Fund Development

I was supposed to do a blog post yesterday and I missed my target.  But…I have a very good excuse.

All this week, the Bayer Center is hosting The Grantsmanship Center’s Training Program.  I am attending and it is awesome!  I am learning so much about grants and the search/proposal process.  Development is certainly an art form!

The trainer from TGC is excellent as well.  She very obviously has years of experience in development and proposal writing and shares her knowledge as well as lots of real world examples and stories.  Today we start working in groups and will produce a full-fledged proposal by 1:30 tomorrow afternoon!

If anyone wants to learn more about this workshop, here’s the link to the information for it on TGC’s website:

My grand-dog, the only Corgi named after a hiphop artist, Busta Outon!
My grand-dog, the only Corgi named after a hiphop artist, Busta Outon!

Everywhere you look, someone is offering advice about how to fundraise in tough times…stay close to your donors…ask for many small gifts…re-create a lay-away plan for contributions…don’t ask for capital…don’t ask for new…be afraid, be very afraid!  I ponder the question of effective fundraising techniques frequently myself.  The Bayer Center has always raised 50% of its operating budget and the current economic times have hit us where we live…

I love many things in life and one of them is Pembroke Welsh Corgis.  The AKC breed standard to describe a proper Corgi personality is “Bold yet kindly”…an intriguing set of characteristics for any living creature.  This  combination produces absolutely wonderful dogs – three of whom are in my immediate family.
So as I ponder how we or one of my clients should frame their case for support in these trying times, I find myself thinking about the BOLD YET KINDLY injunction…For times like these call for organizations to retain their optimism, their aspirations for a better world, their intention to change and improve people’s lives – BE BOLD, yet they also call for a measured, evidence-based, tempered approach in their fundraising techniques, strategies that are appreciative of the times – YET KINDLY or better perhaps, WISE…
Corgis have other qualities that are characteristic of good fundraisers.  They are persistent and tenacious when they believe something valuable (a peanut butter filled Kong is particularly desireable…) is in the offering.  They are charming and interested in all kinds of people, believing them to be worthy of their regard.  Their world is joy-filled and full of possibility.
I think these are qualities that draw people to organizations and motivate a spirit of generosity and connection.  So may we all be BOLD YET WISE in our on-going work of securing the necessary resources for our organizations…may we all love life like a corgi and love our people with many kisses and an unbounding enthusiasm for new adventures, believing the world is waiting for us and ready to play.
I’d love to hear where you find your inspiration and courage to keep working even when the world around you says NO…so fundraise like a Corgi and may  you each be very successful!

flickr photo: mintimage

We’re bringing our training to your desk in the form of two webinars next month.  If you’ve never attended a webinar, it’s more painless than parking downton: log on, call in, participate, log off, go back to work.  Heck, you can attend in your robe in your living room.


Effective Presentations: Stories and Stats

Tuesday, May 12 and Tuesday May 19 • 10–11 a.m.

There are few things more horrible than losing your audience. Two things can contribute to wandering attention: narrative that lacks a human touch, and visuals that fight with your narrative. Present information in a way that keeps your audience awake and engaged. Learn how to make PowerPoint slides that looks good while perfectly enhancing and complementing your talk. We help you structure your content for maximum interest and show you all the great features PowerPoint has to offer.

Instructor: Jeff Forster, Bayer Center

Register Online:

Proposals That Get the Grant
Thursday, May 21 from 10 a.m.–noon 

Take that great idea and get it funded! But how? This class explores the indispensable principles of writing winning proposals:

• develop a strategic approach to funders

• identify what you need to know before you start writing

• learn the basic elements of successful proposals

• understand what you need to communicate

Instructor: Teresa Gregory, Robert Morris University

Register Online:

Have a question or something to add to this post? Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1 GB USB drive. One winner per week until the end of May.


This is what it means to be totally committed to your mission…

Yesterday, Garrett Cooper and I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by Jessica Jackley, co-founder of (and Pittsburgher by birth and upbringing).

Kiva is a fascinating organization and just about my favorite example of social networking. Kiva is a microlender. That is, they facilitate small loans to people in developing countries (soon in the U.S.) to help them build businesses and become kivaself-sufficient. Unlike the typical microlender, however, Kiva is not the source of the capital for these loans – you and I are!

On Kiva’s website,, stories and photographs of individual borrowers and prospective borrowers are posted. You or I then go to Kiva and select the person or group that we want to support. We lend as little as $25, Kiva aggregates our money with other lenders, and – Voila! – a new business is launched. And when the money gets paid back, as it usually does, we can pick our next recipient. $25 at a time, and in just 4 years, Kiva has passed over $62 million of loans to the working poor the world over.

Here’s Kiva’s mission: to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.


Read that again. That is a great mission statement. Clear, succinct, specific. No vagaries here. What do they do? Connect people. How do they do it? Through lending. Why? For the sake of alleviating poverty.


Some time ago, a company came to Kiva and offered them $10 million of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) money. Kiva asked them what they intended. Were they going to distribute the money to their employees so that all of them could log onto Kiva’s website and join as lenders? No, the company just wanted to give Kiva a check for Kiva to lend out. So Kiva referred back to its mission statement. $10 million could alleviate a lot of poverty. $10 million could provide for a lot of lending. But a $10 million check from a corporation wouldn’t connect people.


So Kiva said, “No, thank you.”


Let me repeat that. Kiva, a nonprofit less than 5 years old, turned down a $10 million contribution because it didn’t fit precisely with their mission.


Would you have that much courage in your organization?


This is what being truly committed to mission really means.


I’m planning to join Kiva’s network of lenders. Wouldn’t you like to?

Have a question or something to add to this post?  Leave a comment, and you’ll be entered to win a 1GB USB drive.  One winner per week through the end of May.


Nearly two years ago, The Chronicle of Philanthropy published an interesting article (August 9, 2007) that had important implications for fundraising nonprofit professionals working in the human services sector. The main premise of the piece is that charities involved in raising money for the needy should “emphasize their recipients’ desire to work.”

Conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, the study selected 144 participants who were then given an online questionnaire to determine their level of humanitarian and altruistic behaviors. Participants were given $10 and provided with information about three real-life female welfare recipients and told they could give any portion of their money to the women, and could then keep whatever was left.

Regarding the welfare recipients, all information was the same, except the following:

• Woman #1 had worked fulltime in the past and wanted to find another job
• Woman #2 had not worked in five years and was not interested in obtaining a job
• Woman #3 provided no information about her work history

Which woman do you think received the greatest amount of charitable donations? You guessed it, Woman #1. However, she received more than 4 times as much money as Woman #2 (the woman not seeking employment). Another interesting finding was that people who scored high on the “humanitarian questionnaire” gave an average of nearly $5 to Woman #1, while participants who scored low on the questionnaire gave an average of $1.50 to Woman #1. Of note, Woman #3 received an average of less than $2 from all participants, regardless of their “humanitarian score.”

As Christina Fong, a research scientist at CMU, wrote, “It is important for charities to keep in mind the power of the desire to give money only to worthy causes…reminding potential donors about difficult circumstances and bad luck faced by the poor [perhaps with specific examples] is likely to help more than merely focusing on the poverty and suffering.”

In these tough economic times, fundraisers, it’s important to show your donors that their dollars are being spent on worthy causes and individuals. Whether you agree with this approach or not it’s what works. Then after successfully making your goal you can use those funds to find Woman #1 her job; inspire Woman #2 to reenter the workforce; and assist Woman #3 in creating a resume and finding a job, too.

(The author wishes to thank Maria Polinsky, Director of Development at Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council, for calling my attention to the following article. Thanks again Maria!)


On the one hand, dashboards are nothing new.  On the other hand, they’re all the rage.  Dashboards can be on paper or dynamic, on-screen views, but whatever form they take, a dashboard is a snapshot distillation of the current state of key measures of success.

Dashboards are nothing new because organizations that have taken the time to figure out what their key measures are and to collect the data needed to evaluate them have created dashboard-like reports and reviewed them regularly.  There’s a strong strain in strategic planning and outcomes measurement that leads to dashboards to figure out whether the strategies are working and the outcomes are being achieved.  The “new” vibe derives from fundraising packages and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems offering on-screen, live dashboards.  In addition to the point-and-click ease of use of on-screen dashboards, the up-to-the-minute nature of the data can create the incentives that have long been needed to get users to update whatever part of the data stream they own.  If the boss may look at the dashboard on any day (not just the last day of the month when the summary report is printed), I have to keep my data up to date in order to get credit for the work I’ve done.

In my first data-heavy job, I realized that the most important ingredient to good data entry was the feedback loop.  Supervising a team of highly capable people with pretty low motivation (workstudy students), I realized that I had to put the data they created back in front of them quickly for two reasons:

1. to show them how their little bits of record-keeping turned into a vitally useful whole for our organization.

2. to show them their own mistakes and make them responsible for fixing and not repeating them.

A dashboard can be a constant expression of the dynamism of our work.  One of my favorite measures that I put on a client’s dashboard (which opens whenever anyone opens the database) is total unique individuals served all time.  Why should we only look at that number at annual report and fundraising proposal time?  It’s fun to watch it grow week in and week out.

The grand irony of this post is that I wanted to include some good examples of nonprofit on-screen dashboards that I could find on the web.  I couldn’t find any.  Do you have a dashboard that you’d be willing to share?  Leave a comment; we can smudge out any data that’s confidential.

Last week’s announcement of the Presto Fund demands one key question of regional nonprofits: Can we truly transform ourselves?

The Presto Fund, in case you’ve been lost on some desert island, is the new fund created by CMU alumnus Dominic Presto “to free nonprofits from the grinding pressure of daily fundraising and enable them to focus on innovative, system-changing service delivery models.” With initial assets of around $1 billion, and expected to grow significantly from there, the Fund is a major new philanthropic force in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania.steel

According to its website, the Presto Fund will:

“.. provide a minimum of $50 million annually in multi-year, unrestricted grants of at least $100,000 for overhead, management, administration, and research and development. The Fund will not offer program-related funding, nor will it limit the number of consecutive years of support it may grant. The Fund seeks to free its recipient agencies from the cycle of fundraising and enable them to focus on figuring out how to do what they do best even better.”

To really understand the philosophy that drives the Presto Fund, it’s important to know a little about Mr. Presto.

Dominic Presto is from a small, southwestern Pennsylvania town. His father was one of the last deep-mine coal miners in the region and was tragically killed in a mining accident when Dominic was just 8 years old. The mining company went bankrupt as a result of the accident, and what little settlement the family got was lost after the mine owners talked Dominic’s mother into investing in a new mine that turned out to be a scam.  For the rest of his childhood and most of his teen years, Dominic (an only child) and his mother lived on friends’ couches on the good days and in the street or shelters the rest of the time.

Given his success later in life, it’s not surprising that Dominic was an extremely bright child. He has often said that very early on as he bounced from shelter to shelter, he was perplexed by seeing the same faces over and over again. Why, he wondered, couldn’t these agencies change the system?

Dominic earned a scholarship to Carnegie Mellon University (then Carnegie Tech) and became an engineer. He spent the next 20 years in research departments where, in his words, he was “the driving force behind more hare-brained failures than Homer Simpson!” Eventually, he came up with a concept for using rice syrup as an annealing agent in the fabrication of steel that was so far-out his usually tolerant bosses refused to let him work on it. So he left, formed his own company… and today he’s giving billions of dollars to philanthropy.

The Presto Fund appears to be a dream come true. A simple application process, openness to all types of regionally-located nonprofits, and unrestricted, multi-year funding of at least $100,000. So, the question is, are we ready for it? Are we ready to become risk-takers? Are we willing to fail? Do we have the discipline to stay rigorous when the worry over funding is removed?

Mr. Presto did not get where he did by continuing to do things the same old way. And he won’t fund us if we do.

Finally, as you consider transforming your agency through the generosity of this major new funder, keep in mind one last requirement from the Presto Fund’s website:

“The Presto Fund will not support nonprofits that are taken in by blog entries posted on April 1st.”

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