Want General Operating Support? Make a Case for It.

I recently met with a client to share news that they didn’t want to hear. It was a rather informal meeting, and I verbalized the data I had, to back up the recommendation that I was making. They were not convinced that my recommendation was the right one, and we decided to reconvene the following week after they had had a chance to digest my initial proposal.

When we met 10 days later, I presented the data in black and white. I walked them through the qualitative and quantitative analysis and reviewed the impact on their financials if they took their preferred route versus my recommendation. We discussed pros and cons and they ultimately decided to accept my recommendation.

This series of discussions is what came to mind when I read The Power of Relationships in Grant-Making and Grant-Seeking by Glen O’Gilvie. His Center for Nonprofit Advancement recently released a report entitled, “Return on Investment,” which includes the results of a region-wide survey of nonprofit organization on topics more important to the strength of the sector. The first finding was that there’s no substitute for a strong relationship between funders and grantees, and a strong relationship is more likely to lead to unrestricted dollars. It’s no secret that every nonprofit craves general operating support, and we all know that it is the top desire of every organization. However, nonprofits, in general, do not do a good job of saying why they need general operating support, and how it will improve their outcomes. In my past life, I’ve written many grant proposals and I’ll be the first to admit that I, myself, am not guilty of making the case. I outlined what we would do with the funds and I presented outputs, but I rarely made the point of how general operating funds would move us from good to great; how we could better focus our outcomes to provide exceptional outcomes; how the impact would change countless lives and make our community better for all. I never said how it would make us a better partner, or how it would make us better planners and better evaluators of our work. More often than not, we stated what the funder likely already knew, and it was not that compelling. That is similar to what I initially shared with my client: none of it was surprising to them. But until I made a strong case with every data point possible, they weren’t going to change their minds. And neither are funders.

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