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Taking the first step
Philanthropist, Social Entrepreneur, Founder, Improv Star
Find your story. What really moves you?
Build and constantly nurture your board of directors and board of advisors.
Fundraising for vision (instead of dire need) is much more attractive for donors.
Lesson: Double Bottom Line with Pamela Hawley
Step #7 Startup Advice: Taking the first step
If you're an aspiring entrepreneur, the first thing I would say is you've got to find your story. What is it that really moves you? You might be successful, but not incredibly successful, unless you are really going after something that is important in your heart. That is going to allow you to sustain yourself during long-term times when it may be extra stressful or something is not coming through the way you want it to, or maybe there's a legal case, or whatever it might be.
You get hit with so many things as an entrepreneur. If it's in your heart, all those things are a joy to handle because you have something that is a cause in your heart. It's a seed in your heart that you will do anything to make grow, as long as it's ethical. So my advice to you is to make sure you know what your story is. It can't just be a cool idea. If it is a cool idea, someone else's idea, you'd better be so bought into it and really want to be embodying that idea. So know your story.
Second, do set up good business principles. You can't just be going and serving and running hand to mouth and running pell-mell. Have a good business plan in place. That can just be a one to three page executive summary to start off. You need to have that. I had that when I started shopping around Universal Giving at the beginning, and I cannot underestimate sic this enough. The Board of Directors and Board of Advisers, and your team are one of most important things you'll ever do in building and continuing to build it. That's one of the things that you don't build and let go. You build it and continue to nurture it. You build and continue to grow it. It's constant, and you've got to have that renewal. As an entrepreneur, I'd make sure you know your story, know what value you want to create, and start surrounding yourself with people of excellence.
When you're looking as an organization to sustain yourself, I strongly suggest that you get some funding in the bank, at least for six months, if not a year. Universal Giving tries to always have a year in the bank. It is not fun to fundraise off of need. It is so much better to fundraise off of opportunity. If you can go get those funds in the bank for a year, it gives you the ability to operate and to fundraise based on vision. This is where we're headed. This is exciting, where we're headed. It's so much different than "I need or I'm going to go out of business." It's not a compelling value proposition for funders. When you look about that, I would definitely look about trying to fundraise about that.
Always watch your expenses. I cannot emphasize this enough. It's not just about inputs, it's also about outputs. You can get a lot of funds in as your inputs, but how are you spending it? How are you being a good steward of their funds and your funds? You need to be very conscious of that. Often people just look at the amount you fundraised, but it's not that. It has to be how you use it.
I'm a big fan of generating revenue. Figure out that model of how you can generate revenue. It doesn't necessarily mean that you're going to be 100% sustainable off of it, but even if you can create a revenue stream of 10% at the beginning, or 20%, it shows funders that you have something of value that the marketplace is willing to pay for. It's so much better of a value proposition in every year we have to fundraise.
In fundraising, I think you really have to see people as the prize. It's not about the funding. If you're only going with a funding agenda, it stops the relationship short from what it can really be. Fund-raising is about honoring the person, it's about a long-term relationship, and it is not about quick ask, at least for me. Often when I go into a fundraising meeting I don't ask on that first meeting. I want to find out how they are, who they are, what are their interests, and ways that we can serve them at Universal Giving. The money comes later.
On fundraising, you might get a small amount at the beginning. We had one donor who started off giving us a few hundred dollars, then $5000, and then ended up being a six-figure donor to us. That was over many years.
Everyone has their unique way to fundraise. That's just mine. Some people go in and ask for the quick ask, and they get it and that's great. I wonder if they're getting everything out of the relationship that they want. I would say I'm more of a slow money, slow fundraiser. That's more how I operate.
Startup mode is very special. It's a very precious time. I remember when my sister who has three children, when she had her third child there was this hush over the home, and it's this very protected special time period with a new baby. It's the same thing when you've got an idea. You need to protect it. You need to make sure it's a special time, that you're doing everything you can to help grow it because it's a seed that's trying to bust out of the Earth. That's what's happening.
When you are doing that and you are starting this, and you're trying to get momentum behind this, some of the key things I would say that one would need to work on, is make sure you have an executive summary, at least one page. Number two, make sure you show how the funders money, that they get an exit strategy off of that; number three, start building that Board of Directors and Advisors, even if you don't have a team. Make sure you've got some co-founder or support or someone, so they know you can execute. Number four, I would make sure that you are always ensuring that you have your own values in place and that you're not veering off of those.
We have a tendency to get burned out and things of that nature, and you've got to make sure you're always thinking, "Am I doing this the right way?" As a leader, you can't ever really let go of those ethics, so make sure that you're not selling your soul at some point just to get your idea out.
Finally, as with any entrepreneur, have a prototype. It doesn't even need to be working. I remember when I first launched Universal Giving the back end wasn't there, but the front end was there. That funder can see that vision. So you've got an executive summary, some beginning of a Board of Directors and Advisors, some type of team member, you've got your values, and you have a prototype.