Finding Sustainable Funding for Nonprofit Organizations:
Strategic Planning and Program Evaluation
"The only way your organization can optimize the work it is doing for the community is for your fund development efforts to focus on the long term, and to revolve around the mission work you are already doing…[Focus] NOT on what your funders require, but on what the organization feels is the best way to serve the community."
--Hildy Gottlieb, "Mission-based Sustainable Fund Development: How to Do It"
During the 1980's, start-up community based literacy organizations struggled to keep their doors open. Some programs failed, others flourished. Today, many still depend on restrictive grants, too few donors, and time-consuming fundraising events. The challenge for these non-profits is to find sustainable funds that will allow them to focus their limited resources on their missions, provide critical services, and strengthen their organizations.
Strategic Fund Development Planning
What can programs do during this time of cutbacks to find diverse and unrestricted funding? Or to attract a dependable group of donors who are willing to donate repeatedly? The answer - a strategic fund development plan - has always been at their doorsteps.
Recruiting strong leadership and a capable staff committed to the mission are the first crucial steps toward finding stable funding. Board members, staff, volunteers, and important stakeholders must also agree to share roles in shaping fund development policies. Such cohesiveness is forged over time, from three to five years, at monthly meetings, during yearly retreats and regular planning sessions, or in written and oral communications. A two-hour fund development meeting here and there will only convince a skeptical board and staff that such planning exercises are a waste of time.
"If board members, who are the volunteers most closely related to the organization, do not support it financially, it is unrealistic to expect others to contribute to the nonprofit's mission and work."
--Robert E. Fogal, Handbook of Non-profit Leadership and Management
What Funders Look For
- A Strong Board: 100% board giving is essential. Board donations, as vital as board participation and commitment, should be written in the bylaws and made absolutely clear during board recruitment. Board members who are recruited for their fundraising skills and community ties can identify new prospects or supply new information on current supporters. In general, board members should be skilled (or trained) in researching potential donors and asking for donations. Jane Carlson, former fund development director of the Richmond Ballet, recommends that executive directors keep board members regularly informed.
"Deliver a written and oral development report at each board meeting. List current year and previous year figures, names of donors, and amount of gifts/pledges, totals for the period and year-to-date. Board members should also know the fundraising goals for each sector of prospects - corporations, foundations, individuals, board members, special events, etc."
- Program Strengths: Foundations that fund capacity building grants look for the following program characteristics: a clearly defined mission and vision, mission-based programs and services, credibility, strong leadership, teamwork, tight financial management, trustworthiness, technological capability, skill-building capacity, and a clear understanding of internal and external environments. Nonprofits must also be able to: demonstrate a critical need for its services, change as community needs evolve, collaborate and network with corporate partners and other community organizations, identify assets and resources, maintain accurate records, and provide reliable data on program effectiveness.
"Donors, as a rule, do not so much give money to organizations, as they give money to people - to people whom they know, trust and respect - which means that who does the asking is at least as important as the cause for which the funds are being raised."
--The Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership
- Realistic Self-Assessment: Capacity-building foundations want to know how their funds will be spent. Research has shown that most nonprofit organizations need strengthening in the following areas: organizational evaluation and assessment; board, staff, and fund development, including planning for revenue-generating activities; new or improved facilities; marketing and public relations; and financial management. Organizations should use an outside facilitator when identifying organizational strengths and weaknesses. How are we doing? An Inquiry Guide for Adult Education Programs by Beth Bingman and Olga Ebert, available at the Resource Center, provides detailed instructions for conducting a systematic, 12-hour inquiry process. Programs can also consult the 2003 Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence found online at http://www.quality.nist.gov/ or compare their program standards to ProLiteracy America's program standards at http://www.proliteracy.org. In addition, the Literacy Support Center offers online resources for program improvement and strategic planning at http://www.aelweb.vcu.edu/literacy_support_center/.
Finding sustainable, renewable funds for nonprofit adult literacy organizations is an extremely complex subject. A second article on sustainable funding will appear in the fall 2003 Progress to discuss the implementation of a strategic fund development plan and to describe foundations that offer grants for program sustainability and capacity building.
About the Author
Victoire Gerkens Sanborn is Director of the Literacy Support Center at the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Reprinted from Progress for Adult Education and Literacy in Virginia, newsletter of the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center.