Sunday, September 02, 2007

New column every Monday: "Fundraising Guru"--September 3, 2007

Create budgets that make people want to give
by Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein, author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising and host and executive producer of "Fundraising Success" on WXEL/National Public Radio, available at to anyone with Internet access or its equivalent at any time from anywhere in the world

The best way to bolster your case for your fundraising objective is to develop the (usually dreaded) budget. Every lofty purpose has to make dollars-and-sense to a potential funder's critical eyes. But don't look upon the process just as a matter of slapping dry numbers down next to likely expenditures. Turn it into an opportunity to inspire potential contributors.

If you are applying for foundation or government grants, you will have to provide funders the financial information they want in the form they want it. (Whoever has the money writes the rules.) Private donors may not hand you a preprinted checklist, but they don't want to get fiscal mush. Everyone wants clear budgets, timelines, and outcomes. Major donors want to know what percent of your tab they are being asked to contribute. For them, your proposal is a risk and an investment, even if they don't personally receive dollar dividends from it. They want to feel that you are doing something that is likely to succeed and will only be convined if you add responsible financial projections to a description of your worthwhile aims.

Dare to be different. Include a brief, but meaningful, narrative to explain the logic behind your budget proposal. Slip in choice editorializing wherever it strengthens your case. For example, make interpretive statements at strategic points about the cost-effectiveness of your proposal. Guide potential funders through your budget.

Follow these 10 basic guidelines to develop a budget that makes people want to give:

1. Don't pad your request, anticipating you will have a chance later to negotiate a more realistic figure. You will probably have blown it. Funders don't play games or like game-players.

2. Develop two or three different budgets for the same efforts, showing how much or how little you'll be able to accomplish, depending upon your success at getting funding.

3. Stress the "invisible" dollars your organization brings to the table: the value of staff and in-kind servcies, for example.

4. Demonstate the cost-effectiveness of the way your organization conducts business. Use comparative data to show how your expenses are in line with or more economical than those of comparable entities.

5. If it's true, sell funders by proving that you can deliver quality services more inexpensively than anyone else. (Even nonprofits must recognize that you compete in the marketplace.)

6. Resist the human tendency to ignore inevitable, unanticipatable costs and to think that they will somehow take care of themselves. Budget a lump sum for the unexpected.

7. Include dollars for public relations. Describe how the positive press you generate will help you attract additional donations.

8. Emphasize how you can stretch contributed dollars through collaborative efforts with other appropriate individuals and agencies.

9. Budget for your increasing self-sufficiency and, ideally, financial independence. Funders do not want to see a budget that will obligate them forever or that will rely solely upon the kindness of strangers. Be specific about how your project will be able to become less dependent upon contributed monies as time goes on.

10. In addition to budgeting for start-up costs, estimate what it would cost responsibly to close a project, should that be necessary.

A creative budget proposal can be your most persuasive fundraising tool--turning your good sense into other people's generous dollars.

Email your fundraising comments and questions to Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein at

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