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Welcome to Commonland’s very first practical start-up Fundraising Canvas and accompanying Guide. We have created this for all landscape restoration practitioners who want to raise philanthropic funds for their holistic landscape restoration project or programme and are looking for a few ideas on where to start or what to think of.

The Fundraising Canvas and Guide are put together from our own experience, which we’ve gained – unsurprisingly – through fundraising, as well as through training and workshops given by colleagues and peers. This guide is not meant to be a complete educational curriculum but should function as a little leg-up for everyone starting a (new) fundraising journey.

Be aware that fundraising is a “people job”, that requires good instinct, communication skills and planning skills. It can require different knowledge and skills depending on the culture or country in which you’re working. We have written this guide with experience in Western Europe and can imagine that not all advice is useful in all parts of the world. It’s important to take your time to explore and research your fundraising context before starting your work.

Fundraising can be a very satisfying job: it’s frequently the foundation that makes your work – and that of your colleagues – possible. We hope you find it gratifying too! Good luck!

The Fundraising Canvas

The Fundraising Canvas is meant to help you get started with your fundraising journey. Fundraising can seem like a big and daunting task, and it can be hard to know where to start. This canvas can be used to help you overcome this barrier by quickly mapping out what you already know, what resources you have, and which decisions still need to be made.

You can use this Canvas in a workshop setting, individually, or you can ask your colleagues to fill it out to cross-compare answers. You can choose to fill it in digitally (see page 2 of the pdf) or print it out (see page 3). You can use this guide to learn what each box entails. We provide links to further resources if you’d like to dive into a specific aspect.

TIP: To open, download and/or print the canvas directly, scroll down this page to click the yellow button ‘view tool’!

1. Vision Statement & 2. The mission of your organisation

To raise funds effectively it is important to know exactly what your organisation – and/or the specific project you’re pitching – wants to achieve. If you don’t have these outlined from the start, you may find that later in the fundraising process you cannot explain your purpose effectively and most supporters will notice this.

3. Fundraising Strategy

A carefully planned fundraising strategy serves as the cornerstone for empowering your initiative to make a positive impact on the landscape and its community.

A practical note before creating your fundraising strategy: start by making sure that your organisation has the correct legal status to receive donations in your country. A registered business or association is frequently not allowed to receive un-taxed sums of money that count as a charitable donation.

Now, let’s get started with the strategy. A fundraising strategy answers two questions: where to play (which type of funding suits your initiative) and how to win (your high-level approach).

Let’s start with the first question: you need to find out which type of funding suits your initiative. There are many types and sources of (philanthropic) funding: each of them fits a particular initiative, geography, context, topic, theme, and/or stage in the process. It’s important to find out which type suits your initiative best (right now) because this will increase your chances of both finding and securing the funding.

You can find below a few examples of funding types that are generally relevant for landscape restoration projects. Consider the different ways to raise funds and choose which one applies to your initiative:

  • Grants, philanthropic gifts

What: Grant funding is a gift from a person (philanthropist) or foundation. It can be unearmarked or for a specific project, programme or set of costs.

Why: As mentioned in the 4 Returns Guidebook, philanthropic gifts from individuals, families or foundations typically have more flexibility to be innovative or shape their funding to your needs. If you choose a major donor strategy, it may take a long time (sometimes years) to find the right gifts. However, these types of donors can be the most efficient way of fundraising over a long period. If you look for numerous small gifts, you are likely able to start your project sooner but will have to report to numerous supporters more frequently.

How: By building relationships with individuals or foundations, or by responding to an open call for proposals.

Examples: examples are foundations like the Rockefeller Foundation in the US, the (postcode) lotteries in Europe or wealthy individuals, such as those who have committed to the Giving Pledge. Businesses also often have an associated foundation – look at organisations like IKEA, Patagonia or BMW. In this construction, it may be interesting to make use of the business’s existing network. For example, AlVelAl Association in Spain is supported by the TUI Care Foundation, with which they were able to set up a local and regenerative tourism programme.

If you are a small organisation, and only just starting to raise funds, you will likely achieve the most success by looking for local supporters. Each country has its lists of foundations and philanthropists. Usually, you can find these online, sometimes for a small fee. These lists sometimes also give information on open calls, where anyone can submit a proposal within certain guidelines. If you don’t know where to start, it can help to look at the Annual Report of a similar organisation to yours based in the same country. They usually list names of supporters who may also be interested in supporting you.

  • Crowdfunding

What: This is an efficient way of raising smaller gifts from a lot of people in a short time. You can plan an online crowdfunding campaign and/or organise an event or field visit in which you bring people together and share your call to action (please donate).

Why: If you already have a community involved or based around your landscape or project, the easiest way of fundraising may be crowdfunding. These people will already be familiar with your work, engaged with what you are doing and, therefore, easily see the value of your plans.

How: Via an online platform or the personal/professional network (email, social media) of your team. Make sure to always prepare a crowdfunding project extensively. Sometimes it can be underestimated how much marketing is involved in convincing people to donate small sums. The most effective crowdfunding campaigns are headlined with a short video pitching the idea or organisation and include campaign emails and a gathering or meeting for those interested. You may also need to stay engaged with your donors after all the money has been received, sending them updates and offering them benefits or perks in exchange for their donation.

Examples: The “Oogstwinkel” or “harvest store” successfully raised funds twice to start their first shop and subsequently open more stores (click here).

  • Peer-to-peer (P2P) fundraising

What: This is a fundraising strategy where the supporters of your organisation act as advocates to help raise funds via their networks.

Why: This strategy increases your reach and gives more credibility because it leverages personal relationships. People are much more likely to donate to someone they know than to an unfamiliar organisation. On the other hand, P2P fundraising requires significant time and effort, as you need an online platform, a solid campaign strategy, and a lot of time spent on supporter communication. So, apply for peer-to-peer fundraising if you think you have a solid supporter base and the time and resources required.

How: P2P fundraising is often done via a website where supporters can make their own page and share it with friends and family. There are numerous examples of platforms – you can read more on this blog by Donorbox.

Learn more about P2P fundraising in this guide by Funraise.

  • Governmental subsidies or grants (local and national)

What: Government subsidies are incentives and support offered to businesses, non-profit organisations, or individuals in the form of financial aid focused on achieving specific policy aims.

If governmental policy aims align with your organisation’s objectives, subsidies can be a relatively stable way of financing your activities. They are especially useful for rolling out proven interventions, but less so for highly innovative activities.

Why: There are several reasons for choosing to apply for government funding.

  • Impact and Scale. Government subsidies are often substantial, enabling organisations to implement larger-scale projects or reach a broader audience.
  • Policy Alignment. Government subsidies are typically tied to government policies and priorities. Organisations that align their mission with these priorities are more likely to receive funding, and this alignment can help advance the organisation’s objectives.
  • Receiving a government subsidy can enhance an organisation’s credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of donors, other funders, and the public. Subsidies are an indication that the government supports your activities. This brings legitimacy but may also come with the unwanted effect that your organisation is seen as the executive branch of the government. There is a careful balance to be struck here: it is advisable to strive for a funding mix that limits your reliance on subsidies and your association with the government.
  • Long-Term Stability. Government subsidies are typically provided on a long-term or multi-year basis, providing stability and predictability in funding. This can be particularly valuable for organisations that require ongoing support to achieve their goals.
  • Leverage for additional funding. Securing a government subsidy can attract additional funding from other sources. Many private donors and foundations may be more inclined to support organisations that have already received government backing. Governments increasingly require recipients to provide part of the financing as a precondition to the subsidy. This is often also interesting for other donors, who see their donation multiplied or de-risked by government funding.

There are, however, also reasons to not make subsidies a (core) part of your fundraising strategy. Subsidies are typically a rigid form of financing, whereby the funder applies strict rules on how resources should be spent and how to account for this. There is often less room for adjusting your project plan along the way. Subsidies typically require you to keep a tight administration that will often have to be checked by an independent accountant. Failure to achieve project objectives or to comply with reporting requirements may result in restitution or non-payment of subsidies. This poses a financial risk to your organisation. Subsidies are therefore a more appropriate form of financing for mature organisations. Another risk related to subsidies is that the recipient is often expected to pre-finance activities and payment terms are often long. This will hurt the liquidity position of your organisation.

How: The variety of ways in which subsidies can be obtained is significant, however, they typically fall Into these three categories:

  • Open calls: rolling subsidy procedures where you can put in applications that are typically focused on highly standardised activities that a government wants to promote.
  • Closed calls: subsidy procedures with a clear deadline and a list of scoring criteria used to assess the eligibility of the application. This typically requires a project plan and a detailed budget.
  • Direct fundraising: government departments/officials often have their budget which they can allocate within certain limitations. Contrary to the calls, which are mostly announced on websites, this type of subsidy requires deep relationships with government officials and/or politicians. In most cases, government officials only have the authority to sign off on small grants or assignments. These can nevertheless be of strategic importance and a stepping stone for bigger subsidies in the future.

Be aware that government subsidy applications can be time-intensive, especially if you apply at the national level or higher (to the European Union, for example). Numerous consultancies exist that help with government funding applications. They guide you through the fundraising process and usually write a fee for their services into the proposal. These consultants are usually professionals who know exactly how subsidies and governmental grants work – what language to use and how to comply with the scoring methodology. Be aware, however, that these kinds of parties sometimes exaggerate your chances of getting the funding. Also, they often operate on a no cure no pay basis and are consequently inclined to overpromise, which can bring you in trouble when it is reporting time. It’s important to develop a trust-based relationship before partnering up with a consultancy organisation and to stay in charge of the process. Most importantly, don’t be immediately put off by the amount of work required, as the grants provided by governments can be so high that it can very much be worth the effort.

Examples: This depends from country to country. Most governments have a website where their calls are announced, but in many cases, there are also central websites where calls from several governments or regional bodies (e.g. the EU) are announced.

  • Awards & Prizes

What: Receiving an award or prize is a recognition for the work done and the impact made. There are numerous prizes for environmental projects. Institutions sometimes like to award a prize because they can already see results; the work doesn’t still need starting and there is proof of its effectiveness.

Why: It’s common that a gift (grant) is attached to receiving a prize or award. There are prizes for work already done and for work that is still in the pipeline, but frequently awarding bodies want some proof of concept. For the receiving organisation, it may therefore also be relatively easy to receive a prize or award, since it is work you have already done/planned! In addition, it can be attractive for marketing and communication purposes. A prize or award can be seen as a stamp of approval and give you some free media coverage.

How: apply or ask someone to nominate. You often need to submit proof of your work, so your initiative needs to be quite mature. You may also need letters of support.

Examples of awards and prizes are the Future for Nature Awards, LUSH Spring Prize, Africa Food Prize, and World Food Prize.

When you have decided which type of funding suits your initiative, it’s important to know what your high-level approach will be to get funding that suits the phase you are in. For example, maybe you decide that in the first 5 years, you will only focus on philanthropic gifts which focus on smaller innovation projects because you need to build proof of concept quickly. After that, you will look for governmental subsidies, for example, to become more established. This is called phasing: which fund do you want to attract when and what is the rationale behind this choice? Which type of funding best suits the phase your initiative is in? Also, don’t forget to think about the diversity of your funding portfolio here: Do you want to have a broad variety of funders, or do you want to have one big funder, for example?

A good funding strategy answers two questions: where to play and how to win. Where to play means which type of funding you want to attract and how to win answers the question: what is your high-level approach to getting funding?

4. Leads or prospect donors

You need to know the people out there who might potentially match your needs and strategy. Do background research on these prospective funders: what is their strategy, their scope/focus, and who have they funded before? Have they got any open calls for proposals? The more you can learn about a foundation or a person, the better prepared you will be if/when you meet them.

Tool: donor profile or persona: a description of the donor you will be targeting. This will help you to create effective donor communications and alignment internally on who to target. Find an example here.

The next step is finding a way to get in touch with them (if they don’t offer an open call opportunity). You may have a board of directors with a good network and connections. Or maybe you already have someone supporting you who can help to find their contact details.

If you’re going to raise funds online (crowdfunding or p2p), you will probably need to mobilise your personal network.

5. Proposal writing

After choosing the right funding type, form a proposition or a draft proposal that can be finetuned. In this document, you define your ‘case for support’. Some foundations or organisations may have a standard form online that you need to fill out; for others, you may need to write an open application.

Things to consider here are:

  • What is your vision and mission?
  • What is the problem you are trying to solve and why?
  • How do you plan to address this issue?
  • What are your key activities?
  • What is your plan?
  • How much funding is needed?
  • What will be the impact/results of your plan (perhaps include a Theory of Change)?
  • What is your central call to action?
  • Do you already have other supporters on board?

6. Donor journey

The term “donor journey” is borrowed from marketing strategies, where customer journeys are often mapped out. In some cases, it can be helpful to consider your donors as customers, to whom you provide a service. By looking at it this way, you can consider their needs and the way you interact with them throughout the process of fundraising and beyond. This is mostly relevant for fundraising from individuals. But don’t forget, even if you raise funds from institutions or (large) foundations, there are always individuals behind the brands and logos! You should also consider these individuals as a donor with needs – and think of your interaction with them as a relationship to manage. This blog by Keela guides you through the process of creating a donor journey map.

7. Fundraising materials

Consider if it will be helpful to create templates or standard materials to convey your story and funding needs. This can be a physical leaflet, but also a website or maybe a brochure. If you only focus on a few individuals, you will always want to tailor your story to them as much as possible. However, if you are telling the same story numerous times, it can be a worthwhile investment to create such materials in advance.

8. Fundraising Team

Fundraising is a team effort! You will be most successful as a fundraiser if your leader (this can be a director, CEO, or founder of the organisation) stands behind your fundraising initiative – and is ready and willing to spend time and effort on it. Most donors want to know that the organisation’s leadership is on board with the plans you propose. Hearing a pitch from a director can be much more effective than from an employee. The same counts for a board member or advisor that may be engaged with your organisation. Their authority and trust usually give confidence to a potential supporter.

It’s also important to involve the colleagues who will execute the proposed project on the ground. They have the experience and knowledge about the work. You can learn from them – and prospective funders are often keen to learn from them too! 

9. Budget and planning

When starting to fundraise, it’s necessary to have a sound budget for the project or programme for which you are raising funds. In addition, it may be helpful to create an action plan and timeline (or planning) for the upcoming months or year(s). Usually, supporters will also want to see a general budget for your organisation. If you don’t have an Annual Report and budgetary planning for the coming years, it’s helpful to create this for fundraising purposes.

When composing a budget for a project, don’t forget to include time that is spent by colleagues who are not directly involved in the field. For example, your own time or fundraising costs could be included, or marketing and travel costs. Note that not all funders like to cover these costs and may explicitly ask you to remove them. It’s advisable to find out about their preference in advance.

10. Relationship management

After receiving your funding and onboarding the donor, the journey has only just started. It’s essential to take your donors along on the project’s trajectory and build a long-lasting relationship with them. There is no one recipe for growing and maintaining such relationships; they are like any human-to-human connection. However, the best donor relations are based on authenticity and reciprocity. It’s all about getting to know your donors personally, listening, and being genuinely interested. And then, of course, putting in the effort to show your interest. Some things to think about here:

  • Invest in personal contact. Take time, listen.
  • Organise field visits, set up an inspirationtour of organize an engaging event with current and prospective donors.
  • Keep in regular contact with them, and share reporting and updates.
  • Be honest about mistakes, ‘failures’ or setbacks. Prevent that all seems to be perfect. Donors know that mistakes are being made, especially in high-risk

Remember, it’s easier to maintain current donors than find new ones – and a past or current donor can always be a prospective funder for a new donation!

Tool: Gift agreement template. A gift agreement ensures you are on the same page with your donor. It specifies what the donor can expect from you and what you will provide to them (in terms of reporting, and so on).

Learn more

Funds and funding platforms

Conservation

Regenerative agriculture

Platforms for tree-planting

Guides, blogs, and other inspiration

Was this guide helpful to you? We would love to hear from you: how have you approached fundraising in the past, and what tips and tricks can you share with the community? Please respond in the comments below – we’d be happy to include your tips in the guide!

This guide was written by the Commonland Fundraising team: Tessa Snaterse, Eva Capon and Bouke Loohuis, and Sven Sielhorst, Head of Organisations and Programmes, Wij.land. It was edited by Roos van der Deijl (Commonland), and Tom Lovett (Commonland).

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