsor?
Carol: So what are the types of things that sponsors are often looking for?
Lewis: Normally it's going to, so with associations, are they interested in a specific regulatory area? Are they interested in reaching a set or tying in with a consumer promotion campaign? Or are they interested in an advocacy effort? What issues or challenges that the member base, the distribution list? What are the issues and concerns that they face and how can we respond or are addressed?
Carol: So again, can you give me an example of, of what your of those kinds of situations like th those, those values that they see
Lewis: Let's look at, let's say it's in the accounting space where the association is to provide information. Well, the accounting firms are going to have information on that regulatory issue. And if they can provide that information, be it in the form of an article, maybe a webinar, a conference presentation, a survey, and all of those could be tied together. That's where it's offering far greater value to the sponsor. And it's going to offer value to the association, assuming that they have authority and they best review what's presented and who's going to be presenting.
Carol: And from this, what mistakes do you see sponsors making when they, when they try to, make the most of their sponsorship in that partnership?
Lewis: Often they're looking at it as a short-term game. What we need to have X number of leads. Well, that's generally not how sponsorship works. It's often, well, if you're going to be involved, You're going to get out of it. What you put in for the sponsors needs to. So for example, if it's a regulatory issue where it's an advocacy campaign or it's a specific issue, well, do they develop content? They have resources. Do they have information? That's a value, not just a product demo. They have information. That's a value too.
Carol: So it's getting out of just a pure sales mode then, and thinking about what are the, yeah, what's the information, what's the thought leadership that they can, they can share and provide. And how about on, on the more traditional non-profits sometimes I feel like it's, it's easier to see the connections from an association point of view. But your more traditional nonprofits are also interested in engaging corporate partners. D do you see differences there between the two and, and approach?
Lewis: Yes. In the sense that. From the standpoint of how they go about. Often it's somewhat the same. Yeah. Associations are often looking at it. Both perspectives. Associations are often looking at it saying, well, they should want this. And it's visibility, logos everywhere. The traditional non-profits are often looking at it through the lens of board member connections and how to leverage those, if it's more well, them. So they should sponsor as opposed to what the value is from the company's.
Carol: And what are some steps that organizations can take to get started in this? If they haven't, haven't had a sponsorship program before, what are some of the basics?
Lewis: Sure. So I walk organizations through what, like turn on step up S and the S stands for, well, what's their current situation and looking at who they have as sponsors and who's within their sponsor. Now. And then also addressing the key challenge. What is preventing them? What is stopping them from establishing that sponsorship program? And that could be maybe there's a board resent. It could be that we don't know corporate decision makers. It could be. So one of those challenges, often organizations will, or nonprofits or associations will begin to set up their sponsorship program and, oh, we'll come back to those challenges later. We'll address that down the line and it's when they do. Those challenges are going to pop up again, those obstacles are going to come back and if they don't address that upfront or think through how they're going to address it, there's going to be an issue. There's going to be a problem. So the first step is to evaluate your current situation and figure out how you're going to move.
Carol: I feel like every, every consulting process starts with that first step of figuring out what that current situation is. And when I'm working with groups on strategic planning, that whole process of helping them also have a shared understanding of what that current state is, I think, is also a helpful step that consultants can bring to organizations that they may be. I know for me, when I'm working. Clients there's often a perception or almost a fear that there's such a breadth of ideas and perspectives. And then once you have a chance to talk to folks and get into it it turns out that there's actually a lot more common understanding and shared perspective than people realize.
Lewis: Yes, absolutely.
Carol: So what trends are you seeing in the whole arena of sponsorships?
Lewis: Yeah, the trends are, there's a lot of uncertainty. There's a lot of unknowns. So on both the association and nonprofit side, they're unsure how to move forward. And so what ends up happening is they don't do anything or they don't make changes. So the idea of making changes. And making shifts as to how they're going to approach things. The associations and nonprofits that are going to thrive are the ones that are willing to take those chances. I say, take those chances. They're willing to experiment. They're willing to test and Rocky dies that not everything will go right. And when I say God, everything will go, right? Whether it's an event, whether it's a webinar, whether it's a sponsorship offering, they're going to try something new and organizations recognize that they need to do that. A lot of them won't. So the key is to take a step, make an effort and, and on the sponsor side, there's a lot more awareness of when organizations do that, they respect them. They acknowledge that these are different times.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine that, at least in my limited experience, Of just observing what goes on in sponsorship programs from the sides, certainly in working in different organizations. I think what I've seen is a traditional model that's very very event focused often around an annual conference or some annual convening. And, since the pandemic with so many things going virtual there's not that same. I guess it seems traditional, like slack, the logo everywhere. It's just not the same in the online environment. So what, what shifts have you seen with that? with everything that folks have been contending with in the last couple of years?
Lewis: Yeah. When it comes to events, Organizations have learned. Well, if you're just focused on events, you're going to be in trouble because in a virtual environment, whether it's zoom or teams or whatever the format is, you can appease the exhibit hall of 500 people. You can appease a gala where you had a hundred and 150 tables. So moving beyond events is a big component of how these organizations should shift. So earlier when you asked me for examples, the idea of a safety program or a safety awards program, the idea of a specific regulatory issue, when it's focused on a theme or an issue it's for a greater, because then it's not event centric and organizations can be more effective. The issue is a lot of the organizations struggle with how to piece that. If the conference department doesn't talk to the group that handles webinars, it doesn't talk to the magazine area. It doesn't speak to the research area. It's a lot tougher and they need to navigate through that because the truth is if there's good content and it was featured in a magazine or. Well, why not tie that into a webinar? And then why not include that at a conference presentation? Why not tie that into a survey? Why not allow the good content for the good content from a specific source, perhaps a sponsor and others. And you connect that across the organization. It's far better for the organization and it's easier than to establish a stronger sponsorship program. So it's more about themes and concepts. Topics or issues that are of interest to the member base or to the audience. And when that's done, it's far easier to set up a successful sponsorship.
Carol: That's a really interesting flip and I think it, beyond just sponsorship, it goes to a lot that, especially associations are doing around, serving their members being current and getting out of the mindset of, the, the delivery channels of whether it's a conference or it's research or it's, the magazine. But what are the overarching themes of the things that people need to know about the things that are upcoming, the trends the current research is helping, helping people navigate all that without being so caught up in what particular channel that it's being delivered.
Lewis: Yeah, analog organization, they get that's where I mentioned the tools they get caught up in here's a webinar, or here's put your logo on or banner on our newsletter or here's some other offering. And it's all about slapping or pasting logos everywhere. Well, that doesn't offer much value. Whereas it's an awards program, or if it's a specific campaign or advocacy effort or a themed approach, you move away from the tools. Then you move towards what the customer wants and then it could be, and should be far more successful.
Carol: And when the customer wants what you're saying there, that would be the member of the organization. Which customer are you talking about in that instance?
Lewis: Okay. So if the sponsor is interested in conveying their thought leadership related to regulatory issues, X. And they're pitched, here's an ad in the newsletter or here's an exhibit booth or here's a webinar. Well, it's not connecting with them. Those are the tools. And they're interested in this regulatory issue. Well, can they get involved in that regulatory issue?
Carol: Right, right. What are some fears that you would say either staff or board members have about, especially for, I would say on the more traditional nonprofit side of bringing in private sector groups to their, to their organization.
Lewis: Number one is if we take corporate money, how does that impact us? And I'm a big believer that any organization, association, or traditional nonprofit, should stick to their values and their culture, and do not allow a sponsor to dictate or to determine how to handle something, their control, regardless of funding. That's, that's one, the and then secondly, for a number of organizations, if they take. Funds, what does that mean? How do they work with them? And to clarify ahead of time what those requirements are, what those values. So it's easier for them to set up a program that's going to be successful as opposed to just hit or miss and see what happens.
Carol: Yeah. And I would imagine helping a group talk through what they're looking for in sponsors. So the, in the same way that you're talking about flipping the script and thinking about it from the sponsor's point of view and what value they're going to get out of it. But then from the organization's point of view, helping them think through. What is it that we want? Who, who do we want to partner with? Who do we want to give access and who do we not? And like having that conversation without individual sponsorship opportunities in the room, or in the conversation I would think would set them up to feel more confident in moving forward, to look for a potential organization. So it isn't just based on, as you said, the current board members that they happen to have, who they happen to have relationships with, et cetera.
Lewis: Yeah. I mean, when they set the parameters or the guidelines ahead of time, they're going to be far more directed and focused. And it's going to be easier for them to move forward as opposed to, well, we'll walk through the door and whether the company says they would do, and then the board or leadership is looking at that. And all of a sudden they haven't clarified their own values. They haven't clarified their own culture. They haven't set the parameters, they haven't set the guidelines. And often that leads to maybe not a problem at that point in time, but the problem down the line. Sure.
Carol: So at the end of each podcast episode, I play a little game where I pull out a Random, somewhat random icebreaker question. So the one I have, I have three of them sitting here. I always put up for you to just see what let's go to fit. I don't know if this fits or not, but we just, we've just moved into spring. And I think this will actually be being published sometime probably as we're moving more towards summer. But which season would you say fits your personality?
Lewis: Probably fall. And the reason I say fall is in my mind, it's beautiful outside because the leaves are returning the weather's a little cooler, more comfortable. I like to walk with my family. We'll hike and get outside and fall could be a rebirth and it's a change. It shifts. And I liked that. I liked that change. Yeah. The feel in the air. I like how things are changing. So fall follows my favorite season. I think it would describe who I don't think describes who I am. Yeah. I really enjoy fall. I enjoyed the change of seasons.
Carol: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. We're just, I'm enjoying the, the, all the, all the. Flowers are popping up right now and the trees are blooming. And then yes, at the other end, when all the leaves are falling and you have that shift in the weather appreciate that. One of my sisters moved out to California and one of the things she missed the most about the east coast was having seasons so well, I really appreciate it.
Lewis: I was just saying, I love the different seasons. I love how in our area, in the Washington DC area, they're distinct and different seasons. And I liked that
Carol: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Well what's, what are you excited about? What's coming up for you and what's emerging in your work these days.
Lewis: It's interesting as we start to move, hopefully out of the pandemic and working with different organizations. So much for coming back to the fall, there's a bit of a rebirth, okay, now we need to move forward. And then in my role, it's looking at it through the lens of, no, you can't go back to the way you weren't doing it. Let's make those adjustments, those changes, and then move forward.
Carol: Awesome. Awesome. Well, thank you so much. It was great having you on. I really appreciate the conversation.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you, Carol. I liked the way you asked the questions. You asked me good questions and the follow-ups are on target in terms of what does that mean to clarify?
Carol: Yeah. Well, what I, one thing I appreciate about doing the podcast is that I'm always learning something new because I get to talk to people about their area of expertise and it's not necessarily mine. So I get to have a little mini-masterclass. So appreciate that and appreciate you sharing your perspective and all your wisdom on, on sponsorships. So thanks so much.
Lewis: My pleasure. And thank you for giving back to the association and nonprofit community by adding resources.
Carol: All right.
I appreciated how Lewis described how to work with your sponsors and potential sponsors to create more value – for your organization as well as the company. That it starts with conversations with the sponsor – what are they looking to achieve? How might you align in your efforts? And for both sides – the sponsor and your organization – that developing the relationship should be with the longer term in mind. If either party is just looking for short term gain they are missing a lot of opportunity and value that could be there. There is also more opportunity available if different parts of your organization are cross pollinating and talking – in an association – staff who are managing the magazine, staff who are producing webinars and other learning events. Are they talking and coordinating their efforts with a sponsor and a tie in? Of course always being mindful of whether a particular sponsor aligns with your organizational values.
Thank you for listening to this episode. I really appreciate the time you spend with me and my guests. You can find out how to connect with Lewis, his full bio, the full transcript of our conversation, as well as any links and resources mentioned during the show in the show notes at missionimpactpodcast.com/shownotes. I want to thank Isabelle Strauss-Riggs for her support in editing and production as well as April Koester of 100 Ninjas for her production support. Please take a minute to rate and review Mission Impact on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. It helps other people find the podcast. We appreciate it!
In episode 22 of Mission: Impact, some of the topics that Carol and her guest, Michelle Nusum-Smith discussed include:
Michelle Nusum-Smith is owner and principal consultant at The Word Woman LLC. A licensed nonprofit consultant, coach and trainer, Michelle helps nonprofits, government agencies, and individuals achieve their goals. With over 20 years of nonprofit experience, she has expertise in all areas of nonprofit development and sustainability. Michelle has extensive speaker and facilitator experience. She is licensed to offer consulting services for the Maryland Nonprofit’s Standards for Excellence® program and has the knowledge, skills and tools necessary to work with nonprofits across the country. A graduate of the Honors Program at Coppin State University where she earned a BS in Management Science with a minor in Marketing, Michelle is a member of the Grants Professional Association and an Associate Consultant at Maryland Nonprofits.
Important Links: Interview Transcript:
Carol Hamilton: Welcome, Michelle. It's great to have you on the podcast.
Michelle Nusum-Smith: Thank you, Carol. Thank you for this opportunity to speak.
Carol: I'm sure we're going to have a great conversation and people are going to learn a lot through all the expertise you bring to nonprofits, but I like to start with what really drew you to the work that you do? What motivates you? What would you describe as your why?
Michelle: Interesting question. I would certainly say my mom is definitely, I think the seed planter. So I was a do gooder before I knew what do you put or meant? We were always involved in some kind of community outreach, giving engagement, volunteering something. And so, my first job was in retail. Like most of us. Well, my first professional job was in health and human services, and I just loved the idea of helping people and giving back. But if I wasn't doing what I'm doing now, I would have been a teacher. I'm a bit of a nerd and I love using tools and techniques and resources. And so I echo spending most of my professional career in the sector and learning that most of us are very passionate. But we don't necessarily realize that nonprofits are businesses like for-profit businesses. They are best practices. And so people would ask me for help and assistance. So I eventually went from being an unofficial consultant to thinking one day, maybe I should officially do this. And so Almost 11 years ago now I started Word Woman LLC.
Carol: Well, that's awesome. And congratulations on your longevity because a lot of folks think, oh yeah, let me go out and do this, but not everybody makes it and makes it for eleven years. so congratulations on that. I appreciate what you said about your mom. My brother has special needs. He's autistic and profoundly deaf. And my mom was always his advocate. And then through the work, being his advocate, she became an advocate more broadly in the disability community. And it really was an inspiration for the things that he was not always thinking about. Well, certainly you want to make sure that all of your own folks, your family is taken care of, but then, what's the broader implication of all the folks who need the same help and what skills can you bring to help them take those same steps. So, appreciate that, that beginning. And what are the areas? I know you work in a lot of different areas, but one of the areas you focus on is helping organizations with pursuing grants. And it seems to be that oftentimes. This is the first thing that people think about when they get into the nonprofit sector they're passionate about, an area they want to help people. They want to create some change or some good in the world and they come out with grants, we have to go after grants. What would you say is the most common misconception that people have about pursuing grants?
Michelle: Well, it's interesting the way that you tee that up, because that's exactly it people, I think I've actually had to talk people out of starting a nonprofit simply because they narrowly think about the grants and the fact that, hey, you have to be a nonprofit to get one. So I would say that the biggest misconception is that just because you're doing good people won't want it. Like funders are going to want to give you a grant. So you don't have to think it through. You don't have to actually have a plan. Just tell them that you have a 501-C, three status, and they'll give you a grant.
Carol: Yeah. And I love the comment that you made about actually talking people out of starting a nonprofit. Tell me more about that motivation? What caused that conversation?
Michelle: Sure. I tell people all the time I am the nonprofit consultant that will talk you out of doing something you were willing to pay me to do. And that's because I'm very passionate about the nonprofit sector. And I know how critically important it is to protect it because with for-profit businesses, if a business does something wrong, it's the public that kind of singularly looks at that business and says that business is bad. But in our sector, if a nonprofit ends up on the front of the newspaper for the wrong reasons, it's not just that nonprofit, it's the entire sector, that's bad and corrupt or what-have-you. And so I really like to talk through with people when they approach me about helping them with starting a nonprofit, why do you want to do it? Let's explore the reason, let's explore some different fits, right? Let's explore if there were some alternatives. So a great example would be just last week. I talked to a group and they wanted to start a nonprofit simply because they wanted to get grants. And I explained to them that what they wanted to do, they could easily start a fund at the community foundation or get a fiscal sponsor or a nonprofit partner. And after a bit of back and forth, because they had made up their mind that they wanted to start this nonprofit, I put them in contact with some folks and they came back and circled back to me and said, you know what, Michelle, you were absolutely right. We're getting a fiscal sponsor. So. Yeah, other times it's you really should start a for-profit business let's own that M.O. and move forward.
Carol: Right. And there are different options now within the for-profit sector of being a B Corp or other kinds of, kind of for benefit, corporations that where, where the organization is not necessarily putting. only putting profit as the bottom line, but looking at a triple bottom line, if you will, but still being created as a for-profit entity. You talked about a couple of different things that folks may or may not be familiar with. One of them was a fiscal sponsor. Can you explain a little bit more about what that is and what the benefits are for someone getting started with a fiscal sponsor?
Michelle: Absolutely. So whether even if you start a nonprofit, so one of the things I explain to people is that just because you have a nonprofit doesn't mean that you have tax exempt status or you're eligible to receive charitable donations, that's getting the 501c3 status from the IRS though, when you start a nonprofit or you have some kind of informal program or activity that you want to be able to secure community support. That may come in the form of France that may come in the form of donations. A great strategy for that is through fiscal sponsorship. And what a fiscal sponsor is, is a nonprofit organization that has the 501c3 status from the IRS, but also has the capacity and willingness to bring your activity under their umbrella. And so the program, the nonprofit gets the benefit of 501c3 status. Without having the responsibilities. So all of the funding goes through the fiscal sponsor who helps to sort of manage those resources will be kept for the program or the nonprofit that doesn't have that 501c3 status. So it positions you to be able to still do your charitable work, to still get community support, but to do it with the support of an entity that is positioned and has the capacity and resources to. To properly manage that support.
Carol: Yeah. And oftentimes that capacity that could be difficult for organizations or when they're not, when they're fairly organizations where then when their program, when they're a person with an idea, is, managing the money, managing the accounting. If you end up with any staff, people, or contractors managing all of that, all of the kind of operational it, all of that kind of thing that, the, one of the things that I see is so many people have great ideas, but then every time you create a new organization, you also have to have some way of, accessing that, all of that infrastructure and, most times most people go into the sector or if they want to start an organization, their motivation is not around creating those operational, that operational infrastructure it's about helping people. Right. and so, yeah, so the fiscal sponsor can kind of. Take on some of that and provide some of that. So that the person with the idea who wants to create the program or who has created a program and wants to build it can really focus on that rather than. more of the administrative side or plug into already a system of administration that, that can, can support them. And then the other thing you talked about was, community foundation a little bit more about what they are and how they can contribute to someone who wants to get started.
Michelle: Oh, yes. So everyone who is listening, if your nonprofit is looking for support or financial support or capacity support, third, we go and have a conversation with your community foundation representative. The community foundation, unlike a family foundation or even a corporate foundation where they may have one singular purpose or focus area, the community foundation, a model, a Fords, nonprofits, the opportunity to make, to potentially tap into multiple sources more though at the same time. So the foundation has its own funding that it distributes. But there are also funds that individuals, corporations, community groups may establish that had their own purpose, their own criteria. So it could be grants, it could be scholarships, it could be seed money for a host of different causes. And so, one of the problems that we often have with accessing those resources is. The failure to have the conversation. And so we immediately just want to look for the current opportunity, submit the grant requests and cross our fingers and hope that we get funded. But if we have a conversation prior to you and we explore, well, where are the opportunities? I have a friend who is the president of the community foundation, and then. She was sharing with a group that was presenting, at the foundation for it. And she said that, we have people who have these funds who have an interest in supporting various causes. And we don't always know the nonprofits that fit that criteria. And so it's important for us to have these conversations, to explore with the different organizations, what their missions are, how they carry them out. So that the staff, the community foundation can figure out, well, how do we connect the individual who has the resources and wants to give it the organization that has the need and is trying to figure out how to cover it.
Carol: So almost like a matchmaking process, if you will. Absolutely. And when you talked about your, the kind of main misconception that people have is, I've got a great idea. I want to help people. I'll just go, I'll just fill out some forms and foundations are magically going to give me money. And you said that the biggest thing was, not having a plan. Can you just, can you say more, a little bit more about what you mean by that and what are the kinds of questions that people should be thinking through and kind of making decisions about to create that plan?
Michelle: So doing the homework. So what is homework? Homework is having a clear understanding of your mission and your vision and your strategy is developing programs based on those strategies that include a clear plan. Who, what, where, why, how and a budget to match it. So a lot of times organizations will identify an opportunity and then try to develop a program or project around the opportunity. Best case scenario is that you've already determined what you want to do. how much it costs, you have a timeline, and then you're looking for the opportunity that aligns with that plan. So that when you, when he gives it to you, the paperwork you begin to fill out the application, it's less of a, does this fit? Will they be interested? And more of, we know that this is a fit and we're just plugging in the information we've already developed. The other thing of course would be. how do we ensure that this is a good fit? And one of the ways that we do that is that we reach out to the funder in advance. Doesn't always happen, but sometimes the stars align and you can actually have a conversation with a foundation representative, send a quick email, potentially even have a meeting with them so that they can have a conversation and understand what it is you're planning to do. Ensure that, give you some assurance that it does align with what the foundation is interested in supporting. And that way, when your grant application arrives, it's not a surprise. They're expecting it. And, and having them that pre-work particularly the conversation positions us as non-profits to have an ally on the inside because when the decision-making starts. And nobody's sitting around the table, knows anything about your organization. They can look to what I call the gatekeeper, that program, officer, whomever, who could say, Oh, yes, I know about that organization. I can answer some of those questions you might have.
Carol: Yeah. So that first step of really ensuring fit, that, that you've done your homework and I would guess, and I'm not a fundraiser, but I would guess, just the basics of have you read what the foundation covers funds. Is what is the work that you're doing within their purview? Is it something, within one of their, one of their programs, cause most, most foundations and, and you said it's different than community foundations, which can have a wide variety of, of, areas that they're interested in, depending on all the different donors that might have funds with them, generally, Family foundations, corporate foundations, large and small typically have made some decisions around their own strategy around what they are interested in and what they're pursuing. So that first check of, well, let's read to make sure that we fit in some way. And then if we think we do reach out and say, well, I'm thinking, and so would it be something like this of, you write an email, this is kind of a para paragraph, like this kind of what we're, what we're aiming to do is this, within what you guys are interested in, in funding,
Michelle: That it's funny because I'm always reminded of, I was doing some grant work for an organization and I found this family foundation doing some research. I sent an email and it basically was like, you described a paragraph that introduced them to the organization. This is our mission. This is who he served. This is the work that we carry out. We will love to explore, Learning more about your foundation and where we might fit the president of the foundation. Now, of course, it's a small family foundation. So when I say presence, there's a small, but mighty group, email me back. Actually she called and left the voicemail and she said, we've never heard of this organization, but we're very intrigued that email that took me a couple of minutes to write resulted in a face-to-face meeting. An invite to apply for funding at the maximum amount that the foundation funds it. And that organization was funded twice, simply because I found the foundation and sent an email. So it does work.
Carol: And it can save you a lot of time if the answer is no, absolutely right, because it takes a lot of work to write a grant. Yes, sir. And if you don't even meet the first criteria and you get, you get pushed to the side in the first cut. That was a lot of work for nothing.
Michelle: I tell folks all. So you, you keep, you were saying, read, read, read, and I can't emphasize that enough. Read the bill, the foundation's website, read the request for proposal years ago, I was a volunteer to do grant reviewing for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. I did that for three years and these were 50 page documents. Grant applications for requests between half a million and a quarter million dollars. I can tell you that some of the applications were denied simply because it was very clear that the applicants have not read the request for proposal. They didn't submit the information that was appropriate. So we had to score them poorly. So you gotta read, read, read, and then follow the guidance.
Carol: So, what are some things that help people do a better job of pursuing grants?
Michelle: Well, like I said, definitely don't want that homework. I would say really making sure that you read and re-read your proposal, your material before you submit it, make sure that your budget. Aligns with your narrative. I shouldn't say things in your budget that weren't mentioned in your narrative and vice versa. And then I think the other way to be successful with brands is to make sure that you deliver on your promises. So don't just get the money and then, go off celebrating, take it seriously and then deliver so that the funder will want to support you again.
Carol: Yeah, a couple of things you said there. I think oftentimes they may not think of the connections between the budget and the narrative, or, think of it. Oh, that's that last thing that we have to fill out, but really a budget in, in a way is like it's a plan in numbers, it's a plan and money and, so it really should connect back and it should be clear for the funder, how you're planning to spend their money because obviously, that's a key concern for them.
Michelle: There you go. And the budget should be real. I have had times where I've gone to meet with folks and I asked them for their budget. They slide it across the table and I slide it right back because I get to hell. It's just a bunch of numbers that you've made up. So. Actually be the homework and research. You shouldn't have to guess on certain things that you could just Google to find out. What is the, what is the cost of that item? and so it gives you, like you said, you get this mirrored version of the project in numbers that mirrors the narrative and it positions you so that you can actually deliver on what you propose because. If your budget doesn't align, then you're put in a position where you may run out of money, which you've told the funder, this is all the money that we need. So it's very important to make sure that the budget is based on doing your research and based on actual need and that it mirrors your plan.
Carol: Yeah, it seems like, another thing that I've experienced more from being on the program side of, here, all of the million things that we promised to the funder that we were going to do, and it's like, well, it's just me and this other person. And we only have so much time in the day and I don't know how we're going to deliver it all.
Michelle: Yes, yes, yes. Please do not over promise. First of all, if it's not feasible, it doesn't make sense. Years ago I was doing a, I was working with an organization and this was pre pandemic, but we were still by as Dean because they were in another country and they were going to be doing this maternal health project where they were responding to a request for proposal. So the project idea was already set and they were supposed to work with pregnant women and follow them through their child's third birthday. And I asked, there were two folks that I was meeting with, only two people who staff this organization. And I asked the simple question, how many pregnant women are you going to serve? I kid you not, The executive director said a thousand, and that was my face because I was thinking, first of all, where are you going to find a thousand pregnant women? Number one, but number two, how are you going to possibly follow them? Plus their children for three years? And so I think that what they were thinking was we need to give this big number. So it sounds like we're making a huge impact into that. I would say years ago, it was all about the numbers, the outputs, which is a grant term. So you're counting people, you're counting that you're counting, beads. Right? So that's how we measure success. The bigger, the number, the greater the success. But now we talk about impact, which is more about the outcome, the result of the work that you did. So we, instead of touching people. So it's great that you could say, well, we, we touched a thousand people, but did you actually affect change with them if you just simply touch them? Not really, but if you could actually work with a hundred and move them from where they are to a better position, a better situation. Then that's more impactful. That's more significant than simply just touching a thousand.
Carol: Yeah. So really looking at, and that goes from the request for proposal, the fact that they wanted those pregnant women to be followed through for three years, that's a significant amount of time. and yeah, to think about what's feasible in terms of your staffing and, and how many people you can reach and how many people will you be able to continue to work with over time. Yeah. What would you say? I think there are folks who are starting out, they have some misconceptions. I also find that sometimes board members can really have misconceptions about, grants and, and be very focused on grants. What would you say are, I mean, there are obviously a lot of upsides to getting grants, but are there any kind of hidden costs that you would, you would, talk about that to just caution people that they need to kind of consider those things as well when they're pursuing grants.
Michelle: So you touched on one of the things earlier where you said there's a lot of time and energy invested in just preparing the grant proposal. And, and if you have paid staff, then that means that's money or investing. So that may not result in a grant. And when it comes to getting the grant, there's a cost per se, related to that as well, because there's the cost of managing, there's costs related to investment of time for reporting for evaluations. So it's not just give us the money and, and, and we'll just go off with you, our mission, you, you touched with something else too, which is, this whole idea of the board and let's get grants, let's get grants. I actually have a client right now who, I just, before we got on our call, she, I was receiving emails where the board members found grant opportunities, which is great because that means that they were engaged. But we do want to recognize that grants cannot, should not and won't be your only source of funding. Grants have a lot of limitations. They don't pay for everything they're time bound. And so it's very important that as part of from the board level, part of our strategic planning that we're thinking about all of the available funding sources, And then we're thinking about how do we tap into all of them to ensure that we had adequate resources, whether that's individual donations, corporate support in the form of donations or sponsorships membership dues, do we pay half to like programs where folks may pay for services or as fees related to being involved with our organization, we need to look at all of the available funding sources. And then have a strategy so that grants are part of the strategy, but not be the strategy.
Carol: Yeah. And I wanted to, to ask you that, obviously grants are just one way to, to raise funds. And so you talked about those different types of possible revenue streams. What are some of the key aspects that organizations need to consider when they're thinking about putting together a fundraising plan?
Michelle: I would say certainly the fundraising plan should be driven by our strategic plan. So we're, we're planning to raise the money to support our, our program plans, our operating costs. Thirdly, there are costs that, as I said, are not going to be covered by restricted sources of funding, such as grants, keeping the lights on. So you may have a grant where the fundable say, we'll pay for the person who's presenting. We'll pay for the materials. We'll pay for food, but we're not paying the electricity, the electricity bill. And so we need to incorporate as part of that fundraising plan forces, better unrestricted. So individual gifts, you have some individuals I should say, could be central to our fundraising plan. And it should incorporate the various sources of revenue and an action plan or strategy for how we're going to carry it out. And that again, should be top down. So the board should be driving this effort, even when you have staff that may be implementing your plan.
Carol: So you talked about a couple terms that some people probably are already familiar with, but others may not be restricted and unrestricted funds. Can you say a little bit more about what that means?
Michelle: Sure. So the way I like to describe the differences for those of us who go to church and you make your tithes and offerings, most of us don't ask any questions about where that money's going. We just trust that it's going to be used for good. We go about our business. So as individuals, we're making contributions to our church without any strings attached or expectations, other than seeing the manifestation of, of the good, right. Whereas if you receive a grant or you receive a large gift from an individual donor, it may come with some expectations, some straights. So it may be restricted regarding the budget. So when we submit a grant proposal, we include a budget. The funder expects for you to spend the money as you budgeted it, as opposed to, if somebody just writes a check, there are no restrictions. You can use the funds or the benefit of the organization based on what's needed. There are restrictions that are related to the time and use. So, for example, you may receive less than you receive a grant for $50,000. And because of the funders approach, you get one check upfront of $50,000. So you're looking at your bank statement and it says there's $50,000 in there, but that $50,000 is tied to what 12 year I'm sorry, 12 month grant periods. So, although it's sitting in the bank, it's supposed to be spent according to the budget over that 12 month period. So restricted means there's some guidance around how you use it. Unrestricted means thank you, we'll pull together our strategy and then determine how to spend it.
Carol: Thank you. Thank you. So, on each episode I play a game at the end asking one, random icebreaker question. And so I have one here, what's something you believed earlier in your career that you think differently about now?
Michelle: Ooh, that's an interesting one. So something that I thought early in my career. That I think differently. This is a funny answer, but it's the one that popped in my head. So that's the one I'll share. So when I was younger, I looked young and I thought that people wouldn't take me seriously until I was old. And so I had this crazy idea that once I turned 40, that miraculously people will begin to take this seriously, but now I realize that people have always taken me seriously. Maybe not as seriously as I had bought or had hoped, or just, just didn't realize it. And age doesn't need to be a predictor of your credibility or your impact. And so I'm a believer that anybody and everybody, no matter your age can have a huge impact.
Carol: Awesome. I love that. Thank you. And so what are you excited about? What's coming up next for you? What's emerging in the work that you're doing these days.
Michelle: So I'm doing lots of different things, but I'm a Gemini. So I've always had my hands in a lot of different things. But one thing that I will mention that's related to our discussion is I have been wanting to do a grant writing boot camp. I've done them in the past. The one that is much more technical and much more, hands on and practical in application and I'm going to be I'm. So it's still in the works, but I will be doing that over the summer. It's going to be a six week virtual, I believe, virtual program. and so I'm looking forward to that and looking forward to you, Being who, who, who participates and, and the work that they do because of it.
Carol: So. Awesome. Well, we will put links in the show notes to your website so people can check it out and see when that program, when, when you launch it, which I'm sure will be super useful for many people because, yeah, sometimes it's, it's oftentimes that nitty gritty, that, that can get in people's way. When they're, when they're trying to, trying to, Put together, those, those grants, those proposals hopefully avoid all the things that we just talked about, but learn even more. I'm sure with you so, well, thank you so much. It's been great talking to you today.
Michelle: Thank you, Carol. I appreciate this opportunity.
I am Carol Hamilton, nonprofit consultant and podcast host. My passion is helping organizations cultivate healthy, inclusive cultures that live their values, fostering learning, creativity and results. Find me at Grace Social Sector Consulting and download free resources.
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