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Collective Insights  |  Charity & NFPFundraising

How do you capture the hearts and minds of potential funders?

28 November 2019 at 8:29 am
The Xfactor Collective specialist member Sue Vittori offers tips on how to give your organisation a winning edge in funding submissions, in the weekly Collective Insights column.

Contributor | 28 November 2019 at 8:29 am


How do you capture the hearts and minds of potential funders?
28 November 2019 at 8:29 am

The Xfactor Collective specialist member Sue Vittori offers tips on how to give your organisation a winning edge in funding submissions, in the weekly Collective Insights column.

Social purpose organisations are continually vying to be first past the post when it comes to winning funding. 

The best way to get ahead of the field is to capture both the hearts and minds of your prospective funders. This involves getting the balance right between telling stories that stir their emotions and presenting evidence that satisfies their intellect. 

“The mantra ‘less is more’ is valid in many instances, however, there are times when ‘more’ is better.”

It can be tempting to focus either on storytelling or on presenting facts and figures about your cause and organisational impact. However, it’s best not to assume a funder will be influenced by only one or the other.  

Research your target audience 

Just as mirroring someone’s body language can help build rapport, endeavour to align your words with the language used by the funding organisation. 

If you’re applying for funding from a government agency, examine the terminology in their application guidelines, policy and strategy documents, fact sheets and ministerial media releases. 

Similarly, when approaching a philanthropist or corporate CEO, find out as much as you can about their professional and personal interests and adjust your messaging to resonate with their interests. 

“Less” is not always sufficient

The mantra “less is more” is valid in many instances, however, there are times when “more” is better. In some circumstances, keeping information too brief may be under-selling your organisation. 

While a government minister or busy CEO may only have time for a short briefing, a funding program manager or grant assessor needs sufficient evidence on which to base their recommendations. 

For example, a comprehensive delivery and outcomes report may run to 30-plus pages and include a wealth of contextual information, stories, photos, evaluation results and stakeholder testimonials for those seeking in-depth evidence. Including an executive summary, layering information throughout and producing a succinct companion booklet or fact sheet, will cater to a broader range of needs. 

Good storytelling has universal appeal

Well-crafted stories can shock or surprise your audience and motivate them to take action. 

I’m not referring to only written stories. Some people take in information aurally, while others are highly visual. Use evocative photos in publications, video storytelling and stories woven into speeches or presentations to address these preferences. 

Evidence must be clear, meaningful and credible

Combining storytelling with robust outcomes and impact frameworks and positive evaluation findings will naturally give you a strategic advantage. Independent assessments are the most credible and will help you stand out from the crowd.

Use uncomplicated infographics and diagrams, relatable comparisons and benchmarks to make the evidence easy to locate and digest.

Look for the “hidden stories” behind the evidence

In 2011, independent consultants assessed Lighthouse Foundation’s support programs for homeless youth as having a conservative social return on investment (SROI) of $12 for every $1 invested. 

During its winning bid for this year’s Melbourne Women’s Fund (MWF) $80,000 Signature Grant, Lighthouse highlighted that this is still the highest social return those consultants have ever recorded, even after completing more than 130 other SROI assessments.

In their final pitch to MWF giving circle members at the annual awards event in July, Lighthouse’s presenters shared moving stories and cited key evidence about the impact of their programs. They multiplied the grant amount by their SROI (x12), to emphasise that Lighthouse would leverage the support to potentially deliver almost $1 million in value.

According to MWF grants committee deputy chair, Simone Clancy, Lighthouse’s comprehensive written application and their verbal pitch and visual presentation as one of three finalists in the major grant category, delivered “all the ingredients to capture our members’ hearts and minds”.   

Leverage third-party testimonials

Authentic testimonials from beneficiaries, delivery partners and other stakeholders increase your credibility. Include them in reports, submissions and grant applications wherever possible.

For example, a charity operating a national support program featured several testimonials in a submission to a federal government inquiry. The CEO also encouraged external stakeholders to advocate for the program in their submissions. The inquiry’s final report cited some of these endorsements and recommended a substantial increase in funding for the program.

Get the balance right 

Ultimately, it comes down to knowing your audience and achieving the right balance between the emotional and the rational; between telling your best stories and presenting your most compelling evidence. 

Get that right and you will achieve the potent combination that tugs at a funder’s heart strings while also giving them the peace of mind to open their purse strings.


Five top tips 

  1. Research target funders and tailor your language and messaging accordingly. 
  2. Present and layer information to address varied needs and interests. 
  3. Tell stories your audience won’t easily forget. 
  4. Present reliable evidence in memorable ways. 
  5. Leverage third-party testimonials to build credibility. 


About the author: Sue Vittori is an experienced communications strategist and a foundation member of The Xfactor Collective. She specialises in writing for influence. 

Each week Pro Bono News and The Xfactor Collective present a Collective Insights column, answering common questions and challenges experienced by social changemakers. You are welcome to lodge questions for the column by emailing

The Xfactor Collective is an Australian-first community where changemakers go for expert support and advice, including pre-vetted specialists across 100-plus areas of specialisation, specialist triage support services and a free video library.

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