They Won’t Fund “Salaries.” What Do You Do Now?

super hero

It’s easier to fund a Super Hero!
(image by JD Hancock)

This one really fries my egg. You fundraise for an NGO with staff on the front lines who feed the homeless, vaccinate the puppies, argue for legal rights, and counsel mental health patients, but your would-be funder says they “won’t fund salaries.” What to do?

From what I’ve seen in these cases, there’s a nervousness from the funder’s side of things to interpret “salary” as “vague administrative expense we don’t want to pay for like maybe janitorial services.” At this point in my writing, I will control the urge to report on my NGO office’s lack of running water – we could use more janitorial services! – and suggest some tips for how to talk about funding key salaries.

Here are two case studies from the major gifts vault.

John is a marine/freshwater scientist with an environmental NGO. He isn’t linked to a specific project that needs concrete things – that would be too easy! If only he just needed money for a boat, or fishing bait, or gaiters, or something my donors could wrap their heads around!

Instead, I wanted donors to fund his salary. I started by getting John’s vision of his job’s purpose: to stop the environmental degradation of the ocean, lakes and rivers of British Columbia. This is the outcome, the Big Picture goal that our donors want to see. I catalogued John’s successes and asked the donors to help achieve more of them by partnering with us.

As a last touch, I found a representative title to enhance his actual title. I think his was “Chief Science Officer” or something, but try translating it into something action-oriented. In this case, we determined that John’s role was “Watchdog of the Fraser River” as he was known for investigating environmental law-breakers. See how descriptive and cool that sounds? Portray your mission-delivery staff as the superheroes that they are.

Next up, a case study involving a pal who runs a music therapy NGO. Chris has an amazing mission, but a bit of a challenge in positioning his role as leader of a kind of umbrella organization. He is not on the frontlines delivering services, but without him, fewer people in need would benefit from music therapy.

In this case, we need a case for support. And although raising money and awareness are part of his job, they are NOT the case. Instead, just like in John’s story above, we want to focus on outcomes. What are the good things Chris will make happen? Of course he is partnering with others and pooling funds (and that’s important), but we don’t want to get hung up on direct versus indirect delivery and responsibilities. Stick to the end results and you can’t go wrong.

For example: With Chris’s work, music therapists can reach more sick children in the hospital, adults undergoing long procedures can reduce their stress, and musicians from around the province can channel their energy into healing others with music. Sounds a bit better than raising funds and awareness, non? Oui!

And finally, a few things to avoid when fundraising for salaries:

  1. Don’t talk about the internal stuff like whether the person manages a big team or is part of a committee. Save those details for the bio at the end of your proposal. And choose a photo that places the person in their element – no corporate headshots please.
  2. Don’t be stingy. Use the whole amount of the person’s compensation, including benefits. Your donors will understand that top talent requires market-value pay. Just think what your major gifts donors earn in the private sector – I guarantee that our NGO-level salaries will not raise an eyebrow.
  3. Don’t say that the person “builds awareness.” Naughty. Seriously! Spell out exactly what you mean by that phrase, otherwise it sounds like a cop-out.
  4. Don’t use the word “salary” throughout the proposal. Talk about funding the person’s “work” or “supporting the fight to save X.” You get me.

–          Siobhan : )

PS. A shout-out to new blog pals Irina and Pepe! Join the fun by entering your email to follow the blog.

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About siobhanaspinall

About Siobhan Aspinall: I am a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE), passionate about the environment, social causes and surfing. I have been fundraising in Vancouver, Canada for over 16 years and love working with people who have a fear of fundraising. Call me for help developing a first-time fundraising plan, starting up a major gifts program, writing a case for support, or anything else that's keeping you awake at night! Please find me on linkedin or facebook and tell me what you'd like to see in future posts! : ) Photo Credit (sanddollar header): Minette Layne via Compfight cc
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4 Responses to They Won’t Fund “Salaries.” What Do You Do Now?

  1. Thanks for these useful tips, Siobhan! There is definitely a problem with funding salaries and donor’s understanding of the importance of skilled and experienced staff. Also, thanks a lot for linking back 🙂 I love your blog!

  2. Rachel says:

    I found your blog! My life is now complete. 🙂 Talk to you soon Sio.

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