A New Approach to Major Funding

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

Unleashing Philanthropy’s Big Bets for Social Change [i] , a collection of articles, offers the latest thinking about grants of $25 million-plus awarded by individual philanthropists and private foundations are changing the ways that social entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations, donors, and philanthropic advisors in the U.S. and abroad are working to have an impact on major social problems.

Here are five tips to help you succeed:

A Trusting Relationship. You need a donor or funder who knows you well and trusts you deeply. Building this type of relationship takes time and effort.

A Clear Investment Hypothesis To attract a big bet, you need a clear and compelling idea. Would the big bet allow your organization to solve a problem at the scale of the need, or introduce an ambitious new service offering? You’ll also need a clear explanation of how your organization can reach this new level, and why it is a compelling “arrival point.”

A “But For” Rationale. The idea should be something that can happen only with that particular supporter’s help.

A Natural Match. Donors or funders are unlikely to change what they care about or how they believe change happens in the world. At the same time, the dangers of pulling your organization off mission or away from core strengths are clear, particularly at the scale of a big bet. This places a premium on finding a donor or funder with interests and beliefs that overlap with your own.

A Healthy Dose of Co-creation. Being able to help shape the deal attracts donors who are looking for defining grantmaking opportunities. That influence can also be advantageous to your organization, allowing you to reap the benefits of the donor’s experience and get her or him to put greater skin in the game. Of course, this requires a delicate balance. The donor or funder can’t dominate the process and draw you away from a real partnership.

Big bets clearly aren’t for every organization; many nonprofits are simply too small to be able to use a large gift effectively. And in most cases, an organization needs to build a track record of results before even considering going after a big bet. But if cultivating one makes sense for your organization, get in touch with me so that we can talk it over.

 

[i] The Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring, 2019: https://ssir.org/articles/entry/becoming_big_bettable#

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