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Fundraising Canvas – A simple tool to validate your fundraising plan

The financial sustainability of an organisation, either for-purpose or for-profit, has a lot to do with its ability to plan fundraising activities with strategic agility – though still in alignment with the organisation’s vision and mission.

Creating and maintaining financial sustainability is an ongoing quest that requires highly demanding skills such as agility, leadership, and innovation. In today’s ever-changing and complex world, resilient civil society organisations are those that are able to successfully diversify their funding streams by reducing their dependency on institutional donors. And this often requires a new and different mindset.

© Civil Society Academy

Before fundraising teams spend an enormous amount of time developing the perfect plan, they can use the fundraising canvas to develop a synopsis of their plan for validation. The fundraising canvas is a simple yet powerful tool that helps teams visually explain their key strategies, share relevant insights, define key value propositions, and prioritize activities related to their target donor segments. The fundraising canvas also encourages team reflection by giving space for everyone to share and gather feedback and ideas.

Working through the canvas will help the team develop a common visual language and quickly test the viability of their fundraising strategy. By going through the canvas with your team you might find gaps that you were not aware of before or opportunities that were overlooked to date.

The canvas was inspired by the world-famous business model canvas developed by Alexander Osterwald in 2005. Consisting of 9 building blocks that make up every business, the model business canvas is usually used to develop new business models or revisit existing ones in a visual and structured way. Similarly, this fundraising canvas was developed by our CSA team and consists of 9 steps with a total of 11 building blocks. Each block is connected to one another and together they provide a synopsis of the fundraising plan that is ready to be tested and validated.

How to use the canvas

Step 1: Your organisation’s Why – How – What

In his popular TEDtalk “the Golden Circle” which has been viewed by millions globally, Simon Sinek explains the importance of communicating from the inside out using three overlapping circles on top of each other. At the core is the organisation’s Why – the reasons why the organisation exists. The next question every organisation needs to answer is How they are different or special, and what sets them apart. What is important, but is the results of who we are as an organisation and how we work to create impact. Therefore, the What is always a result of the Why and the How.

Step 2: Internal and External Analysis

Analysing our internal capacities and doing research on the latest fundraising trends, and market landscape are crucial to gaining a deeper understanding of the context we are in. This is often a challenge for those organisations that are heavily dependent on funding from a handful of donors. Often those organisations find themselves in the vicious cycle of low money, low capacity, and low-value delivery. In order to break out of this cycle of dependency, organisations need to rethink their existing fundraising model and explore new opportunities through research and in-depth analysis.

Step 3: Key Strategies

Here the organisation will analyse their existing funding types and mix, and define its goals and targets for the next 5 years. The key strategies should be in alignment with where the organisation wants to grow next. They define how the organisation will mobilize resources to get there. These strategies could be evolved around developing key partnerships, engaging with different or new donor segments through crowdfunding, developing innovative fundraising programmes etc.

Step 4: Target Donors

Here the organisation first defines the different groups of donors they aim to strategically reach out to in order to achieve their fundraising goals. Usually, these groups are divided into individual, institutional, and CSR donors. There are also new donor segments that fund innovation and scaling which the organisation might not be aware of. It is very important that the organisation understands the common needs, behaviours or other relevant attributes of each group and how they would like to be approached. Here the tools of donor mapping and funnel are useful to prioritize whom to approach first.

Step 5: Value Propositions

The value propositions are promises of the values that your organisation creates in exchange for your donors' generous act of giving. They are the reasons why the donors feel heard and build trust in the organisation. Each donor has specific pains that they want to avoid as well as gains (dreams/wishes) that they want to see fulfilled. Clear and targeted value propositions will satisfy the donor’s often unarticulated needs and attract their attention.

Step 6: Key Channels

Once the organisation is clear about the value propositions that it offers, it is time to find the key channels where it can reach out to the target donors and communicate their key messages. Through the key channels, the organisation will raise awareness about their cause, share impact stories, and engage with those who believe in their Why.

Step 7: Key Activities

Key activities are very important for the organisation to successfully convert their donor’s attention into action. They should be customised to each organisation depending on their strategies and target donor segments.

Step 8: Revenue

Revenue is the total funding received from different funding streams as a result of successful fundraising. The more diversified the funding streams the better it is for the organisation to become sustainable and flexible in the medium or long term.

Step 9: Costs

Fundraising is an important (re)investment that organisations often forget. The costs of fundraising involve time, human resources, capacity building, technology costs, and more. These costs often slip the minds of so many non-profit organisations. However, nowadays there are many different ways to effectively reduce costs.

Key Advantages of the Canvas

  • It is visual, simple to use, and easy to share across teams.

  • It helps you troubleshoot your strategies and discover hidden opportunities.

  • It saves time and helps you identify new ideas that can be tested quickly.

Key Challenges

  • It can seem a bit abstract or new at first.

  • It requires a change of mindset and an openness to testing new ideas.

In June 2018, Civil Society Academy launched its first in-person training on fundraising for civil society. At the end of the 4-day workshop in New Delhi with 15 different participants from Nepal, India, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, the fundraising canvas was tested for the very first time. Ever since it has been introduced to hundreds of different non-profit fundraisers and resource mobilizing teams from Asia and Ethiopia. The majority have found it very useful and relevant.

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Alexander Osterwalder (2011): Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers.

Ann, Latham (27 March 2016): The Secret To Sustainability For Non-profit Organizations, in Forbes.

Simon, Sinek (September 2016): How Great Leaders Inspire Action | TED Talk.

About the Author:

Trang Nguyen has a degree in Social Sciences and has worked in different development organisations, including a research institute, in Germany, Vietnam, and India. She is a full-time staff at CSA and her roles include marketing communication, IT, team and happiness, as well as facilitation. Trang is a young, creative, and forward-thinking person who loves to learn, share, and connect with like-minded and peers. In addition, Trang is also a Life and Leadership Coach certified by Coach for Life.

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