3 Questions I’m Getting Weekly about Major Grants—and the Discussions that Follow
It sounds like a dream. No longer do you toil over character counts on 15-year-old grant submission software. Instead, you lead colleagues to explore transformations in your field. Major grant makers gleefully invest in your aspirations.
That dream is far from being fully realized, but there’s a tangible shift underway. I see it in recent philanthropy. And I hear it when I speak with clients, former clients, and fellow consultants.
Regardless of their organization’s size or geographic scope, nonprofit leaders’ interests are remarkably similar right now. They are queasy about the economy and overwhelmed by community needs. Still, the most common questions I hear reveal the optimism that radiates among this sector’s finest:
1. How do I plan for a MacKenzie Scott call?
Everyone wants to talk about MacKenzie Scott. Whether executives suspect they’ve received one of her advisors’ anonymous messages, hope to receive one, or think they’ve been overlooked, everybody wants to talk MacKenzie.
Ms. Scott has written two posts that highlight her interest in funding issues typically neglected by big philanthropy. Her bountiful, unrestricted approach exudes an understanding of nonprofits’ needs. All this comes without cumbersome applications or reports. Do you sit back and wait for an email, or can you take proactive steps?
Her simplified application process belies the hard work involved in inviting such grand attention. There may be no formula that triggers a call from Ms. Scott’s team, but there are things you can do to make your organization attractive.
Leadership and impact are paramount. When I speak with nonprofit leaders, we talk about past and future-oriented results. We think big. Along with their executive teams, we create an investable, impactful way forward. We discuss the role philanthropy plays in achieving the vision.
I’m seeing other large philanthropies mimic the MacKenzie Method. So, whether or not you hear from Ms. Scott’s advisors, your preparation is increasingly likely to land other opportunities. I am seeing the work result in six- and seven-figure awards from first-time supporters. Think of them as indirect gifts from MacKenzie Scott.
2. How do I make the best case for unrestricted support?
Perhaps bolstered by Ms. Scott’s model, foundations are finally granting more general operating support. Far more is needed, but the progress is encouraging, judging by the number of conversations I’m having on this topic.
My colleagues want to know how best to make the case. Some admit to attending a school of fund development that only taught how to pitch programs.
If your core program is the reason your organization excels, then let it remain central. A nonprofit I admire does just that.
Its staff has revised funder messaging to describe the success and future of its signature housing program. Then it goes further. It describes how a major grant will propel the team’s advocacy. If successful, the advocacy campaign will advance legislation that decreases the nonprofit’s housing costs, allowing it to boost its supply of low-income homes. It goes on to describe the wraparound services that help its clients thrive in their new neighborhoods.
These are the opportunities we have been waiting for. They showcase the range of assets our nonprofits have built—and stand to build—with open-minded investors.
If your supporters are not yet in this mode, use the trust you’ve built to proactively request unrestricted funding during your next application cycle. Our collective urging matters.
3. If funders are not proactively coming my way, can I increase my chances?
Even the most optimistic nonprofit leaders worry if they are not hearing from the proactive new breed of major funders. If they are already doing the visionary and strategic thinking described above, we discuss how they engage the public.
Consider how much a prospective funder relies on your nonprofit’s external presence. Your website, for one, acts like a public welcome mat. Each social media post can deliver the equivalent of warm cookies to your online company. Platforms such as Candid’s Guidestar and Charity Navigator are like your front porch: Visitors can’t see your entire house, but they get a sense of who you are and whether you keep your home tidy.
If your nonprofit’s presence is dated, disorganized, or devoid of information, you’re showing philanthropies the online door.
It’s easy to think you don’t have time to spend on communications, but it’s directly correlated to your grant seeking success. How many times have you looked online for something, only to quickly look elsewhere in frustration? Don’t let potential funders do the same.
What These Questions Reveal
This is, at once, the most challenging and the most promising time for nonprofits in my career.
With deep-seeded hurdles all around, Ms. Scott is inspiring visionary thinking. She has activated a ripple of philanthropists who are adopting her faith in nonprofits. Hallelujah. Let’s hope that ripple becomes a wave.
Add to that a slow but steady trend toward more unrestricted funding and nonprofits’ ability to entice previously unknown, far-flung investors. Those are some powerful shifts.
These forces are pushing the sector to double down on visionary thinking, well-articulated strategy, and a strong public presence. They are forcing high-impact nonprofits to spend more time in the right places.