May 25, 2019
Tough Times Demand Knock-Out Proposals

October 30, 2008 — Facing stiffer competition for funds in a weakening economy, nonprofits must demonstrate they are worthy of the support they seek. For them there is little choice but to write knock-out proposals.

That’s the advice that Sarah Lange, principal of Legacy Consulting in Worcester, delivered recently at a statewide conference of nonprofits.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” Lange said. “That means, don’t chase after dollars. If you do, you risk mission drift, which turns off investors.”

Instead, she advised, develop a core proposal and adjust it as needed for each proposal you develop.

Nonprofits that consistently deliver great proposals—that get funding—are what Lange described as high-performance nonprofits.

“They focus on continuous growth and improvement centered around a core mission, a strategic, informed approach to today’s work, an awareness of how current trends will inform tomorrow’s, a commitment to incorporating best practices into each function of the organization, and measurement of results,” she said.

Elements of Knock-Out Proposals

More than anything else, knock-out proposals must meet the needs of funders.

“A funder’s job is to find inadequacies in your proposal, so don’t try to hide them,” she said.”

Lange also said knock-out proposals::
  • Start and end with a bang.
  • Tell a story
  • Emphasize benefits and outcomes
  • Avoid jargon
  • Contain facts and convey a passionate.
  • Demonstrate that your organization is the best one to carry out this project/program.
  • Show that you are worthy of investment
  • Are prepared in accord with the funder’s guidelines
She emphasized that the best proposals understand the needs of funders and demonstrate how they meet those needs.

Most Donors Give Locally

A recently completed survey conducted by Social Innovation Forum and Social Impact Research found that 68% of all individual donors contribute to local organizations and charities. Thirty-two percent give nationally, while 15% give at the state level and 10% give internationally.

Of those surveyed, 60% were high net worth individuals (making over $100,000 per year and/or having a net worth of $1million or more). Approximately 20% gave over $15,000 in 2007.

Anne Radday, a Rotary World Peace Fellow, who helped conduct the study, noted that while it was based on a small sample in the southeastern U.S., the data are “consistent with a lot of other research and offers a good look at trends.”

The findings, presented at the same conference, also found that:
  • Donors support organizations they know, with 63% saying they support nonprofits with which they have personal connections, in contrast to 17% who say they give support in response to solicitations from nonprofits.

  • 75% say their decision to give is based on specific programs offered by nonprofits, while 59% give because of program success. Only 11% give because of benefits they receive.

  • 45% say they rely on the annual reports of nonprofits to conduct due diligence before they give; 41% rely on the organization’s staff; while 27% say they don’t conduct research.

  • 64% of respondents believe that contact with clients would help them better assess the impact of an organization, saying, “You learn from the front-line what their need are and whether they are being met.”
Lange said her own research supports the need to connect with donors: “Prospective and existing donors and funders want to hear from you. It’s imperative that you develop a diverse, robust public and community relations plans that dovetails with and supports your fund development plan.”

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