A Substantial Major Gift requires a Substantial project

It seems to be a recurring problem that executives don’t have a sufficient number of substantial projects to offer qualified prospects.  If your organisation cannot break down its work into themes and ‘projectise’ it into exciting fundable pieces it will be almost (not entirely) impossible to secure substantial major gifts.

You have to ask yourself the question:  “If I were giving £10,000 to an organisation what would I look for?”  I would want to fund something that I felt passionate about, that is strategic, well thought through with detail on the aim, the vision behind it, the methodology, the cost and the timescale.  Without this I would probably say ‘come back when you are ready’.

Richard Perry, co-Founder of the Veritus Group, designed an amazing way of costing all the work that an organisation does.  It is called a ‘Programme price matrix’.  There are two axes on the spreadsheet.  One represents ‘themes’ of what your organisation does and the other specific outputs.  It takes time to plan this with fundraising, leadership and finance taking part in the group to work out what the two axes should be.

In its simplest form it could be types of work and venues.  For another it could be types of disease and the interventions used.  It includes taking the whole organisational £ turnover and expressing it in terms of programme outputs.   This is a great start to costing everything that you do.

For example, The League Against Cruel Sports recorded all the animal groups they focus on along one axis and the work they do, the outputs, along the other axis such as campaigning, education, sanctuaries, volunteering and support groups.  They were then able to cost each square on the matrix allocating % of staff time and core costs. This gave them very accurate costings for each area of their work.

There are so many benefits for doing this. It ensures that every part of the work is available for funding.  It is a quick and easy reference for all staff and an inspiration to know the breadth of projects and the different prices that are available for funding when talking to donors.  All very essential as a philanthropist will want to choose an area of work that matches his or her interest.

Not only that but it enables philanthropists to fund revenue projects rather than ‘new’ projects.  By producing a programme price matrix you have, in essence, projectised all your work.  Once the programme price matrix has been achieved for the current budget year, hopefully 3 – 6 months ahead, this can easily be repeated for future budget years and will be useful for the whole organisation.

Here is a fictitious example for a service organisation:

If the turnover for the above organisation was £33 million or even £3 million then each box needs to be completed with the total financial cost ie the proportion of the £3 million.  Not every box will have a cost, for example the organisation may not campaign on every output listed in the left column.

Some organisations achieve this in stages by including the direct programme costs first and then at the second stage adding in the appropriate proportion of all overheads to each square on the matrix before finalisation.

Once you have achieved this you will have financial information for major gifts, trusts work and even for use with appeals.

The matrix helps the Executive to include every way the organisation achieves their goals.  As an example, if a philanthropist were interested in prevention from the table, it is possible to add all the costs along that axis to include a variety of ways that the organisation is tackling prevention.  This will result in a higher value £ ask.

Once the programme price matrix is finalised, the next step is to prepare an outline of the vision for each area and the methodology so these can easily be shared with potential philanthropists.   Yes this is a substantial piece of work but unless you have significant projects to offer philanthropists, they may well turn round to you and say ‘Come back to me when you are ready’.  It is essential that you have pieces of work valued at £10,000, £20,000, and so on, even up to £100,000+ for your programmes.  Without this you will find it almost impossible to secure significant gifts.

What is your experience?

Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team

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