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Nuggets of wisdom from SNEHA’s fundraising journey

May 23 2022 / Posted in Fundraising

- Sangeetha Vadanan, Associate Director, Fundraising and Communications

The last two years during the COVID-19 pandemic have shown beyond doubt that engaging with donors and building strong, equal-footed relationships with them is critical for NGOs. As a medium-sized NGO working for the last 21 years on the health and safety of vulnerable communities, SNEHA has been fortunate to have partnered with Foundations and Corporates that have contributed not just to programme interventions but also to our growth as an organisation.

We recently went around the table (virtually, of course) with our leadership team to understand what has worked over these past years while successfully engaging with donors and the challenges we faced along the way.

1. ‘Difficult’ donors help us grow and learn

Several times, new donors come across as ‘picky’, ‘difficult’ and ‘tough’; until we take the time to understand what their needs are. It could be an in-depth understanding of the programme, a different style of presenting impact to their stakeholders or building confidence in a new grantee organisation. Once the need was understood, our teams were able to respond by providing presentation pre-reads so donors had time to peruse the details, collaboratively developing metrics and investing in our financial systems and resources. This opened up very rewarding partnerships, resulting in coverage of the programme on a global platform and SNEHA strengthening its domain functions.

2. Mutual learning

While Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) learn a lot from donor organisations, the converse is also true! Some of our most engaged donors are those who have spent time visiting our programme interventions, understanding the situation on the ground and interacting on par with the implementation teams. Through their continuous engagement, the donors were in turn able to add capacity to the organisation at different levels, including with senior management.

3. Looking beyond a one-year programme

Donors with a strategic, long-term outlook understand that impact takes time. Along with the CSO, they too keep community beneficiaries front and centre. They approach programme funding from a sustainability perspective and are willing to support the programme for multiple years. In the same vein, it is important for CSOs to continue relationships beyond the programme funding. Past donors continue to be interested in the progress of the areas they have supported.

4. Building relationships across the donor organisation

People at different levels within the donor organisation may have different priorities. Understanding each of their needs, and building relationships with personnel at different levels within the donor organisation is important. Also, build relationships with the person at the other end and not just focus on the donation!

5. Keep your radar on!

While you try to understand the needs of the donor, customise your reporting and try to engage with them, things could still go wrong. Corporate or institutional priorities change, once-in-a-century pandemics could happen and funding may be reduced or stopped altogether. In SNEHA, we have had instances of committed funding being pulled out due to corporate strategic reasons and recently due to COVID-19 uncertainties. It taught us a lesson to listen to catch early signs of potential risks and to always have a robust pipeline of prospective donors.

In summary, different donors have differing needs and it’s important to understand these needs and motivations to best engage with them. Open communication channels, with timely, transparent and two-way interactions are crucial to building strong donor relationships. At times, CSOs may need to inform donors on deeper aspects of their work so there is a common understanding of how the interventions will bring about impact. Donors are after all keen to see the impact they make, and CSOs can do more by presenting this more visually and through succinct reports.

Donor relationships are built over time, and many times it is our core programmatic work that provides the solid base for a strong relationship. Remember that everyone in your organisation, right from field workers to finance personnel, contributes to the donor relationship and not just the leadership or the fundraising team!

We’re all on a learning journey, and I, for one, look forward to challenges in fundraising which will help me and SNEHA grow and achieve our goals!