Commitment to a philanthropic journey reflects a measure of time and energy expended, often even before the first dollars make their way to grantees. By the time a rough budget and direction are identified – especially if multiple stakeholders are involved – donors are not only ready to give, but also to experience encouraging results as quickly as possible. While strategies leading to deep and lasting impact take time to develop and unfold, there are five approaches that can accelerate engagement for powerful change based on the evolution of many of TPI’s experienced clients. If you are an eager investor, consider developing your strategies with these approaches in mind:
1. Narrow Your Initial Focus
What issue moved you from the sidelines to become a player? Is it a global issue, or do you want to start in your own backyard? If you are focused on one issue, what might be your dream goal in one sentence? Then pick five or six words to anchor your parameters that include descriptors that are geographic, demographic, or challenge-specific for your role in that campaign. Even if your initial focus still feels a little broad, it can provide guidelines for your work to share with potential grantees.
2. Balance Responsive Giving with Proactive Efforts
When donors begin to invite funding requests, the response can be overwhelming. Many funders, especially if focused on specific communities, become 100% responsive. While this approach can provide a fast education on needs and the possibility of uncovering start-up gems on the front lines, many TPI clients identify niches over time where there is potential for targeted funding to deliver greater impact. Some funders decide to target the majority of their resources for proactive giving, while others may start with a much smaller allocation. By making a deliberate decision about how much to allocate for responsive giving and how much for proactive initiatives, you can experience the benefits of both approaches earlier and then determine how you want to transition over time to more strategic approaches.
3. Partner with Other Donors
Through grantees, funder collaboratives, and other networks, you can find funding partners who may help to identify opportunities to support important efforts that need additional funding. A little research can yield options to consider that have been vetted to some degree by experienced funders, and where your involvement can indeed create change faster.
4. Test a New Strategy
Sometimes clients come to us because they discover a need that is not being addressed, and want to find a way to tackle this problem. The Janey Scholars Program was created because a donor realized that many talented, low-income students can find support for college tuition and fees, but struggle to cover travel, textbooks, living expenses, and other costs that can make it difficult or impossible to complete college. By combining this simple concept with the need for mentoring and other supports, this donor worked with TPI to develop a program model that has been successfully adapted by other funders.
5. Respect Grantee Relationships
One of the clearest lessons offered by seasoned donors is the value of honest and respectful relationships with grantees. Applying for and managing funds is a constant worry and responsibility every good grantee takes seriously. They are continually juggling resources and operational demands. Getting to know grantees delivers deeper insight into their challenges as well as shifting best practices in their field. Be honest with them from the start – right at the application – about your vision and goals as well as any expectations and procedures associated with your funding approaches. Respect their knowledge and expertise, and remember that they are balancing competing demands on a daily basis. Play your role well, and let them play theirs.
As former Chaplain of the U.S. Senate Peter Marshall said, “Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.” You truly make a difference with every grant, even as you transform over time while exploring the issues you tackle. By launching your work with parameters that allow you flexibility to shift over time, you will become the donor you want to be sooner than you think.