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Stories From Small Charity Fundraisers: Five Top Tips For Starting Your Grant Income Portfolio

Stories from Small Charity Fundraisers: Five Top Tips for Starting Your Grant Income Portfolio

At Nova Fundraising we love getting our fundraisers together to access peer-support from each other and often find its such a cost effective and joyful way to learn and gain support. Some of our own best fundraising delivery has stemmed from tips and tricks we have learnt from within our fundraising tribe. However, our combined personal experience is that it is BEST when peer fundraisers really can empathise and engage with your fundraising context and have ‘been in your shoes.’ This is particularly true for small charities when a brand-new fundraiser (sometimes starting out on their fundraising career for the first time) has the job of starting to build a fundraising portfolio from scratch (ie with a very scant history of fundraising). We know that it can feel like a giant mountain to climb.

So – this August we were DELIGHTED to bring two amazing fundraisers together – Ruth Mills from Cardiff-based Autistic Minds together with Phoebe Thomas-Weeks from Open Age in West London. Whilst relatively different causes, and extremely different career routes into being Trust & Grant Fundraisers, there was much to share and reflect on, given the VERY similar starting bases for their grant-portfolio.  Here are their 5 key tips for success:

  1. Stewardship: Right from the get-go both fundraisers (Phoebe is 2.5 years into their job, Ruth is just 4 months in) concurred that donor stewardship was clearly the absolute beating heart of grant-fundraising. Both fundraisers agreed that you just can’t expect grant-fundraising to be effective unless you offer regular, appropriate and targeted updates and relationships to your current, past and future grant-funders. Both agreed this was a steep learning curve – especially because all grant-makers have different needs and expectations. But get it wrong early on, and it can really knock your confidence.
  2. Being Authentic: We had some lovely chats about the value of being your authentic self – both as a fundraiser for the charity, as an individual in your own right. Don’t be afraid to talk as a human, tell the charity’s stories in your own voice; demonstrate how much you personally care and what impresses you most; and ultimately share the charity’s reality too. For instance, if mistakes are being made and lessons learnt, then share them – funders do love to hear anecdotes and snippets, as well as receive the formal tailored reports.
  3. Internal Colleague Relationships: No grant-fundraiser can ignore the importance of internal connections and communications with colleagues in different teams, those creating and delivering the projects, the leadership team and the board. A grant-fundraiser’s life is easiest when these relationships communicate regularly, effectively and with the transfer of detailed information in a timely fashion. Creating these lines of communication was seen by both Ruth and Phoebe as a priority piece of work in the first six months of the job.
  4. Financial Information: Both of our fundraisers started their careers at different stages of understanding about budgets and financial information – but Ruth and Phoebe agreed instantly that access to well-developed financial information was an un-deniably VITAL aspect of the grant fundraising process – ranging from a big-picture perspective that tells a narrative about the charity’s financial history and future plans – through to a detailed or granular level relating to project costs and solid budgets.
  5. Handling Stress: An ever-present topic of conversation and concern for Nova Fundraising, both Phoebe and Ruth chose to include this in their top five messages for fundraisers in small charities. The issue of feeling isolated and anxious as grant-fundraiser is particularly difficult to bear in a small charity where you feel responsible for paying the bills, paying the salaries and ultimately making the projects happen. Its testament of two fabulously focused and mindful fundraisers – but both Ruth and Phoebe had experienced self-doubt; regular knocks from rejections; second-guessing about whether sufficient applications had been submitted and if the pipeline outputs were sufficient. And both fundraisers – given the negative publicity that continues to dog the charity sector – have regularly questioned whether they have made the right career move.  But both Ruth and Phoebe agreed that the emotion of this must be kept in check with ‘is it really my responsibility alone?’. Of course not – it really is vital that there are other colleagues to take the brunt of this responsibility eg CEO, board members, team colleagues. Also, Phoebe was quick to advise Ruth that the end of a first year of grant-fundraising feels great, particularly when you have seen a full cycle of grant-giving and what they can achieve for projects and the beneficiaries in particular. Also Phoebe gave Ruth some super top-tips on handling stress such as:
    1. Weekly questions – am I proud of the work I’ve done this week?
    2. Reflecting & reviewing – regularly looking back, reviewing success and lessons learnt and seeing how far you have come
    3. Grant-maker feedback – asking for this authentically because it really helps to keep you on track.
    4. Tribes & Peers – keeping close to your fundraising friends & peers, and colleagues internally to give you positive affirmation and help to keep you focused.

One of Nova Fundraising’s future priorities is to be building connections between our fabulous clients and their awesome fundraisers, so they can build knowledge, share tips and tricks and adopt lessons learnt from fundraisers who understand their context and have walked their path already. For more information and for the latest news – sign up to our newsletter.

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