Two months ago, I introduced you to Mark Moore and Bret Raymond, founders of Mother Administrative Nutritive Aid (MANA), an organization that aims to be a fully sustainable producer of ready-to-use-therapeutic-food by 2012. Last time, we took a look at the importance of owning an authentic mission, making sure it is measurable and concrete.
MANA recently received a pretty substantial commitment of $250,000 that they have been working to match during the month of March. And since funding (or rather, lack thereof) seems to be a road block for many awesome non-profit and social venture ideas and projects, I thought I’d tap into co-founder Bret Raymond’s knowledge of the process of finding funds for a start-up.
Extend an Invitation
If Bret Raymond were going to write a book on fundraising, it would probably have a title some where along the lines of “Fundraising: The Honor of Inviting Others to Join in Your Mission”. First, instead of the traditional term of an “ask”, Bret uses the word “invite”. “If you think of when you receive an invitation in the mail,” he explained, “you feel honored to have been invited. There’s something special about that square envelope in comparison to your electric bill.”
This captures the concept of what you are bringing to the people you speak with. You are offering them the opportunity to join with you as you achieve your goal- be it feeding the hungry, working for the environment, or whatever you make seek to do. The power is in the story you tell and how you tell it. “When I get no for an answer,” Raymond explained, “I think of it as a no(t yet). It is an opportunity for me to re-evaluate how I communicated the message that caused them to not consider it.”
And Raymond emphasized that it is not just an honor to receive the invitation, but it should be considered an honor to extend the invitation as well. He explained, “I’ve got 26,000 kids suffering from severe acute malnutrition and I have the opportunity to invite others to work on their behalf. I have been given the privilege to be the voice for these kids.”
The Value of Genuine Relationships
Second, according to Raymond, the first people to receive the invitation should be those closest to you. “The most common form of fundraising is through personal savings and then family and friends”, he said and thus, “[fundraising] is a very personal, very relational part of moving forward in your mission.”
And it makes sense. As Raymond pointed out in our discussion, in the initial stage, it is more so the case that people are investing in the individuals involved in the project. They invest in your character and their belief in your ability to achieve a goal. “So many start-ups tend to think how they have to go after foundations or the big money, but currently 95% of our donors are people we personally know, with only 5% being outside of that circle,” Raymond said.
Family and friends also serve as your greatest connectors. If they cannot connect you to funding, they might be able to connect you with a good lawyer, a business analyst, or a good web developer. (Always be faithful in the follow-up!!) Just consider your close friends and your willingness to do them favors- simply because you care for them. But the key is, you have to be willing to take the step to invite them- and the invitation must be personalized.
Inviting People, Not Prospects
Having an agenda is not bad. Even in our most personal relationships, we have agendas- even if it’s just to show that person love for the sake of growing the relationship. But approaching someone with a fundraising agenda that shows little to no regard for that person’s self interest is equally as awkward as a woman talking about marriage on the first date. Most women know that that is a dating no-no. Though marriage may be an ultimate desire (and thus part of the agenda), sharing your wedding dreams on day one demonstrates a serious disinterest in the gentleman’s comfort.
On the same token, your agenda is to raise funds for the sake of the people your organization is serving. But one must stop to think about the person you are approaching. Asking questions like “Is this person interested in what I’m doing?” or even, “What is this person interested in?” This process of discovery may lead to future conversations where funding could be a topic.
The tension here is between desiring to achieve your goal and the importance of building relationships that are focused or even rooted in your organization’s agenda. “You have to make sure you keep the ‘human’ in humanity”, Raymond said. The friends you have in your life are more than just potential donors. If you lose sight of who they are, chances are you will lose their support-and not just in terms of finances.
Receiving an invitation in the mail is special. It is even more so when we know the person. And even better still when we see a kind note that communicates that the sender not only knows us but appreciates our time and desires us to join with them. Take some time to make it personal. After all, as Raymond said, “Your funding has much more to do with character than anything else.”