What makes a good funding priority?

It’s a question we hear often from fundraising leaders at associations and professional societies – especially as many of them increasingly look for ways to expand their giving among individual members.

Their need comes as no surprise. The development culture in our sector has evolved along a different path from most nonprofits. For many associations and professional societies, resource development has leaned heavily on sponsorships from industry – grants from corporations looking for exposure and business advantage among the organization’s membership. Today, funding patterns have shifted. Corporate sponsorship was already on the wane before COVID. But as associations canceled or shifted their annual conferences and other opportunities for exposure online, the result was a deep dip in corporate support that persists.

Associations and societies are now playing catch up, hoping to raise more funds from individuals, especially major donors. In this realm they find a different set of interests at play and, consequently, a different kind of funding opportunity is in order.  In this moment, we encourage our clients to ensure their proposed funding priorities pass what we call The SNIF Test.  That is, are they characterized by…

  • S – SOCIETAL BENEFIT.  Like donors to other nonprofits, association members want to do good in the world.  That good might take the form of advancing the profession by funding scholarships, training, etc., but many organizations are attracting increasing funds for more altruistic projects that are mission-aligned but which only indirectly benefit their members, such as public education initiatives, etc. 
  • N – NEED. It’s true that donors don’t give to “needy” organizations.  But it is important for philanthropy to be genuinely pivotal to projects the organization hopes to fund; if those programs can be funded through other means, there’s no urgency for the donor to give. Organizations must demonstrate that their aspirations need contributions to enable, expand and accelerate them.
  • I – INVESTMENT.  Every nonprofit’s goal is to attract major gifts. Whether defined as 5-, 6- or 7-figure gifts, these are contributions that rarely arise from mere duty or in response to an annual appeal. Associations must articulate funding opportunities with enough specificity and focus to both answer the questions and awaken the passions of individuals capable of true philanthropic investments.
  • F – FUTURE.  A good funding opportunity is not about “filling next year’s coffers,” but is rooted in a well-articulated vision. Fundraising priorities should be positioned as essential, enabling elements of the organization’s strategic plan to impact the profession and society.

The SNIF Test provides a practical guide to identifying and selecting funding priorities that donors will find compelling. But that’s just the first step. As the test implies, how you explain the relevance and impact of your funding opportunities has a lot to say about how they will be perceived by your donors. A carefully constructed case for support is vital. Sharpening the case for your organization and its funding priorities is vital to showing donors how they can fulfill both professional and personal aspirations by supporting your organization’s programs.

Describing your funding opportunities through the donor’s lens has never been more vital than it is today. The payoff?  Fundraising results that are nothing to sniff at.

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