Q. The perception today: Funders are looking for scale. If you are an early stage enterprise, if your ask is smaller, it’s harder to break through the big funders club. True?
There are always considerations as to what funders/donors support and why they support it, but they come with an appetite to look at solutions that seem to be path-breaking. You will also find that large organisations and partners tend to be wired to operate in a certain way. They are designed to be able to take that mandate forward, multiply it several times over (while working with governments, technology solutions etc.) to take it to scale.
There is a clear realisation amongst funders that they do not have their eyes fixed on a finite set of solutions. They actively consider smaller social entrepreneurs by simply judging them on their ability to think beyond the regular. Funders are also mindful of what their expectations should be from social entrepreneurs, and that’s equivalent to wearing 2 different hats or looking through 2 different lenses!
Q. What would it take for a relatively early stage entrepreneur – non-profit or social enterprise – to get into a funders radar?
SIMPLY TALK TO US!
There seems to be an inhibition – ‘You are a large organisation or a large funder, why would you talk to me?’ Dare to start the conversation, rejection is part of the course but, make the ask.
Q. What does it take to be scale ready? What’s involved in getting from – I have a great idea to I’m worth investing in?
I think the time and age for looking at an entrepreneur alone is outdated. One way to do it is – How do you pair Institutions in your portfolio? We have a lot of organisations with 20-30 years of experience who have been able to build a very wide network of farmers (changed capitals, practices, worked in productivity etc.) and we are looking at ways of pairing them up with some younger organisation so it can develop the muscle to market.
In some ways, it’s actually helping to fast-track that journey, by very mindfully and purposefully looking at what would complement scale. Very categorically – money is only a part of the equation. We’ve started doing these smart pairings. Patience is a virtue in this space, the problems addressed here cannot be sorted out instantly. And so when we talk about scale, it also has to be slightly more pragmatic; a tempered view of what is the time frame, effort, and money that is going to take it there.
Q. What are the non-financial aspects a funder can provide? And what grantees/investees need to be focusing on, as much as the money?
- New Introductions.
- Building advisors, presence on boards.
- Building engagement
- Strategic and succession planning
- Assisting in transition strategies for scale
We’re mindful of the fact that it’s more than just money that helps you scale, and coming from an institution it makes you feel more useful as a funder.
Q. What is the difference in the mindset of a small entity doing incredible work and an entity that has the potential to achieve the scale?
The critical thing – articulate the problem you are going to solve. And then design your solution for that scale. Our assumption that we will prove something and then take it to scale is a route that has had more disappointment than success. It’s intimidating to everyone. But the ambition has to be to solve the problem at a scale.
We live in interesting times – because there are people that want to support bold ideas and tempered with the pragmatism of what it takes to make it happen. You have to design for a bold solution.
Q. Part 1: Fundraising these days is a club. You are either in or out? True!?
Part 2: What do organisations need to ensure they make it to the scalable club?
Part 1: It starts with a club. You are looking not too far from your comfort zone, people within your network. But, it’s important to have a certain amount of risk appetite.
Part 2: It doesn’t have to be that your model is an absolutely finished one. But you have some amount of metrics to back it. Convince your donor with metrics and numbers that you’ve got something on- ground that’s worth taking forward.
Q. What does a relatively early-stage social entrepreneur need to do to make that leap to being of interest to the funding universe?
Your pitch makes you stand out! Is it an innovation in the process? Has it been developed? The objective of the organisation needs to be clear. There is a lot of replication, so it is generally a good idea to be on the lookout for similar organisations in that space, to take cues from them or even look at a collaboration, and thereby proceed to approach donors. It just strengthens your case. The money also is skewed in a manner that if anyone is doing something majorly disruptive, we would like to support that.
The Huddle is UnLtd India’s annual event that brings together our network of social entrepreneurs and key stakeholders in the ecosystem to leverage connections, build new collaborations and celebrate the entrepreneurial spirit. This article is drawn from the excerpts of the session conducted ‘ Breaking Barriers: Let’s Talk about Money!’