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Navigating Shifting Sands: Steering Nonprofits to Secure Institutional Funding for Campaigns

This article first appeared in the Giving USA blog.

Capital campaigns are key in propelling nonprofit organizations towards achieving transformative goals. In the fluid world of fundraising, institutional funders, like foundations, corporations, and government agencies, are vital allies for campaign success. As professional fundraising consultants and technology providers, we’ve navigated the unique challenges of 2020 and beyond alongside our clients. Let’s explore effective strategies to secure institutional funding for modern campaigns.

1. Engage Funders Early: It is crucial that nonprofits considering a campaign involve major influential funders and past institutional funders of the organization in the feasibility/planning phase. Seek their input, gather insights, and build relationships before officially launching a campaign. This early engagement can create a sense of ownership and increase their investment in your project. Especially now, as the ripple effects of the pandemic continue to unfold and influence funding priorities, involving funders early on can foster alignment with their evolving focus and ensure your campaign is poised to address the most pressing current needs.

2. Adapt and Flex: The pandemic has reshaped the funding landscape, demanding swift adaptations. Help your nonprofit clients adjust their campaign strategies to meet evolving community needs and priorities. Showing flexibility highlights an organization’s readiness to respond and resilience—qualities highly valued by institutional funders. For instance, a project initially imagined as purely capital might now need to encompass mobile or virtual elements to remain relevant and impactful.

3. Pinpoint Community Impact: Assist in crafting a compelling narrative to show how a capital campaign will positively impact the community. Highlight specific outcomes and improvements that address current social and economic challenges. Explain how the project tackles pressing needs and boosts community well-being. This approach aligns with community-centered fundraising, a trend gaining traction among many institutional funders. (Participatory grant making, or engaging the community in funding decisions, is also gaining traction among the funding community – read more here).

4. Build Strategic Partnerships: Encourage forming strong partnerships with other nonprofits, local businesses, and community leaders to tackle critical issues together. Institutional funders often view collaborative efforts as a more effective and impactful use of resources. The recent increase in mergers and joint efforts between organizations is notable, and we are seeing institutional funders showing strong support for such initiatives in our work. For instance, through strategic alliances with reputable local entities, a client in the legal sector was able to craft a campaign that not only enhanced service delivery but also resonated with prominent funders, showcasing the substantial impact that collaborative efforts can have in boosting campaign appeal and effectiveness.

Read more on how Successful Grant Seeking Starts with a Strategic Plan

5. Customized Proposals: Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach by tailoring each proposal to match the specific priorities of each funder. Every funder is involved with a distinct sector or cause in our global community. Highlight the facets of a capital campaign that align with their particular mission and objectives. Demonstrate thorough research and understanding of their unique interests, crafting a proposal that not only appeals to them, but also resonates with their core values and goals.

6. Leverage Technology: Advocate for the utilization of technology to bolster transparency and engagement. Assist nonprofits in showcasing project progress through real-time updates, virtual tours, and multimedia presentations. Digital tools can bridge the physical gap, offering funders a tangible insight into the campaign, particularly when on-site visits are restricted. A notable example we saw recently involved a simple, low-budget video recorded on a cell phone, illustrating an organization’s dilapidated building in dire need of replacement. Even minimal tech interventions can vividly portray the need and invoke a response.

7. Long-Term Vision: Narrate the chronicle of a funder’s previous support to an organization and how it has sculpted the present circumstances. Institutional funders are keen on perpetuating support for a cause they have backed before, particularly when it has catalyzed tangible change in the targeted area. They are also increasingly drawn towards projects that promise long-term benefits. Illuminate the campaign’s sustainability blueprint—how is the project poised to flourish beyond the campaign’s finale? Provide a roadmap delineating how the project’s impact will be sustained over time. It’s prudent to reflect not only on the campaign’s enduring impact but also on the lasting imprint of the funder’s prior support.

8. Transparency and Reporting: It’s common to see an intense focus on the cultivation and solicitation stages in institutional fundraising, sometimes leaving stewardship in the shadows. Highlight the necessity of transparent reporting regarding fund utilization and project advancement. Regular updates covering key milestones, successes, and challenges should be a standard practice, not an afterthought. Transparent communication fosters trust and helps keep institutional funders engaged and aligned with the organization’s mission and future endeavors.

9. Ensure campaigns have a diverse and influential steering committee to foster credibility and attract institutional support. The success in the philanthropic arena often hinges on the networks and reputations of the individuals leading the campaign.

10. Beyond Bricks and Mortar: Demonstrate how campaigns extend beyond mere infrastructure projects by depicting them as investments in human capital and capacity building, thus aligning with broader institutional funding objectives aimed at systemic change. Our work with a higher education arts school showcased a comprehensive campaign that married capital needs with programmatic expansion, annual and planned gift components, aligning with community-focused objectives that appealed to funders traditionally uninterested in capital-centric campaigns.

11. Organizational Staff Capacity: Highlight the importance of having adequate staffing to manage the multifaceted tasks entailed in a substantial fundraising campaign. This reflects a level of organizational readiness and capacity to execute ambitious projects, instilling confidence in institutional funders.

Read more on Navigating Grant Seeking Staff Shortages

In a rapidly changing environment, institutional funders remain crucial for nonprofits launching ambitious campaigns. By implementing these strategies, you can better position your nonprofit clients to secure the funding needed to bring their transformative projects to life and create lasting positive change in their communities.

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