If at first you don't succeed...

By Jessamyn Lau

We shut down our web form last month. This was the page on our website where anyone could go to briefly tell us about their people, idea and impact. When we set it up it seemed like a great idea, where we felt like we could be entirely approachable, not ask for detailed proposals, and able to learn about new organisations that we would be a good funding fit for.

During the past year we’ve had about 100 organisations go to the page to tell us about their work. We’ve learned about many interesting and important models. However, we found we weren’t a good fit for any of them. We were spending lots of short periods of time figuring that out and then responding to people. They added up to a significant amount of time each week. And, even though we didn’t ask for much information from each org, each org still invested time in telling us their stories -with no significant results for them or us. It didn’t work.

As we talked about this we realised this time would be better spent going out and finding orgs that we do fit with, through channels that we *know* yield results. This method feels better too. We love technology and the way it connects people, but having conversations with real people, along with all the depth and dimension that comes with that, works better for us as we are very trust/relationship based in our approach. We know that our best matches come through referrals. Referrals from those who know us well and know an org well -enough to see a strong potential and mutual fit.

So, we’ve taken down our web form. And the time we were spending on fielding, researching and responding to web leads we are now spending on deliberately building relationships with those around us who can make recommendations to us (a lot of the time this is other funders). We’re not trying to be unapproachable or close our doors to new ideas and organisations. We just know that our ratio of time spent to fits found will improve by focusing our efforts on things that we know work. We’re going back to more of our ‘beating the pavement’ approach.

I’d love to hear from practitioners and funders on this. Practitioners, what’s your take on this? Have you seen other effective ways of funders remaining open to new conversations? Funders how have you navigated this issue? Did you come to different conclusions?