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Shoot for the Moon, but Don't Forget the Other Opportunities Along the Way

Updated: Apr 22

“How do we get some of the money MacKenzie Scott is giving away?”

There are a lot of recurring questions that come up among nonprofits, but few are bigger than this one.

In case you haven’t heard, billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott recently completed her open call for funding, giving away $640 million to nonprofits across the country. It’s an incredibly generous act that will have a transformational impact on the organizations that receive funding.

Her giving—and her move toward trust-based philanthropy—are inspiring and should be on the radar of every fundraiser.

That said, actually winning some of that money is easier said than done. The last open call was exceptionally competitive, and when all was said and done, the funding process took more than a year to fully play out.

Any fundraiser working to hit their budget for the year will tell you that a highly competitive grant that is one year from a decision isn’t exactly the most helpful thing in the here and now.

It’s why the MacKenzie Scott question isn’t one about meeting your budget and achieving your goals - it’s a question about aiming high and taking a chance on something that can be a gamechanger.

There’s a temptation to think about the question another way. We all (rightly) see our organizations doing great things and being worthy of tremendous support. We think we should be competing for these dollars and putting a lot of energy into that process. However, this type of coordinated national giving is a long shot for even the very best nonprofits. 

So instead of putting all (or many) of your eggs in that basket, here are some questions to ask when you build a fundraising plan and compete for the largest gifts:

  • Are you paying attention to your core donors? As much as we want the big, newsworthy gift, that can never take attention away from the people who have already invested their hard-earned money in your mission. The most dependable path to long-term revenue growth is the stewardship of existing donors, and that always has to be priority number one.

  • Are you putting enough resources into recruiting new donors? Again, this day-in, day-out fundraising may not capture people’s attention like the giving that makes national news, but it’s essential for growth. An effective new donor cultivation strategy is another indispensable tool for meeting and exceeding your revenue goals.

  • What are the best opportunities for a riskier fundraising ask? Once you know your tried-and-true fundraising tasks are under control, you can think about the more bold asks. When I work with clients on grant strategy, I call these lottery ticket grants. MacKenzie Scott’s open call was one of these - the most competitive funding available, but worth pursuing if you have the resources. If you’re struggling with core fundraising activities, though, focus on those before you invest time and energy into longshot proposals.

It’s also crucial to understand how to explain this dynamic to your organization’s most important stakeholders. The MacKenzie Scott question comes up a lot from Boards, and fundraisers need to be able to effectively explain the benefits and disadvantages of those opportunities, as well as how they fit into the organization’s full fundraising strategy.

If you can manage core processes effectively, shooting for the moon can be an exciting step for your nonprofit. If you need help figuring out how to do this - while also managing your other processes -

Shoot for the Moon


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