by Pieter Jacobs, ACT CEO –
There is no such thing as a fundraising specialist, just opportunistic daredevils. If you come across one, shower them with love. They go through their lives hearing ‘no’ a lot more than in most careers.
If fundraising was as easy as following a recipe, many more people would do it and far less Public Benefit Organisations would be cash strapped. The truth of the matter is, and I don’t want to discourage anyone, it is hard. There is no one-size-fits-all approach that works. Fundraisers would, most likely, find it much easier to tell you not what to do than what to do. This is because it is trial and error. The variables are massive. Every organisation and project has its unique requirements, as do the sponsors approached for support.
At ACT we find ourselves in a peculiar position: on both sides of the fence, so to speak. Let me explain. I will try to keep it brief! – The Trust was set up in 1994 with investments from five Founding Trustees. This gift to the arts and culture sector was founded with the hope of it becoming a self-sustaining perpetual fund that would support the arts in South Africa. Now I’m sure you can imagine how tricky it gets when you are aiming to grow this investment and, at the same time, disburse funds and implement activities that would develop the industry. ACT has managed to do exactly that over the past twenty years. Fundraising plays a critical role in us achieving our goals. I thought I’d jot down a few tactics and principles that have worked for us.
Research: Nothing is more important than research. The Internet is a bottomless pit. Before you start writing and submitting proposals it would be very useful to know what opportunities are out there. It is imperative to know who will consider supporting what. Determining fit is a vital aspect of the fundraising process.
Planning: In the same way, other tasks are incorporated into organisations’ planning; funding submission deadlines, proposals and preparation should be part of the organisations’ operations. Some applications are very time consuming and starting early, with careful planning, is vital.
Consistency: I know we all struggle with this one but fundraising is and should be a full-time job. By the time you start running out of money for a project, starting to raise funds is too late. Most arts and culture organisations in South Africa are very familiar with limited human resources and full-time fundraising simply isn’t always possible. However, success is possible by setting aside a few hours per day for the entire year to focus on this vital aspect of your operations.
Beware of Generic proposals: A proposal should speak to the strategic objectives of your potential funder and it might be necessary to highlight specific aspects of your project for a particular sponsor. This shouldn’t be that hard. Creative projects tend to be multi-faceted anyway.
The proposition: Ultimately, what you do at its core and how effectively you articulate it is what counts. You or your organisation is clearly implementing a project for a very good reason. That passion and motivation could go a long way in preparing a proposal that would do your project justice.
Personal contact: It may not always be possible to meet with the decision maker of a potential sponsor (like in ACT’s case where it is a Board of Trustees), but face-to-face meetings are always better. It gives you a valuable opportunity to really sell your project. Unless your project has visual appeal that would strengthen your proposition, I would make sure that the meeting date, time and venue would be convenient for the potential sponsor. It’s important to demonstrate that your engagement will make life easier.
Perseverance: This doesn’t mean asking the same corporate sponsor, who has already declined your proposal, another hundred times. In the case of structured funding programmes I’d encourage practitioners to apply as many times as they are permitted. You can’t possibly know which projects will also apply for support during a specific cycle and your project might just stand out in the particular mix of applications.
You might find GreaterGood SA’s funding site useful: