darwin fish

darwin fish!

Hi Mazarine

I am grants manager at the Charles Darwin Foundation in the Galapagos Islands. Raising and managing millions annually through grants, but most of it is restricted to specific projects and we do want to increase our unrestricted/general operating funds (doesn’t everyone?). What would you suggest?

Thanks so much for your interest


Dear Freda,

Thank you so much for writing!

Here’s a special metaphor just for the Darwin Foundation. Evolve or die. So, what this means is:

Imagine a nonprofit depending mainly on grants and one annual event to survive.

Does this sound familiar? This is how a LOT of unstable nonprofits operate.

So, how do you get more STABLE with your multiple income streams?

What direction should you go in?

If you are offering social services, I would recommend getting government contracts to offer comprehensive services with a couple of sister agencies in your city.

If you are doing scientific research in the Galapagos, that’s a bit trickier.

You could try trademarking the Darwin name and being able to collect lucrative use-rights from the Darwin fish stickers that seem to be everywhere these days.

I understand it might be difficult to get people worked up about the Galapagos, since there aren’t that many people out that way.

One thing that you could do is start to facilitate phonecalls with donors so they can talk to people doing the work in the field on the Galapagos, so even if they can’t physically go there, they can start to understand the issues, and feel connected with the work that’s going on.

You could also get speaking engagements at local corporations and start to build those relationships, get volunteers, start to build relationships with big universities with serious scientific research, and start to partner with their fundraising offices as well.

What about your board? Do they have the means to give large sums to the Darwin foundation? If not, do they have rich friends they could ask? They should be spearheading a fundraising effort, and just because they seem reluctant, doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be involved. EVERYONE CAN DO SOMETHING.

If you REALLY want to get a lot of unrestricted funding, the BEST way to do that is start to build your major gifts office. Which means, board first, everyone needs to give, get, or get off. That’s how that works. If they aren’t giving, they need to be connecting you with people who CAN give.

How can you find donors who would be willing to give large, unrestricted sums to your nonprofit?

Glad you asked!

The Short Answer is: Research your ASS OFF

The Long Answer Is
You need to learn who your sister agencies are in the field. Who else is doing this work?

How do they get their unrestricted funds? Do you have an annual report from them? Does it list their donors? That’s a place to start!

Another place to go is to Guidestar.org, where you will see their board members listed on their 990 form.

You can start to google their names and see where they work and then if their workplaces are interested in groundbreaking biology research, you can start to connect with them and see if they’d be interested in lending an executive for your board. That can help you build a relationship.

Otherwise, think of natural strategic partners for the Darwin Foundation, people who would lose a lot if your organization went away tomorrow. Is it the society of biology researchers? Is it another corporation? How can you start to work those relationships and help get more and more people to give? You might be able to create natural resonances between what they care about and your cause.

Finally, why not brainstorm with your list of top 200 donors in front of you, and see if you see any connections between these donors?