One question I see all the time, in different forms and shapes, is this: how can I convince donors? How can I ask, without begging? In an earlier post I wrote that communicating with your donor at impact level is crucial. This will help you speak at the level of their dreams – at the level where you can help them make their hopes come true. This is more powerful than any sales pitch for your activities can ever be. Another crucial element to approaching donors is validation. Here is how validation of your ideas will help you.
By validating your ideas, I mean: to test and check your ideas with stakeholders. To make sure that your ideas are relevant, appropriate and fitting to the needs and context.
By stakeholders I mean: those groups of people that are affected by the work you plan to do. Because you are solving a problem for them or because you are helping them bring dreams alive.
OK, so what?
It sounds pretty easy. And it is not hard. But it requires that you listen carefully and actively. That you are truly open to what your stakeholders want and need. That you are committed to finding out how you can serve them in the best possible way with the best possible outcome for them as a result.
No, you don’t already know this
And no, you don’t already know this. Unless you have validated your idea last week or very recently at any rate. Do not presume that you know what your stakeholders need and what their dreams and priorities are, without asking them. Give them a voice and listen to it. And then check, honestly, whether your idea matches their needs, context, dreams and priorities 100%. Very likely, it does not.
And that is OK. Because you can adjust it! Easy peasy! And the good thing is, if you tell your stakeholders how you are shaping your idea to fit what you learned from them (as long as that remains within the scope of your vision, mission and values) they will take you much more seriously. They will feel you are there to serve them. Because you show that you have heard them.
But I mean really?
Yes, really. Very often I hear that someone’s stakeholders cannot formulate ideas. That they are not mature enough, knowledgeable enough, expert enough, educated enough, etc. To be honest, I have never met a stakeholder who was not able to tell me something that was useful and insightful. It is only a matter of asking the right question in the right way in the right setting and sincerely. And then to listen openly and genuinely. Everyone has relevant input when it comes to their own situation, community, human rights, environment, etc. They may not use the language of science or policy makers. But not having the words, does not mean they do not have the expertise.
Advantages – not yourself but others are at the foreground
If your idea is relevant to the stakeholders whose challenges you are lessening, it is much easier to present it to potential funding partners. Because the community you serve will support you, confirm the idea and the need for it and will be engaged in its implementation towards success. You are representing the needs and context of the community concerned and presenting your team as a tool to make something better. The idea is not about you. It’s not begging for yourself. It’s advocating for needs and solutions for a community that deserves it.
Advantages – not begging but offering
Presenting the needs and context of the community you serve will be easier if you treat your potential funding partners as stakeholders too. And if you validate the idea with them, too. After all, donors have dreams that have some connection with the impact you want to achieve (if not, they are not the right funding partners for you, obviously). Listening to their dreams will help you formulate your idea in such way that they will recognize how it ties in with their dreams.
If you can use their words in presenting the needs and context of the community you serve, they will see that you are offering them a chance to invest in making their hopes reality. That’s not begging, right? You are representing the needs of a group who has no direct access to someone who has dreams that can be fulfilled through your work.
My two tips
Once you have an idea, based on lessons learned, with a clear focus and clear impact, go and talk to the community you want to serve by implementing this idea. Does this solve a problem for them? Does the solution resonate with them? Is this indeed something they would like to see addressed as a priority or do they have other urgent needs and dreams? Have they tried solutions before, and what can you learn from that? Etc. Ask and listen and be sincere and open.
Don’t forget that your possible donors are stakeholders, too. Your idea will help bring about a change in the world that they find important. Something that is part of their dreams for the future. Listen, carefully, actively and openly. If you do that, you will not need to feel like begging when you ask them for support for something that is clearly, and in their own words, part of their own dreams.
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