Remember that old, broken conventional wisdom about how fundraising works in the nonprofit sector– a few folks that sit in the corner while the rest of the people do the important program work over here?
Just the other day I was talking with the new class of Acumen Fund Fellows – as impressive a class as we’ve ever had – and I was struck with how important it is to strike at the heart of this destructive, outdated mindset.
What I shared with them (more emphatically than I or they expected, I suspect) is that for anyone, for absolutely anyone, who plans to make change by working in the nonprofit / social enterprise sector, the ability to mobilize capital behind your idea is one of the most important, most untaught, most underdeveloped skills around.
If you can get funding, you can set up shop, you can create breakthrough approaches that cut through the status quo, you can make things happen.
It’s ironic, actually, because in the high-tech world, successfully pitching a top-tier VC fund is fetishized even while the capital needed to launch technology businesses keeps decreasing. Yet in the nonprofit sector where by definition we are in the business of addressing social issues in a way that the market is not – as it currently is structured – built to address, the ability to mobilize resources is downplayed in its importance.
So let me be as clear as possible: this is a skill required of all you who aspire to be leaders in our space. We need you to learn how to do this because we need you to make lasting, large-scale change.
Please don’t put this off or think someone’s going to do it for you. And please don’t think that just because you don’t know any really wealthy people that you can’t start working on this now.
The first shift you can make is to acknowledge that this is something you want to learn how to do. That intention alone will unlock your potential, will set you apart from your peers, will set you down the path that you’re going to need to walk – and going to want to walk – sooner than you know.