Tips for cultivating the support of Australia’s biggest private donors

Posted on 14 Mar 2024

By Matthew Schulz, journalist, Institute of Community Directors Australia

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Cultivating relationships with Australia's wealthiest philanthropists takes time.

One of Australia’s foremost fundraising observers says Australian not-for-profits must get the basics right before they try swimming with the big fish in philanthropy.

Rikki Andrews
Rikki Andrews has been working in the philanthropic field for more than 20 years.

Rikki Andrews – a “philanthrocrat” with more than 20 years’ experience – has worked with a roll call of the country’s biggest philanthropic entities.

She has worked as an advisor, fund developer, philanthropy strategist and fundraising mentor. Ms Andrews now works with auDA, the not-for-profit administering Australia’s top level internet domain (.au), supporting its community grants, and new research and development programs.

Ms Andrews agreed to share some observations of how decisions are made in philanthropic organisations, advising any organisations hoping to build relationships with generous donors to “do your homework”.

Adapting to the new normal in fundraising

We asked how not-for-profits should adapt to the tight fundraising market, including the dip in mass market donations and expected government budget cuts, and Ms Andrews proposed a range of responses by NFP directors and leaders.

Build your strategy around the fundraising pillars

Asked what she would recommend to a small NFP with big fundraising ambitions, Ms Andrews said organisations should first look to the “funding pillars”.

Our Community’s Funding Centre lists those pillars as:

Ms Andrews recommends organisations “consider all the funding pillars and work out what is the best use of your resources and connections”.

“Only put on a gala ball if your board can fill every table from their personal networks. Focus on low-hanging fruit and grant opportunities that are a strong fit.

“This may include considering the amount that you apply for. Be realistic. Everyone would like a significant grant to deliver their mission but organisations need to consider whether they are experienced in managing sizeable gifts.”

She suggested a smaller grant could be better in the longer term for developing a strong track record and said local council grant programs should be on the radar of ambitious organisations.

“There are some very clever and compassionate people working there and they are developing thoughtful strategies such as Banyule’s social enterprise strategy,” she said.

“Keep in mind that people give to people. Is your board doing all it can to bring new friends to your organisation? Are they helping to spread the word and leading giving by example?”

Get your organisation’s information in order

Ms Andrews said groups should ask themselves the following questions when working with donors:

  • Can donors easily find authentic and clear information about your organisation to help with their due diligence before they make a gift?
  • Who are the real people involved in your organisation? Share the names and – if possible – the faces of your board and your executive on your website.
  • Can donors contact you easily? Is your annual report easily found on your website?
  • If you are a registered charity, is all your ACNC information up to date?
  • Is the community you serve authentically included in your organisation and in the design of your activities?

Take cyber and data security seriously

Ms Andrews stressed that online fundraising and donations processes must be considered carefully, and she urged leaders to ask themselves whether donation methods were “safe and secure”.

“Is it better to use a donation platform, such as GiveNow, which may be a simpler option for you, rather than managing the cybersecurity and other digital risks on your own?”

“Ensure that anyone can make a secure donation online at any time, as you never know when someone may come across your work. Keep up to date with the requirements of the Privacy Act and ensure that donors are kept engaged (but not harassed) as per their preferences.”

Remember that people give to people

Ms Andrews said that NFPs would be well served to remember that donations are all about people.

“Keep in mind that people give to people. Is your board doing all it can to bring new friends to your organisation? Are they helping to spread the word and leading giving by example?”

“They don’t need to give millions, but even $10 per month shows commitment – and can provide a good workplace or regular giving story to share with your network.”

She urged organisations to “love your volunteers”, and said there was strong evidence to suggest that volunteers were often dedicated donors.

Those connections extend to supporters even after their death.

“Don’t forget bequests. Keep connected with Include A Charity and help encourage more people to leave a gift to your NFP in their will.”

Donations and bequests are a significant proportion of income for charities and NFPs in Australia.
Source: Giving Facts, GiveNow

Build your argument for donations with facts

Asked to nominate fundraising “fails”, Ms Andrews suggested this applied to anyone who assumed “everyone will ‘magically’ learn about what you do and want to give you money”.

“One example that sticks with me is when people go through the effort and expense of establishing an NFP with DGR (deductible gift recipient status) and only then start thinking about who might want to donate. There needs to be evidence of the need or interest for this new NFP.”

This example highlights the need for any call for donations to stack up before an organisation starts fundraising.

“Have all your evidence about why you need this support. This may be from government data sources such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) or your local council, or it may be the number and type of requests you receive for support.”

Organisations should have strategic and business plans ready to share and be able to demonstrate “authentic partnerships and collaborations”, Ms Andrews said. All will demonstrate that gifts will be going to a cause with “a well-thought and focused approach”.

That information and your “ask” should be readily accessible and jargon-free.

But Ms Andrews stressed that organisations must also “be truthful and realistic” in their planning and in what they expected to achieve.

“You can’t solve world peace for $10,000,” she quipped.

Develop your social connections

Ms Andrews, who practises what she preaches as a philanthropic sector commentator on social media, urges organisations to make their presence felt on social platforms.

“Are you on LinkedIn and contributing to the professional discussion about your sector?”

She said those posts could include sharing evaluations and reports to demonstrate how an organisation was “contributing to the sector to make a bigger impact”.

Consider paying for fundraising experts

Ms Andrews said that organisations considering employing professional fundraising help should balance the need to have expertise on hand with the benefits of buying in that expertise as needed.

“Grantseeking is one of those areas where I often recommend organisations look to options such as the Funding Centre or Strategic Grants to assemble a calendar of viable opportunities and then focus your salary spend on an expert grantwriter.”

She said that if an organisation has established “a strong portfolio with multiple trusts and foundations”, it could then be worth employing someone to build and manage good reporting and engagement relationships.

An important factor is whether funders are prepared to pay for administration costs.

“Some funders are keen to support salaries and other capacity building of NFPs – others won’t,” Ms Andrews said.

She stressed that NFP staff should be paid appropriately. NFPs could also consider paying intermediaries in the sector – such as Infoxchange, Justice Connect and Benefolk – to cover the resource gap.

“Do your homework. I tend not to encourage NFPs to send ‘cold letters’, especially if there is absolutely no connection between what you do and what the donor has previously funded or appears to be interested in.”
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Billionaire Andrew Forrest is among Australia's most generous philanthropists through his giving vehicle, the Minderoo Foundation, which is jointly run with his former partner Nicola Forrest.

Building partnerships with foundations, funds and philanthopists

Once an organisation has its strategy in order, it might consider it is ready to approach private philanthropists – the top 50 alone now account for more than $1 billion annually in community sector and charity support.

Asked about the ease of building such a partnership, or whether NFPs faced an uphill battle to win that level of support, Ms Andrews said groups should go into such ventures with their eyes open.

“Relationships cannot be forced, but there is certainly potential to develop them,” she said.

“Do your homework. I tend not to encourage NFPs to send ‘cold letters’, especially if there is absolutely no connection between what you do and what the donor has previously funded or appears to be interested in.”

“Remember that many private foundations are actually small and give out $100,000 to $200,000 per year. As a result, they may not have administration staff to manage enquiries or to handle relationship building.”

Ms Andrews recommended instead asking your board members or existing donors to identify opportunities, and joining networking or information events that like-minded donors or advisors might attend, such as collective giving events or information sessions with local community foundations.

She said that did not mean going in hard at such events.

“Don’t deliver a sales pitch to everyone you meet, but do contribute to the discussion and do make connections.

“There are many examples where NFPs have received an unexpected gift as a result of meeting someone at a collective giving event,” she said.

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Thanking your supporters appropriately is essential.

What to do if you snag some support, or lose it

Ms Andrews said NFPs should not expect to be showered with cash after making a good first impression.

“Keep in mind that an initial gift may be quite small, as the funder tests you out,” Ms Andrews said.

But she advised that any initial offering should be treated with great care.

“Ensure this first gift is stewarded as if it is a million dollars: in terms of delivering on what you promised, keeping the donor updated, but not harassed, reporting in a timely manner, and acknowledging them appropriately.”

By “appropriately”, Ms Andrews said she meant that acknowledgement should not take the form of “landfill items such as random merchandise or enormous framed certificates”.

“Be ready to make a thoughtful ask when the donor expresses interest in your next steps in your work. Keep in mind that additional support may not involve dollars but access to networks and other resources.”

Acknowledging that it could all end after that initial foray, she advised, “Be prepared to gracefully understand when a donor wishes to end a partnership.”

Give it time

Success stories take time, Ms Andrews said, even when they start with winning ideas.

“Be patient. I’ve seen NFPs grow from a great idea that was seeded with a $5,000 grant to become a 10-year success story.

“Organisations such as Fitted for Work didn’t start off with large corporate partnerships. That’s come with time, networks and building a strong track record of delivering impact.”

Rikki Andrews worked for a decade with the Fouress Foundation (a private ancillary fund) and the Loti and Victor Smorgon Family Foundation. She has also worked with Equity Trustees, the Ian Potter Foundation, the Gandel Foundation, the Gardiner Foundation, the Trust Company (now Perpetual), State Trustees and the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, and she is a founding member of the Australian collective giving movement.

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