Third sector organisations are diverse in size, objectives and strategies, but securing funds to carry out the work they do is certainly a common concern that unites the entire sector.
In fairness, even private sector companies face funding concerns. But if private companies have available resources to spend on expensive marketing and business development activities, charitable and social organisations are more limited in the ways to overcome funding challenges.
This doesn’t mean that the third sector is condemned to poor fundraising strategies. Based on my experience in the sector, I outline below some ideas to help organisations to improve their fundraising processes and initiatives.
First, it is key to get a system in place to list and control the potential sources of grants available to your organisation. This can be as simple as an excel spreadsheet. The purpose is to map the ‘land of opportunities’ and the options that can be explored by your organisation. But building the system is not enough. It is also relevant to currently update it so that no opportunity is missed. A good starting point to build your fundraising source system is the “Funding Central” website: this is a UK platform that offers an easy and user-friendly guide to help funding searches. By providing the characteristics and profile of your organisation, Funding Central matches your organisation with potential sources of grant. There are local, regional, national and overseas funding opportunities available, with contact details and deadline information, so it can be used not only by UK-based organisations. And it is for free.
Be creative in the ways to design your fundraising strategy. Big grants, such as the Big Lottery Fund, the Trust for London or government funding are targeted by a variety of organisations, which difficult the access to them, particularly if your organisation doesn’t rely on a dedicated and experienced team of grant writing. Creative and original approaches are welcome and should be stimulated. Just to give an example, I recently noted that various UK trusts haven’t digitalised their activities yet. They still use paper-based funding applications to support charitable work and their activities are normally carried out through personal contact and postal service. These applications can be more challenging and time-consuming to complete, but they can provide your organisation with a more diverse portfolio of funding sources. Another example of a successful and creative fundraising campaign was the well-known Ice Bucket Challenge which went viral in 2014, resulting in more than USD 100 million raised in 30 days. Thinking outside the box and not being too attached to what has been customarily used by similar organisations may be key to stand out in the crowd.
Fundraising is also a combination of activities. So focus should be divided between searching and filling grant applications, but also on outreach activities that will help to raise awareness of your organisation. This can range from creating ‘Ambassador Programs’ that elect members of the community to represent the “voice” of the organisation, to other forms of community engagement to stimulate peer-to-peer donations that often results in higher donation rates. Social media is also a powerful source to spread content about the work carried out by your organisation. A successful example that I recently saw in practice concerns the charity I volunteer in Brent, named WoRC, dedicated to assisting London’s migrant workers trapped in precarious work. Last May one of WoRC’s employment specialists participated in a live session providing clarification on employment rights to the Romanian community in London. The video was shared on social media and reached almost 20,000 views, which was considered a landmark for a small local charity as WoRC.
Also relevant is to get your data ready as this is the best compelling evidence to support your fundraising activities. If your organisation doesn’t have an appropriate database to collect the information, start one. As much as the fundraising system mentioned above, the data collection system is of key importance and will be relevant for funding and advocacy activities. Use infographics (there are several free platforms online to help you create one) and personal testimonies (if authorised by the beneficiaries) to get your message across and to show the impact your organisation creates in real lives.
Last but not least: transparency is fundamental. A recent piece written by the UK CEO of GlobalGiving, Eleanor Harrison, focuses exactly on the need for radical transparency to regain trust in philanthropy, “through sharing our successes and our failures”. Another way of achieving transparency is to treat your donor as your shareholder. It is true that the donors will not receive a monetary return on the investment made, but they do expect to be treated with honesty and be informed on how the donations were used. Implementing continuous feed-back loops to follow up and update donors is essential to create the trust that is fundamental to secure funding.
These are just few ideas I collect from my own experience in the sector. If you want to collaborate with third-sector fundraising and don’t know how, the Network and Researchers and Consultants for International Development offers a platform that connects grassroots and volunteers interested in helping organisations with technical assistance and grant writing. It can be a starting point for volunteers and a huge step to help grassroots to do more with less.