In many different settings I have had the opportunity to witness and participate in conversations when donors and foundations are deciding on which organizations they will support financially with a gift or a grant. From my family’s own annual philanthropic choices to our pooled giving circle with friends to meetings involving foundations, I have seen doubt raised about whether or not to fund a nonprofit when the questions below haven’t been fully addressed by the nonprofit organization.

Here are a few observations about the kinds of information that donors are looking for when they make philanthropic decisions:

What is your organization’s business model?

Being a nonprofit is a tax classification, not a business model.  People who review a lot of proposals and appeals from nonprofit organizations want to have an immediate sense of how you operate, how you make money sustainably, and from what sources.  They more they give you, the more they want to know this.  They want to know and understand your entire revenue and expense picture broadly speaking so that they can see you surviving for the next 5 or 25 years.  You need to serve this up in a simple, but comprehensive way.

Here’s an example of how a nonprofit could describe their business model, “Every year we earn 50% of our revenue from memberships and 15% from event proceeds.  We raise another 20% from these 4 foundations and the final 15% from over 500 individual donors who make gifts of $5 to $25,000.”

Who are your other funders?

As referenced in the previous example describing you business model, donors and foundations want to know that they aren’t the only one supporting your organization. They don’t want to think that your organization can’t survive without them (even if it’s close to the truth).  They also want to back a proven winner.  This is how some nonprofits seem to have deep funding bases and others are always limping along with a handful of supporters.

How will you be able to achieve your mission with your current resources?

If you have a really big mission, but very little earned and contributed revenue to support your plans, a donor will doubt your organization’s effectiveness.  Talk about your partnerships too. How do those partnerships help you achieve your mission even if you have limited resources?  How have you made the most out of the resources you have in service of your mission and beneficiaries?

Why does my gift matter?

Some donors feel like their small gift won’t make a difference. Or they think you are a well funded organization already that other people should support. Either way, it’s up to you to convince them otherwise.  Make sure your case for support is strong and build your messaging from there.  For more information on how to create a fundraising case for support see this blog post.

Why should I care?

Not every cause is compelling for every donor.  Emotions often play a huge part in making philanthropic choices from among sea of great organizations who all need support. Make sure you understand who your most likely donor is likely to be and then build your appeals around emotions that motivate donors to give.  If your donors care about your cause, they want to feel good about their gift. You can help them feel really good about giving!

In summary

If you can keep these perspectives in mind the next time you prepare for a major donor or foundation meeting, you will make it more likely that the donor or foundation will feel really good about choosing to invest in your organization!

Is your organization ready for a change?

Stephanie Blackburn Freeth is the creator of The Strategy Tango.


The Strategy Tango is designed to move through seven tried and true planning steps while also accommodating the unique needs of your organization in each moment.


The Strategy Tango process is built upon a foundation of collaboration, candor, and focus.

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