Fundraising readiness: The missing link
It’s not hard to understand why. When organisations look at fundraising, there’s usually a pretty clear motivation: to raise funds. The return-on-investment measure is supposed to be binary and easy to quantify. Identify the target donors and go after them; look at the strategic, longer-term parts later, once we’ve secured the more ‘immediate’ funding. This is fatally flawed logic.
The annual State of the Sector research projects we led over the last three years consistently highlighted the dearth of fundraising capacity, skills and resources in the sport for good sector. It is, therefore, unsurprising that organisations struggle to invest sufficient time and budget into fundraising work that is perceived to be developmental rather than directly income generating.
Funding pressures in the sector — intensified by myriad macro-environmental conditions over the last few years — have only exacerbated this challenge. More often than not, organisations we work with in the sector come to us looking for ‘quick-fix’ funding. It tends to go “I know we need to look at our long-term funding, and we will get to that, but for now I really need (insert funding amount) for this year’s budget”.
And we get it. We have immense sympathy for those organisations, as cohering short- and long-term goals is a perennially delicate balance, particularly in fundraising. Those short-term deficits feel more ‘real’ and can quickly become all-consuming.
But the quick-fix paradigm creates a profoundly-unvirtuous circle. Even if short-term funds are secured, organisations operating this way just find themselves back in the same cycle immediately afterwards: constantly chasing the next sticking plaster until they can no longer stem the bleeding. Quick-fix ‘successes’ can also become Pyrrhic victories, as desperation can lead to organisations compromising their values and/or mission to secure funds, no matter the cost.
Breaking this cycle is not easy, and, unsurprisingly, is no quick-fix… But it can be done. Your fundraising readiness is the elemental foundation of a long-term, sustainable funding model.
What is fundraising readiness and why is it so important?
Fundraising readiness comprises every single component that will impact your ability to secure meaningful funding. It is a holistic approach to your fundraising strategy, one that considers long-term objectives and is in a constant state of development and review.
With the fundraising environment being more competitive and stretched than ever before, it is crucial that you are able to differentiate your organisation — and your proposition — as much as possible. Funders, donors and corporations are inundated with worthwhile and compelling requests for their funding — orders of magnitude beyond what they can actually administer — and it is imperative that you put forward the strongest conceivable version of your case when you engage them.
Inevitably, prospective donors/partners are going to be risk-averse and you must give them confidence that you are a trusted and safe partner who will deliver optimal impact and manage their funds effectively and responsibly. Because of that acute competition for funds, you cannot give material reasons for them not to fund you, because they will find them. Increasingly, funder/donor assessments of potential partners encompass a broad range of factors that cut through every element of your organisation and your work.
Fundraising readiness is the extent to which you can demonstrate strength across these factors and, where there are areas for development, a clear plan for how they will be addressed. The primary readiness areas, in their most general form, are:
Fundamental to everything your organisation does. From legal structure, board composition and representation to safeguarding, financial health and levels of transparency, governance is a broad but essential facet of your fundraising proposition.
Of course, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the work itself. But funders need evidence — robust, verifiable and authentic evidence of the impact of your work. It is vital that you have appropriate monitoring and evaluation frameworks, processes and practices in place to provide this evidence and demonstrate your impact.
Solid data and insight — on its own — will only take you so far. Its power lies within its ability to be embedded into a compelling and emotive narrative that connects with prospective donors. Your marketing and communications must, through every channel and engagement point, tell a coherent, consistent and meaningful story about your work and its impact.
From your board members to your volunteers, your people are your greatest fundraising assets. Donors and stakeholders will consider the skills and capabilities of your leadership team, your capacity to deliver what you say, and the lived experience within your wider team and network. Identify your gaps and formulate a plan to fill them.
The all-important how. Do you have a fundraising strategy? Do you know what you are fundraising for? Do you have the fundraising tools, systems and processes in place to support activation? Do you have an organisational culture that puts fundraising at the heart of everything you do? These are all core determinants of your fundraising productivity.
Bringing it all together is the final hurdle. Having total clarity on your fundraising proposition, deliverables and funding needs is essential before going-to-market. Work on developing these out into fundraising assets — such as project concept notes and a case for support — that can augment your implementation approach. Clarity will give you conviction and — most crucially — confidence in taking that final step, and making it happen!
So what now?
The first step is to undertake a fundraising-readiness assessment. We have been working with sector leaders, donors, partners and stakeholders to build a comprehensive fundraising readiness rating tool and supporting framework that will give you a picture of how you are currently performing, where you are strongest and which areas need most development.
Fundraising readiness, done properly, requires institutional and leadership self-awareness and an authentic desire to strengthen your organisation’s development areas. This approach will not only serve your long-term fundraising performance, but also your organisation’s broader capacity and capability. It is all interconnected; fundraising does not exist in a vacuum, and should not be viewed in isolation from other vital business functions.
Final (repeated) point: successful fundraising is built upon structured intent. Quick-fix, short-termism will keep you trapped in an unrelenting cycle of temporary measures and uncertainty. Strengthening your fundraising readiness itself will not deliver overnight results — in fact, it is a never-ending pursuit that requires continual review — but it will provide you with the robust foundations for enduring and — crucially — sustainable fundraising performance.