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[RECORDING] Uncovering and Engaging Deeply Aligned Funders

Filed in Core Communications, Funder Research — April 19, 2023

In our blog we’ve pulled back the veil on our approach and methodologies through a largely ‘plug and play’ resources and Masterclasses so you can skillfully engage the funding partners your mission deserves.

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Effective communication and prospect research aren’t just buzzwords in the world of social impact fundraising: they are key to unlocking vital funding for your organization’s mission.

We hear every day from clients who find the process of uncovering and connecting with funders to be daunting. In our Skoll World Forum webinar on April 11, Black Fox Philanthropy team members Eliot Highet Patty, Laura Esterly and Julia Chacur offered four steps – and an abundance of practical tips –  for social impact and nonprofit organizations to think about when weaving prospect research and communications together to achieve impact.


Black Fox Philanthropy approaches the work of uncovering and communicating with potential funders in an integrated way with a multi-person team, but you don’t need dedicated staff to find potential donors or create communications unique to your organization. Here are four steps to help you along the way.

1. The first essential step to successful funder matchmaking is to understand your organization’s identity, or your WHY.

One of our core beliefs at Black Fox Philanthropy is that organizational storytelling is the driving force in building powerful connections with funders and motivating action.

Effective storytelling invites funders to be part of the solution, while inspiring empathy, and communicates shared values, ideals and truths. Your mission, values, profile and strategic goals are key to developing a successful fundraising strategy.

In developing your WHY and thinking about funder-specific communications, it helps to understand what funders want to know:

  • Your connection to the problem. What originally drew you to this work?
    What was the most exciting for you in the early days of this work?
  • Your unique vision. What’s at stake if you don’t solve these issues? What do you find most compelling about your mission?
  • Your approach.  Why are you the organization to solve the problem? Do you have the capacity to do this work?
  • Your impact. If you have data, what story is it telling? What kind of data are you collecting now, or what would you like to collect in the future? 

We recommend developing a set of Core Messages in three categories: Who You Are, What You Do, and How You Do It, to help refine your answers to these questions. (To explore Core Message development in depth, see this blog post by Rosie Urbanovich).

2. Second, you’ll want to approach your prospect research in an organized, strategic way to identify potential funders aligned with your mission and vision.

Thorough research helps optimize and maximize all the next steps of your fundraising cycle, so be sure to set aside time for it.

To start identifying the first prospects, we suggest you look into peer organizations’ funders and always keep on top of news, articles, and insights from the sector. It’s also a great idea to mobilize your supporters and current donors to ask for introductions to new foundations! Some ideas of where to start researching include:

  • Websites
  • Annual reports
  • 990s / Relevant grants
  • Social media posts
  • Internal blogs
  • Founders and staff biographies
  • Relevant event, webinars, etc
  • News and articles
  • Peer organizations annual reports
  • Grant finder tools

Don’t be afraid to be creative to find out what you need!

Keeping your research organized is essential to help you move to the next stage of connection. One simple structure you can develop to organize your research is a Funder Profile. Creating Funder Profiles allows you to quickly understand:

  • Eligibility: areas of interest, grantee requirements, and geographic focus
  • Vision, mission, values, and programs
  • Funding approach and priorities (systemic change, direct services, grassroots activism etc.)
  • Other relevant points (grant size, multi-year, in-kind contributions, seed funding etc.)

Tracking your research in a way that works for you and your organization will ultimately help you refine your communications and partnership.

Now that you know what the funder is looking for, you can ask: Why is the Funder a Fit for us? You will want to create a rationale for why you are aligned. Take into consideration:

  • What are the strongest points of connection?
  • Can you mobilize the funder’s language to express that alignment?
  • What evidence can you point to to back up this connection? News items, past grants, funder specific program goals?
  • Can you highlight your points of entry?

3. As you identify your key prospects, identify your next steps: understand the application process, and plan your outreach strategy.

Next steps will be both ideological – thinking through your areas of alignment with funder prospects, for example, and practical – creating an action plan to determine which communications you can focus on to emphasize the potential of partnership.

4. Your last step will be bringing your research and messaging together to craft a compelling story of partnership & alignment with funders.

Whether you’re planning to create talking points, a pitch deck, letter of introduction, a Case for Support, or another engagement piece for a funder – you’ll have language at your fingertips. In fact, no matter what communication you’re planning, relying on core messages and following this up with examples and detail helps ensure you’re telling a fluid, cohesive story, and setting up your organization for success with funders.

The recording from the April 11, 2023 session is available at, and linked here is the slide deck.

And, in case you’re curious about what your fellow social impact leaders are listening to as they do this incredibly hard and necessary work, attendees at the live session also helped compile a playlist of songs that motivate and inspire: #SWF2023 BFP PLAYLIST

More resources include:

Prospect research tools:

Funder–Centric Communications Resources, which also includes examples and feedback of the Problem–Solution–Impact Framework mentioned in the session, provided by Black Fox Philanthropy.

A sample full Fundraising Communications Toolkit by Black Fox Philanthropy for Zoe Empowers (with permission).

Black Fox Philanthropy’s Open Source Fundraising Handbook for advancement resources. 

Black Fox Philanthropy provides targeted solutions to fundraising needs. For information about our offerings, visit our Services page. Curious to know more? Contact Rachel Bellinger at to schedule an exploration call.