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Funding requests: When to say no

Even if you feel compelled to do good this Giving Season, you might be having a hard time deciding how best to allocate your limited resources. That’s where the Founders Pledge Advisory team comes in - we help you plan your giving strategically.

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▲ Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash.

With Giving Tuesday fast approaching, your inbox might be filling up with funding requests quicker than usual. Even if you feel compelled to do good this Giving Season, you might be having a hard time deciding how best to allocate your limited resources. That’s where the Founders Pledge Advisory team comes in — we help our community plan their giving in the most strategic way possible.

When to say no

I’m the head of the Advisory service at Founders Pledge, working with our members to help them build personalised portfolios of impact-optimised grants. I’m often told by members that choosing which grants to make and which charities to support can be a bit overwhelming. With so many good causes out there and so many requests for funding, some of us find it incredibly hard to know when to say yes and when to say no. So when should you say no to an ask?

The short answer to this is: often! We all have finite resources and every grant we choose to make is another that we explicitly or implicitly choose not to make. Essentially, we end up not making almost every possible grant asked of us, but this is a good thing! The truth of the matter is that not all charities are equally effective and if we care about meaningful outcomes, we need to prioritise organisations which are going to do the maximum possible amount of good.

Define your goals

I prefer not to focus on the grants that I don’t make (which is, after all, a very long list), but on the ones that I do. By having a clear, well-defined strategy for my giving, I can focus on what I want to achieve and which grants can help me do just that. This is what I work with our members to do during our tailored advisory process. In our Value Discovery sessions, members explore the beliefs and principles which underpin their giving and use these to set individual giving goals. These goals are like your own personal mission statement. They are an anchor for your giving which helps ensure that when you make grants, you’re making steps towards creating the world you want to live in. These goals are a crucial part of each individual’s giving plan.

A giving plan designed with your Advisor around your personal goals doesn’t just help you be more strategic, it makes it much easier to know when you should say yes (and no) to opportunities you come across. Carefully planned giving is generally more effective than reactive giving for a couple of reasons. First, many of the charities we work with say they are able to plan much more strategically when they have a good idea of their pipeline of funding than when funds come in unpredictably. Second, if you plan carefully, you can find gaps in the market to ensure that your grant is going to someone who has a solid plan for spending it well, rather than accidentally swamping a charity with more money than it’s equipped to spend. This can often happen if a particular cause or organisation hits the news and receives a surge of public support.

However, ad hoc opportunities can still yield real impact. When I come across an interesting new giving opportunity, I ask myself two questions:

  1. Is this grant firmly aligned with my personal giving goals?
  2. Can this grant produce better outcomes than other grants that are aligned with my giving goals?

This second question is vital, as new ideas can be more exciting than organisations or projects that we’ve known about or supported for a while, but to be a truly effective giver, it’s important to make the best possible grants whenever we can. Answering this second question can be difficult, but our Advisors are always here to help.

What about requests from friends and family?

This last month, I’ve already received requests from a wildlife charity, a children’s charity and my old university. I also have friends planning to do a charity cycle ride for a local hospice. I care about all of these causes and have a personal connection to several of them, but I won’t be giving to them all. Some are broadly aligned with my goals but simply aren’t the best way to achieve them, while at least two are close enough to my heart that I’ll donate anyway. I keep a “personal pot” of about 15 percent of my annual giving for this kind of donation and I love knowing that I can support organisations which mean a lot to me, regardless of impact, without letting this detract from the big changes I know I can achieve with the main portion of my giving portfolio.

At Founders Pledge, we don’t believe you should say “no” when you feel a personal connection, instead, we encourage our members to take a portfolio approach to their giving. We build mixed portfolios that represent multiple values, cause areas, risk profiles and more. We can’t and probably shouldn’t take all the emotion out of giving, but by planning in advance how much money we want to devote to personal, less impact-driven grants, we can make sure we don’t lose focus and that the majority of our giving helps us make meaningful progress towards our goals.

If you are a member of Founders Pledge and would like to talk with an Advisor about your giving, please get in touch with your Community Manager. We’d be delighted to hear from you!

About the author


Adriana Lowe

Former Advisor

Adriana is a former Advisor at Founders Pledge. She joined from the University of Kent where she spent three years researching and teaching. She has a BA, MSc and PhD in anthropology and specialised in behavioural research. For her research she has spent time living and working in both Nigeria and Uganda. She has also worked for several charities spanning social care, health, conservation and education.