Danny Blitch, GPC
Grant Seeking vs. Individual Gift Solicitation
Let me start by observing that, by convention, we separate those who work in “fundraising,” by which we typically mean the solicitation of funds from individuals, from “grantsmanship,” by which typically mean seeking government, foundation, or corporate grants.
It’s as if grantsmanship is something wholly different from fundraising. I’m not sure I agree with that distinction, but in any case, for purposes of this article, I’ll preserve the distinction as a convenient way to compare and contrast the two.
Let’s dive in.
Grant and Fundraising Development Professionals
There are many types of grant professionals, from the obvious to the nebulous. Grant professionals who prepare applications seeking large sums of government funds from federal and state grant-making agencies are one type. Some grant writers are a bit more stealthy because they don’t have a grant-related title or job description. Indeed, many of those who prepare grant proposals wear many hats for their employer.
Equally, fundraisers come in all forms and fashions. Soliciting donors in an annual fund is common. Soliciting major gifts in one-on-one settings is, too. Collecting door-to-door donations in the neighborhood for a school trip is fundraising. So is gift planning. Tithing programs at your local house of worship are also fundraising.
Whether they know it or not, some fundraisers have written what amounts to a grant proposal after already securing the commitment from an individual donor. To receive the commitment, they met with the donor in person and made the pitch, receiving a “yes.” Then the schematics of the project are submitted to the donor to confirm and agree on the expected outcomes. The donor gets what is wanted, and the organization provides the solution, manpower, beneficiaries, and so on.
Grant professionals often find this process to be backward. In grants, the funder gathers the financial resources, decides on the type of projects it wants to review, prepares and releases an RFP, conducts workshops, receives the proposals, and selects the awardees. The funder gets what is wanted, and the organization provides the solution, manpower, beneficiaries, and so on.
Grants and individual fundraising are similar. Both raise revenues. However, as my colleague Joanne Oppelt, GPC, wrote in her book Moving Up to Executive Director, “Revenue generation is not about money, it’s about mission fulfillment. If you go after money for money’s sake, in the long term, you will fail.”
Most people go on to say the two professions are different because fundraising is only about asking your friends for money. I argue both professions are rooted in relationships. Good grant professionals and fundraisers alike make friends easily, especially with program officers and funders. Asking a friend for money is a similarity!
The oft-spoken-about elevator speech is prevalent in all our positions. Just as you must be ready to ask for a donation, you must also be on-the-ready to describe the grant project, the need, and how your solution is the better project. It is easy to “run into” higher-ups and decision-makers at work. Being ready to talk intelligently about your work and projects is critical to success.
Grant writers and fundraisers must be proficient writers and effective communicators. This is a critical point and should be a job requirement. There is no requirement that you be tall or outgoing but communicating well in writing is essential.
The program staff members are our eyes and ears at the intersection of people and programs. Strong, respectful relationships and friendships are vitally important. Often, we may feel we are at the mercy of program staff. They can control the messaging and the flow of information. Accurate and timely information is relied upon to make changes and prepare periodic reports. The information and timeliness will impact future and continuation funding for your project.
It is true your supervisor may have hired you, but we all work at the pleasure of the board. You know this to be true if you have ever fallen out of good graces with the leadership of your organization. This is true no matter the amount of the grant or the number of donations you have brought in.
Grants and fundraising go together like accounting and spreadsheets. In our roles as grant professionals and fundraisers, we must work closely with the finance department. In Oppelt’s book Moving Up to Executive Director, she spends a chapter on financial management. “Values are what guide me in fulfilling the mission. The numbers may be my least favorite part of the job, but they are crucial to moving my organization forward. I must be profitable to grow and expand the mission. And I must always remember… that the mission is our reason for existence,” she writes.
We have to know the jargon of our profession and be not afraid to use it. Each profession has a lingo all its own. Jargon helps us to communicate effectively. More job happiness and satisfaction are gained from networking and sharing “battlefield” stories with peers. Knowing that others are feeling and experiencing the same trials and tribulations is wonderful and liberating.
Grant writers and fundraisers feel the pressure of getting money. Successful professionals thrive under that pressure. They might be competitive by nature or enjoy the internal surge of helping others. Unfortunately, though, the pressure gets to some. I am sure you have seen such professionals work themselves into a frenzy and take time off just as the deliverables are due.
In general terms, grant seeking is different from fundraising from individual donors. Grant seeking in its purest form is about the words on the page. The reviewers initially know little about you, your organization, or the grant project. They judge the grant request on the narrative, budget, and attachments. What they see is what they get, and our job as grant professionals is to deliver on the written promise. We call it writing a grant proposal or grant application requesting funding.
Fundraising is about making the right ask at the right time of the right person. Many authors speak of relationships as the key to fundraising. Fundraisers are continuingly seeking an audience for their messaging or what they call a “case statement.” They seek advice and ask for investments in programming, projects, and people. The donor will give to people, not organizations. The right asker can make the gift happen, even without a project description or a budget on paper!
Grantsmanship and fundraising have similar jargon but different realities. One example is about the funding we get. In grants, we speak of the grant awards or grants applied for and received. In fundraising, we talk of the gifts and donations asked for, pledged, and received. A grant award is very secure; however, not all pledges from individual donors are honored. If relying upon donations to fund a project, some fundraisers recommend about 10 percent more in pledges than is needed to fund the project.
I love deadlines. Some folks express a love-hate relationship with deadlines. I see this as a problem. As a grant professional, I set deadlines for myself and others. I set advance deadlines and refine my messaging to keep others and me on task. I struggle with reminding too much. Deadlines for me in grants are real and attainable and should never be missed. Fundraising deadlines are different. Last year I was invited to donate to a charity for a friend’s birthday. I did. Since that donation, all year long the organization I gave to emailed me deadline after deadline after deadline to give again.
The dollars gifted or awarded still spend, but they are different. Government grants are typically larger in scope and dollar amount. Obviously, there are many exceptions. However, in my experience “millions” in federal grants is a solid goal. Millions can be obtained from a small number, like one or two proposals. The fundraising reality, on the other hand, is many asks are needed to raise millions though there can be major donors who contribute millions, too, whether outright or through a gift plan.
The types of fundable projects are different, also. Not all grant projects would work well as a fundraising campaign and conversely not all fundraising projects make fundable grant projects.
The competition for limited resources is real. One of the issues I have seen firsthand in my grant-making programs is that many ineligible organizations apply for grants. Few are eligible, but many apply. Fundraising is competitive, too, but different. When fundraisers are looking for a prospective major donor, they are looking for connections between the donor and the organization. The connections are as varied as the people, places, and things with which the organization interacts.
Fundraising Ain’t Grant Writing
Grant writing is only similar to other grant writing. That is, federal grant writing is similar to private foundation grant writing in that they are both grant writing. Fundraising is often likened to friend raising and even relationship building. I think of fundraising professionals as being great communicators, especially through talking (and asking for a gift). In the same breath, folks will say fundraising is like great storytelling. Still, nothing about seeking major gifts, securing an estate gift, or convincing a donor to give small amounts monthly is like grant writing. Fundraising is being able to talk about the solution on the piece of paper you or somebody else wrote and describe the project in such a way that the donor in front of you is inspired to give. Everybody has a different financial situation, and every ask is different.
It is widely known in fundraising that over 90 percent of the dollars raised come from fewer than 10 percent of the of the donors. The fundraising strategy is often to acquire more donors.
Annual and monthly giving are frequently lumped into the same category. But they are different and may require a unique messaging strategy. I recently read a book by Pamela Witter, Five Strategies to Increase Annual Fund Revenue. Pamela describes in great detail the importance of choosing your words carefully. Additionally, she writes that “it is essential to determine what the strongest ask is, root the annual fund in that ask, and repeat it over multiple solicitations and even multiple years.”
The strategy behind annual giving is to engage potential donors, typically around special events, to donate each year or even to break that gift up into equal monthly installments. The idea here is to leverage the expense of the marketing efforts of the special event to find a large number of new, albeit small level, donors.
No amount of grant writing can prepare you for a face-to-face meeting to ask a donor for a gift. What is considered a major gift is different for every organization. A $500 donation for many nonprofits is a major gift. Another nonprofit may set $25,000 as a major gift level.
In her CharityChannel article last week, A Primer on Major Gifts, Janet Levine cautions us to be careful here. She points out that if a donor contributes a gift that meets or exceeds the amount the organization defines as a major gift but does it annually as part of the annual fund, it is not really a major gift because the donor could well give considerably more.
Major gift fundraisers and hopefully the giving program itself develops strong long-term relationships with donors. The donors see the value in making a transformative gift and find it helpful to schedule the donations and may even make multiyear gifts or challenge other major donors to give.
The strategy behind major giving is for the development professional to narrow the potential donor field to only a few of the wealthiest individuals. The idea here is to spend your time wisely and efficiently seeking gifts for your organization that are large enough to change the circumstances for the people you serve. One major gift is more efficient than one hundred smaller gifts.
Grant proposal writers never have to talk to donors about their inevitable passing. Most grant writers know very little about the tax code, estate planning, wills and trusts, or how to protect a donor’s current assets after they die.
Professional fundraisers are skilled at talking jargon with gift planning prospects about their financial plan, gift plan, and stewardship. The strategy for planned giving is to marry the legacy desires of the donor with the financial needs of the nonprofit. The planning part can be as straight-forward as a will, but typically planning is a complex process of keeping the funds available through a donor’s passing and protecting those same assets for the future while securing a donor’s legacy.
A great read that I highly recommend is Getting Started in Charitable Gift Planning, by Brian Sagrestano and Robert Wahlers. They observe that gift planning takes commitment. They point out that “the number one reason we see gift planning programs fail is a lack of organizational commitment.” The idea is to craft an internal case for support that builds a principal/philanthropic planning program for the organization. Creating a culture of donor focus will lead to donor trust and ultimately organizational sustainability.
This is an over-simplification, especially knowing how different grant seeking is from fundraising. I have said it before, in my book, Prepare for the GPC Exam: Earn Your Grant Professional Certified Credential, that “grant seeking belongs with the development or fund-seeking team of an organization and should be coordinated with the overall funding plan.”
The fund-seeking team should coordinate efforts and strategize both grants and fundraising. Few funders want to be approached more than once from the same organization. Taking care to research potential prospects (be they grant funders or individual donors) will usually lead to more funding for the organization and projects. Learning the wants and desires of potential funders can help the fund-seekers with the heavy lifting regarding which funder to go after and in what order.
“Grants” Is Only One Element
Many grant writers believe in their heart of hearts that all problems can be solved with a grant. You’ll probably hear, if you haven’t already, “Oh yeah, you should get a grant for that!” For example, “my car broke down this morning. I hate car trouble and not knowing how expensive it will be is the worst.” A coworker is quick to say, “Oh yeah, you should get a grant for that!” Okay, I’m slightly exaggerating. But only slightly.
Sometimes, a grant simply won’t work. Often the answer, the only answer, is fundraising from individual donors.
Fundraising always starts with your board of directors. Your task is to get every member giving at the level they can afford. Not everyone has to give the same amount, but all must give.
With fundraising, charitable contributions aren’t always cash; often they are in-kind and have more value than purely monetary. Fundraising is necessary to fund the projects and programs supported by the board and staff. Good projects and programs lead to more donations and gifts and maybe program income.
Project income is also known as a fee for services or access to activities. The participant might pay a fee to park before touring the grounds at a botanical garden. Participants might pay a fee to visit a park or historic site. Projects and programs should not only create a sustainable income source but should have volunteer components.
Special events are a great way to engage volunteers. Volunteers are likely passionate about the organization where they spend their time. The reasons can be as varied as the number of volunteers. Whatever the reason, know that your volunteers are just as important as the other components, including grants.
That’s right. Grants is last on this list because for an organization to be ready for grants, it needs to have the other components in place, and doing well. Grants often require a well-funded organization with a strong board. Grants require a track record of projects and programs. Evidence of a healthy organization is the community events and awareness enjoyed.
Lastly, grants by their nature are temporary. Most grant proposals must address the “sustainability question.” This question is easiest to answer if the organization is strong, grant ready, and has fundable projects. Besides, the evidence is clear – grants from corporations and foundations make up a very small part of the dollars raised by nonprofits.
Modern society needs both grantsmanship and fundraising. The professionals of both deserve our admiration and respect.
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