At Propellus, we work to strengthen organizations. We decided that a MEET THE FUNDERS SERIES could help non-profit organizations shed some light on the process of fundraising by turning to funders themselves for some tips and answers. Second on the Meet the Funders series is a conversation with First Calgary Financial’s Dani DeBoice.
The Deville coffee shop is the setting for the second story in our Meet the Funders series. Propellus sat down with First Calgary Financial’s Director of Corporate Citizenship, Dani DeBoice.
First Calgary Financial’s community investment tends to lean towards partnerships rather than only financial investment. When First Calgary Financial partners with an organization they are looking for ways to help that can include: getting their staff volunteering, communications and marketing help, or access to their branches. Their focus areas include: Financial Literacy & Community Economic Development, Mentoring & Learning, Environment, Civic Engagement & Volunteerism.
How to get that first meeting
Given the option between talking in person or over the phone, she chose to sit down over coffee. If an organization is looking to get funding from First Calgary Financial, sending DeBoice or her colleague Teri Shortreed an email is the way to start. From there, if there is potential for a fit, an in-person meeting is the usual second step.
“No matter what, I walk away from that meeting and I have a new understanding of an organization in Calgary doing interesting work,” says DeBoice. “I might learn something about a different social issue that I didn’t know about before.”
Like many of us, DeBoice has a lot on her plate. If she does not answer your initial email right away, it is wise to lay low and give her some time to respond, for her being respectful of her schedule by not sending her a flurry of emails is paramount.
“You can always try calling me, but my role is to be out of the office. A core part of being a community investment professional is to be out in the community understanding the social issues and meeting with people,” says DeBoice while she sips her coffee.
That First Meeting
You have set up a meeting with DeBoice, but what does a good meeting look like to a funder such as herself? To DeBoice, knowledge is power. “A successful meeting means that they have already looked at our website, they already basically know what we fund, and what our focus areas are. They are coming into the meeting to understand the culture of the organization, to understand our approach and some of those softer elements.”
Everything you need to know walking into that first meeting can be found on the First Calgary Financial website, so it is really just a matter of a quick Google search. For DeBoice, that meeting is a two-way street, come into that meeting prepared to talk about your programs and a few of your ideas. The initial meeting is exploratory; it is a time to understand the motivations of both the community partner and the corporate organization. “It’s about finding brand fit, reputational fit, as well as a fit within the community investment focus areas. It’s around finding someone you are excited to work with,” says DeBoice. She also adds, “And sometimes, although it may be a perfect fit, we still may not be able to fund it due to budget, our capacity or timing,” she adds.
Asking questions and carefully listening to the answers is a great way to make a good impression.
On the flip side, there are a few things that can make that first meeting go sideways. For DeBoice, being unprepared is a one way that can happen, especially considering how easy information is to find on the internet. Just like Michelle Clarke from the Burns Memorial Foundation, trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – or trying to force a fit of your program into their focus areas, is another way to make that meeting go sideways for DeBoice.
Funders are people too, and we all have our own pet peeves. For DeBoice, the list is not long, but pretty clear. Aside from the usual pet peeves of typos and grammar, going around the Community Investment team straight to the CEO or board members is a risky prospect. “We all get that there are relationship pieces, but it’s when people just blatantly skip over it and don’t engage the CI team, that’s a risk to take,” says DeBoice, but there is a caveat. “If you know the CEO, board chair or board member, by all means getting them to make the introduction to the community investment team, that is fine. That’s not an issue.”
The proposal can be quite the daunting task for even a seasoned fund development professional, but for DeBoice, it really comes down to clarity and brevity.
“ … Just as fund development professionals have a lot on their plate, so do we [community investment professionals]. So, my preference is that proposals are short and to the point. It saves all of us time and energy,” DeBoice says matter-of-factly. “What comes out in 20 pages can generally be boiled down into two. If there is potential for a partnership, we would rather have a conversation to further explore that opportunity.”
For DeBoice, there are a few things that can help get your proposal put into the ‘yes’ pile. DeBoice recalled one of the best applications she had recently received; it told them exactly what they were asking for, why they were asking for it, how they were going to execute it, what the social impact & outcomes were expected to be, and how it could be measured.
She also emphasized clarity: having someone read over the proposal is one of DeBoice’s suggestions, especially a person who isn’t associated with your organization. If the proposal doesn’t make sense to them, it’s almost guaranteed it won’t make sense to the funder.
DeBoice has a list of questions she wants organizations to answer in their proposal: What are you proposing? Why are you proposing this? Why are we the right partner for this opportunity? It’s one thing to say that we are looking for a partner, but why are you looking to us? What is the financial request? And what other business assets are you looking for?
“Something that is going to end up in the yes pile is something that shows innovation, shows creativity, and showcases your passion, and the organization’s passion for what you are doing,” DeBoice says with a smile. “If you are excited about the program or project, then I am going to get excited about it also.”