Building fundraising capacity is not impossible

It’s already noon and you haven’t even responded to all the emails that came in yesterday. Your lunch appointment with a donor is in half an hour, and your afternoon after that becomes a blur in your head as you realize the rest of your day is back-to-back appointments.

Somewhere in your memory you have the thought of a conversation about building capacity.

Not today.

The challenge we have in nonprofit development is that there seldom seems to be enough time. There is, however, time to build fundraising capacity. The wonderful thing about this is that you can build your fundraising capacity with small actions and this increased capacity will allow you to do more for those your nonprofit serves.

Here are three ideas to start building your fundraising capacity: develop your board, create a culture of fundraising, and do a database deep dive.


First, look to your board. Big or small, this action can seem overwhelming. It doesn’t have to be. Print a list of your board members and start a plan to create a relationship with every board member. Your communication to the whole board is fine, but what I suggest is to begin communications one-on-one. It’s okay to feel a little overwhelmed at this point, especially if you have a board with a couple dozen members. Remember this is a process, not an event. It will take time. And it will work.

Let’s get back to your list. You no doubt have a favorite board member. That’s a great place to start. Send them an email and invite them to lunch. Let them know that you’d like to talk about building capacity. They will most likely be excited, and their excitement will send the message to you that you’re on the right track and this process could even be…fun.

I hope you’re getting the point. List. Invite. Meeting. Repeat.

Don’t repeat so many times in a short period that the process adds stress to what you’re already doing. Remember, it’s a process.

Arrive fully prepared to your meeting. What is your plan? How can they help? Use your time with them wisely. When thinking of an upcoming grant proposal, does your board member know anyone on that foundation’s board? Could they send a note? This can be particularly helpful if you want to apply to a foundation that does not accept unsolicited requests. I have found that a board member can connect with a friend on the foundation board and get us a chance to speak with a program officer.

Then follow up and continue to do so.


The next idea for building fundraising capacity is to create a culture of fundraising. At many nonprofits, the development team works on fundraising and the program team works on programs. What I suggest is that fundraising becomes part of your agency culture.

No way, you say? It’s not possible!

It is indeed possible. And your first step is starting with that; acknowledging that it’s possible.

Then, begin a process of including the entire agency in your fundraising updates. At staff meetings talk about what you’re doing and finish with how everyone around the table can help.

Encourage program staff to share stories of impact, challenges, and success. You in turn will share these stories with donors and potential donors. You then start an ongoing process of showing the team, the greater team, how their part in fundraising is relevant.

Including all staff in fundraising updates may also help you identify new grant opportunities. Many of your co-workers may come from other nonprofits that received grants from foundations that are not currently giving to your organization. Perhaps they can make an introduction through a past contact?

Finally, include more staff in the grant application process. Ask for their input when writing a grant proposal. When a foundation team comes to visit you for a site tour, introduce them to staff. I even include staff on site visits. Foundations considering a request find it beneficial to hear directly from the staff who will work in the area the grant is funding. When writing about mission or when you’re about to go speak at your Rotary Club, check in with staff about what’s going on so they are included and you have updated information.

It takes time, but it’s possible to build a successful culture of fundraising in your organization.


Now to our third idea: do a database deep dive.

This can be super exciting. Whether you think you know your database like the back of your hand or not, a process of doing deep dives into your database will undeniably benefit you.

Do different kinds of searches: amount, frequency, events, pure donations, stock, dates, etc. I think you get the idea. It’s important to remember that organizations grant funds differently, so leave no stone unturned. While creating these reports begin to work on your strategy of engaging with these donors. Break them into categories of email, mail, phone, and face-to-face. The building capacity part comes from reaching out to program managers you may not know, or ones that you hadn’t even seen on a list before.

I have found that the best way to pull as much data as possible is to do searches of all kinds. Check this box, uncheck that box, and change those dates. It’s important to not only run reports that include individual donors but also corporate/business donors and foundation grants. I once found a foundation grant that my new agency had missed out on because they had not done what was needed to receive the funding!

So many wonderful things can happen with what you find, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised sooner rather than later by the information you have.

Through board development, creating a fundraising culture, and getting into your donor database, you are building a foundation that will support you and your agency in building fundraising capacity that will then create increased program capacity.

Thank you for reading and good luck!

Latest posts by Dan Hanley (see all)
Share Article

Grant Readiness

May 28, 2019

Leave a Reply