5 Rules to Funding Your Big Idea

Over the last eight years, I have managed to raise over $1 million dollars from foundations and organizations for ideas that began as nothing more than scrawlings in my notebook.

Some of these ideas have led to the work I am doing now, such as the year I spent writing an eBook on making money and changing the world, which has now become a full-length book to be released in the spring. While others were one time events -- the 14-city fort building tour or the bar nights where everyone was given money to give to each other.

Some of my ideas worked, while others fell flat and disappeared. Some had budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars while others needed only a few volunteer hours. Either way, each time I had an idea, I had to find the resources needed to make it happen and over the years, I've gotten wiser about the process.

That experience is what I want to share with you. The lessons I've learned have helped me raise money to do unordinary, and sometimes extraordinary projects -- using money from foundations, individuals and corporations that would never normally take such risks. With these guidelines, my hope is that you can too.

Your idea may be completely new, never have been done before. It might be a dramatic departure from everything you have ever heard of. Take my advice: Give up the ego and pretend it is not. Figure out what your idea is similar to. What is it's long-lost common everyday cousin? A research project, a job-training program, a networking event? When you pitch and talk about your idea, pitch it as a different approach on a common idea. Those who are listening will understand your concept much faster and understand how to fund it.

What is possible if this common idea really was done differently? Would it transform the industry, and set a new precedent? Don't be hyperbolic, but do be quietly assuring that if this common idea was slightly tweaked, or approached differently, it could be much better. This is the vision -- even if it is a one-off event. Talk about what it could mean if it was shared.

The pitch to conservative foundations or corporations does not need to be flashy, different or creative. Don't use a prezi with embedded videos while acting it out. It should look like most other pitches these corporations and foundations receive. It should feel safe, and make sense. It should be logical. If they use power point, use it too. If they talk in some form of grant language, do it too. The ideas can be experimental but your pitch should always be conservative.

Your funder is your partner. Bring them in on the excitement of a changing idea and keep them up to date on what you learn. They are usually excited to help you change direction midstream if it is based on findings, and realizations that you gain along the way. You may even know you are going to need to change midway before you pitch -- you just need the time and money to prove you need to. You only lose when you don't tell people what you are doing, or do something different and then try to explain in retrospect once the money has been spent. The best fundraising advice I ever received is: ask for advice, get money; ask for money, get advice.

What you end up writing in your pitch may not be everything you want to do. That is ok. In fact, it is probably better. Just promise to deliver enough to make it clear your idea is the common thing with a simple twist. But once you secure the money, there is nothing stopping you from doing even more with the resources than you promised. Recently, I was granted funding to research "long term youth engagement strategies and provide a report" for a foundation. I knew I wanted to write a book on making money and changing the world, which would require interviewing hundreds of people. I pitched the research and interviews to the foundation. Later, I wrote the book as the result of having the resources to make it happen.