How did you learn about and connect to the Why Not You Foundation?
We did our due diligence on WNYF and learned that their core values aligned with ours as a school. It seemed like a natural partnership that was vision and mission aligned. We were introduced to the Foundation through a donor who supported our start-up efforts. After the introduction was made, we met with the Foundation, learned more about their work and vision for how they wanted to support youth in the community, and partnering with them to launch a school was the next logical step for them and us.
This is the same message we share with students through our Leaving to Learn program at WNYA, fundraising success is all about networking and relationships. You never know how an introduction, a conversation, a meeting over coffee, may turn into more opportunities down the road. It’s important to be aware of who is also doing great work in the community, what they stand for, and the causes they support.
Which cultivation strategies and materials were most compelling in deepening this relationship?
Being a recently authorized school with no operating history, Garth and I had to point to our past experiences in education and why our track record, experience, and the elements of our model, were backed with data and research. This helped legitimize what we were trying to get students to accomplish through our school model. This opened the door for us. From there, it was all about finding alignment between their mission and our model, which was evident.
The WNYF partnered not only with Garth and me to launch WNYA but partnered with our board as a whole. They saw the camaraderie and alignment our board members had behind the effort to launch WNYA and were inspired to join our entire team as partners.
How did you prepare for the ask? Who attended the meeting with you?
We wanted to make sure that the Foundation fully understood who they would potentially partner with. We provided full bios of our board and partners and spoke about these relationships and connections in our meetings with them.
In the final meeting when we met with the larger WNYF team, it was our school leadership team that met with the Foundation, which consisted of me (CEO), Garth (CAO), and Halma (DOO). The three of us had been working together, day in and day out, for over a year at that point. We had been through a lot of ups and downs on the journey to launch the school, and we wanted them to see the tight-knit and collaborative relationship we have as a team.
What are your top 3 tips for preparing for a major donor and funder ask?
- Know the donor. Find out what they believe in, who they support, and find alignment between past causes they have supported and what you are doing.
- Build the relationship and be your authentic self. Admit mistakes you may have made in the past and how you learned from them, and how this has created an even stronger organization as a result. Be transparent!
- Listen! What is it that the donor sees in your work that they value? Does it align with what you’re trying to accomplish? If you hear something that does not sit right, ask tough questions to learn if there is alignment between both organizations.
After receiving the gift, what were the key ways you’ve stewarded the funder/foundation?
We renamed the school in honor of the Foundation. I recognize that not all schools may be in a place to do this, but since we were not open yet and were just recently established without significant name recognition, we had no issues changing the school’s name.
The Foundation is also a key thought partner in the work we do. They have done amazing work in the community, and we have a lot we can learn from them as well. We have ongoing collaboration and find opportunities to bring their energy, excitement, and expertise into the school whenever we can.