Working With Consultants

Foundation & Corporate Grants Alert:
October 2006 – Vol. 15, Iss. 10
Funding Q & A

©2006 LRP Publications

Funding Q&A provides readers the opportunity to ask experts questions about a variety of funding activities.  This month, Tony Silbert, President of Silbert Consulting Services, Inc., addresses the issue of grants goal development.  Founded in 1996, Silbert Consulting Services is a Los Angeles, CA-based firm that provides grant development, research, strategy and evaluation services for nonprofit organizations of all shapes and sizes.
Question: I am a grant writer at a university that is about to start a capital campaign. The school has hired an outside consultant to manage the process, but do you have any suggestions as to how, as a grant writer, I can continue my role without confusing donors with what is happening with the campaign?
Answer: It’s a big adjustment to have an away team set up camp on your home field. But having worked as a staff grant writer and a consultant, I would recommend that you get involved early and work with all the players to the benefit of everyone—especially you.

As a staff guy, I know your concerns about donor confusion are valid and should be addressed as soon as you hear about a new project. Timing is critical to the success of a capital campaign and it will take your organizational knowledge to coordinate fundraising efforts.

For example, you may have numerous program grants in various stages of funding. Today’s funders—even those considered  friends of your organization—don’t generally fund more than one project at a time. If you are in a 2nd year of funding for a program, with one more year to go, your funder may not be able to accommodate your campaign until your current program grant is finished. Ask for the additional money before then, and you risk confusing the donor and derailing the campaign with an unnecessary rejection. Remember to:

  • Be proactive: Give your funders a “heads up” that a new project is on the way. Be sensitive to your relationship.
  • Ask the foundation to decide on their capital gift, but defer payment until the program grant is completed.  That way you can at least announce the gift and keep the momentum of the campaign going.
  • Coordinate your public relations and marketing materials. Beware of sending out mixed messages that leave donors scratching their heads. Instead, be clear and concise, about your annual giving and the new campaign, thus using it to your advantage by advertising to your cache of donors.
  • Look for ways to leverage the capital campaign for your program grants.  For instance, the campaign’s endowment component can answer the sustainability question most program proposals require.  New facilities can represent the organization’s long-term commitment to a new program.

As the campaign guy, I can tell you how uncomfortable it can feel to walk into an agency where the development staff is more concerned about turf than the actual campaign.

It’s important to remember that both sides bring unique attributes to the field. Capital campaigns may be considered bigger and glossier than year-round development, and the hired hands may possess a broader range of knowledge, but your institutional memory is critical to the project’s success.

When the new team is introduced:

  • Immediately involve yourself in all aspects of the project and help develop a strategy for the campaign. In other words, make yourself part of the conversation. Your organizational knowledge will ensure that policies and procedures already in place will not be forfeited, and that you play a crucial part in the decision-making process.
  •  Capital campaign consultants are sometimes thought of as the “rock stars” of fundraising and development, but don’t be threatened by their experience. Instead, learn all you can from these individuals and never forget that you could be talking to a future contact or reference or employer.

And don’t be afraid to ask the campaign leadership about a “comprehensive” campaign, which would combine your annual giving and program grants with the capital campaign. This gives everyone the opportunity to “feel like they are playing in the big game.”

Get involved early and be heard. Learn to work together—for two sides to try to beat each other out does no one any good and would be a case where everyone would lose.

Funding Article

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