Endowment Fundraising: Four Steps To Sustainability

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While working late the other night, I couldn’t deny the urge to dive into some left-over pizza. Sauntering to the refrigerator, I retrieved a slice and proceeded straight to the microwave to remove the chill. 

Watching the pizza expand and bubble with the imposed heat, I realized that I would be right back in the kitchen in just few hours repeating the same procedure to relieve this persistent urge. My conclusion, eating is an unsustainable action to alleviate hunger. Brilliant huh?

Across the nation, non-profit agencies are facing financial challenges. Each day begins with the urgency to complete the current fundraiser designed to deliver funding for the most recent project.

Once completed, staff quickly realize they have just acquired enough funding for the one project. However, they still have a catalog full of unfunded projects waiting for additional funds. The vicious circle persists by entering the “unstainable zone." 

I propose, rather than running to the finish line only to see another starting line in its place, that we work smarter not harder. By working smarter I mean instituting an endowment program that will supplement your current fundraising. The implementation of one such program can be accomplished simply by allocating a small percentage of staff time that would pay multiple dividends in your fundraising programs and avoid diminishing current donor activity.

Just as you plan for a meal, the task of developing an endowment plan can at first be perceived as a daunting task. The lack of time, staff, capacity and a budget can be huge stumbling blocks to the necessary requirements for endowment development. Here are steps you can take to get you started.   

1. Identify a short list of prospective donors
Search for those who have consistently contributed and over a long period.This usually results in a shorter more manageable list that will not overwhelm you in the beginning stages.

2. Enlist board members to help initiate donor conversations
Many times, your board members are the very people you should have an endowment conversation with or they are keenly aware of other individuals who are quality prospects for your organization.

3. Consider developing an Endowment Committee
This committee should comprise board and community members. When you commit to building your endowment, commit also to displaying and keeping a good deal of patience. Everything involved with an endowment is long term. 

From development practices to investment policies. Many times, it will take four to five conversations with a donor before you can feel that you have even approached consideration on their part.  Listening is the key that illuminates the virtue of patience. 

4. Set a goal
This may be as simple as setting so much time a week to making appointments with your targeted donors. The amount of time you set as a goal can be determined by the number of prospects you have. Once you have established on going conversations and have identified a projected number of potential assets from your donors you can create a financial goal. Give your organization the gift of time by allowing a minimum of three years to achieve your fundraising goals.

Endowment development can propel struggling agencies to increase their capacity, raise the level of donor participation, and enable fund allocations annually. Endowment funding allows more accurate budgeting for a sustainable future.  

I challenge organizations in 2017 to start endowment fundraising for greater long-term sustainability.

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CHAD CLARK is president of C.A.C Consulting, a company dedicated to expanding and enhancing non-profit organizations by offering leadership coaching, board development, capacity building and endowment development services. He has over 22 years of experience in a leadership role for organizations and foundations along with continuing education from The College of William & Mary Planned Giving Institute and the Endowment Development Institute.