Where do you want to go?

In Fundraising by Karen Buck

We’ve all had this conversation, right?:

“I don’t know, where do you want to go?

“Really, I don’t care where we go. What’s around here?

“I don’t know. What are you in the mood for?” …and on, and on, and on.

Don’t you just hate that?  

Recently I was facilitating a planning meeting of a partnership of land and water conservation groups in an enviable position. A major foundation is gathering input to inform their funding priorities for conservation projects in the area where these partners operate. Their conversation about this opportunity brought up many questions:

  • How can the partnership position to be seen as the go to group to complete land conservation and watershed restoration work?
  • Which partners should attend the funder’s meetings and how will they coordinate?
  • And the big question: Where should they focus in order to best take advantage of the opportunity?

In other words, what moves should they make in order to be as “fund-able” as possible?

Too often I see organizations erring on the side of over-responsiveness in response to situations like this (“Oh, you want to fund that? We’ll just start a new program!”). But if a funder’s priorities start to dictate how, where, and to what extent you pursue the work that is most important towards your mission, you give away your power – specifically the power of your expertise.

These partners are the resident experts – they have relationships established with landowners, they know what kinds of conservation projects are likely to be the most beneficial, they understand which benefits community members most care about. They know the people and landscape in this part of their state better than anyone else.

With that depth and breadth of expertise they have to offer, the last thing these partners should do is tell the funder, “I don’t know, where do you want to go?”

Don’t be afraid to be the expert – even with your funder! Be the friend who says, “There is a really good Thai place and a decent Italian restaurant up the block.” That’s the key to walking the tightrope – use your expertise AND offer an option or two that might fit the bill. Most funders will welcome your input and it can turn a guessing game into a dialog where your expertise informed their priorities.

Who’s the most fund-able now?