Wins don’t happen overnight. They don’t always happen over the course of a year.
Chances are, you are tackling extraordinary challenges in your work. Inequality. Systemic oppression. Climate change. Difficult issues never have a quick fix.
This is why multi-year support for your work is imperative to the success of your mission. You need the reassurance of dedicated funding that will take you past the end of the current fiscal year.
So how to get started on a proposal for just that?
There are some subtle shifts in how you may want to approach it. Let’s dive into some of the details that I’ve gleaned over the years, both from my conversations with multi-year funders and from feedback on my own successful proposals for unrestricted, multi-year support.
Be crystal clear about your vision.
For a funder, a multi-year grant is a dedicated show of faith in your work. A one- or two-sentence mission statement is not going to cut it. You need to give the funder an incredible, and very vivid, big picture. I remember one funder saying to me, “Don’t be afraid to dream big! You need to sell us on something amazing to invest in.”
Illustrate your track record.
But it’s not all dreaming. You also need to present yourself to the funder as a relatively safe bet.
You can do this by showcasing how you have been successful in the past and specifically, how you creatively solved unexpected challenges in your work.
If you don’t yet have a track record, then detail how you will compensate for that. What type of partners do you need to complement your vision? If you don’t know who yet by name, then know the profile of who you will seek to help you. If you don’t have a track record, you need solid partners.
Balance flexibility with accountability.
It is not expected that you know every logistical detail of what you will do for the next few years. For a multi-year proposal, the overall impact that you wish to achieve should be a balance between long-term outcomes and short-term benchmarks.
Nurture your partnership with the funder.
Multi-year grants allow for a deeper learning process which benefits everyone involved. Help the funder envision how you’ll grow by highlighting what you hope to learn. It will also help to detail a plan for regular updates and communication with the funder to keep them in the loop. Embrace them as key collaborators on the journey.
A multi-year budget, simplified.
Building an Annual Budget for one year can be hard enough. But a multi-year one? Straight up and with total transparency, here is my simple formula for multi-year proposal budgets:
1) Layout the current year’s operating budget numbers, line item by line item.
2) For Year 2, Year 3, and so on, add modest growth to Year 1’s numbers. Each year, all line items get increased by 3-5% for operating costs, personnel, and fundraising expenses. Programming expenses get a 5-7% increase.
3) Integrate any anticipated significant variations that you know about right now. There is no need to speculate on this. Keep it real, keep it simple and know that you will likely need to revise the budget as the years go on.
Detail how you plan to stay afloat.
On the one hand, it is a welcome relief to have multi-year support for the sole reason that you can now spend more time maximizing your programming and less time chasing your tail fundraising.
On the other hand, you can’t slack off on fundraising just because you’re set for a little while. You’ll want to include an acknowledgment of this and a general plan for how you will keep your funding diversified in the coming years.
Something that I’ve found helpful: Once you get the first multi-year grant, a message is sent to the greater philanthropic community that your work is now worth the trust and investment that one funder has placed in you. This success should be celebrated of course. It can also be leveraged for new funding.
If this has been helpful to you, please consider making a donation! Your contribution is deeply appreciated and supports all of the free programming at Open Rivers.