One of the clients I had the pleasure of working with this past year had great relationships with all their corporate and foundation partners. If you asked any of them, the organization was doing a great job and was a delight to work with. There was just one problem. The gifts to the organization just weren’t growing.

This organization was stuck – stuck at this lower level of giving with their corporate and foundation relationships. Sure, it was possible to manage almost a hundred $15K to $20K grants, but the Executive Director saw that if they really wanted to create change, they were going to need get some long-term partners. Rather than managing the organization year-to-year, they needed to think about big grants that would let them plan three years in advance.

Last year, they communicated their big huge 3 year plan to their funders and …. they struck out. Across the board. Not one funder stepped up to fund the initiative. Deflated, the senior management team knew they would need a new plan.

Often fundraising feels like playing Blackjack, you step up to the table, get your cards and hope for the best. Sometimes, the card you need is in your hand, other times it pops up when you need it. But good Blackjack players can take educated guesses based on the odds of the right card coming up next.

This is what we aimed to do with the organization. So first we started by educating ourselves. We set up meetings with funders with whom the Executive Director had a great relationship and she asked for feedback on the plan. We learned that many donors were surprised by the big ask and unprepared to give more money to the organization during that cycle. Other donors thought the timeline in the 3-year-plan was unrealistic. Other donors thought the plans were not big enough.

The common thread through most of the conversations was a lack of donor buy-in for the big plans of the organization. So we invited the top seven institutional funders to join the senior management team for an innovation session – a two hour brainstorming meeting about the future of the organization.  (I will post a sample agenda for one of these sessions soon).

At the meeting, which 5 donors attended, the team worked in small teams and as a large group, to come up with three areas of growth for the organization. Two of the ideas generated at the meeting were brand new ideas for the organization, taking them into new areas they had never considered before. Two days after the meeting, one funder called to say they would be interested in funding the new initiative and asked the team to put together a plan and a budget.


  • Fundraising is all about engagement, so look for ways to get your donors involved.
  • The best funding relationships are partnerships, so ask your donors for their ideas and advice.
  • Ask for feedback and really listen to it.

Have questions?

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