From Crisis to Success: Orchestra London Stages Impressive Comeback

Over its 67 year history Orchestra London Canada has weathered a couple of serious financial crises, only to emerge stronger and more focused on its mission than ever before. While fundraising has been an important component in the orchestra's most recent revival, they had some serious work to do changing donor perception.

"Funders still thought we were in a crisis situation," notes Kimberly Parker, Director of Marketing and Development. "They were shocked to hear we were doing so well now and didn't realize that we have regained stability."

What strikes one most about Orchestra London is their highly professional and business-like approach to both grant development and communication. To eliminate any lingering stigma about the orchestra, for example, Parker began including all prospective donors on their newsletter and press release distribution lists.

By communicating these new realities and being strategic in who they approached for funding, Orchestra London was able to revive its profile in a relatively short time. "What BIG allowed us to do was target a specific group of funders that have matching interests and to be able - in a very targeted manner - to make sure they were getting the right information."

Orchestra London's ability to write interesting and easy to read grant proposals has also helped. "We find that we have a very unique product and to be able to convey that information to (donors) in a way that is eye-catching and intriguing is very important."

It doesn't hurt if you have a star grant writer either. The colourful and engaging style of their current writer helps the orchestra keep overworked grant officers from falling asleep while they're reading a proposal. Ultimately it helps raise the orchestra's persona in the eyes of these important gatekeepers.

One might expect people in the arts community to be more switched on to the value of style and voice in their writing. But every charity or non-profit should at least understand what it means to review 200 grant proposals in a single week.

"I don't think the people who are writing the applications necessarily put themselves in the funder's shoes." To ensure Orchestra London delivers both informative and readable proposals, Parker asks herself some simple questions:

"Am I engaging them? Am I exciting them? Am I touching them emotionally? Am I standing out as a professional, well organized and business like organization?"

Parker feels that her role as both marketer and grant development officer contributes greatly to the orchestra's entire grant development process. "I feel my job is to sing the praises of this organization from the roof tops We are valuable members of our community and we need to be sure that message gets through."

The BIG Fit
Coming from a private-sector background Parker treats grant applications like business plans or bank loan applications. The average grant proposal should be a "little more engaging and socially oriented," but like a business plan it also needs to be informative, focused and organized. "A lot of the resources (BIG) provides on line are very important to developing a professional business case."

Parker notes, for example, that the information provided in BIG helps the orchestra to determine which funders want to receive phone calls and build relationships with a charity or non-profit. "To be able to provide that information through your service is very important.

"Orchestra London has been a subscriber to BIG for over two years now. It's been a very useful research tool. We've been able to get a lot of background information on funding organizations which has allowed us to make substantial phone calls and personal approaches."

In their first year using BIG, the orchestra pulled in about $5000, which Parker attributes directly to lingering doubts about their solvency. Once it had fully eliminated the negative exposure through extensive communication, Orchestra London stepped up and raised over $100,000.

Although times remain tough for all charities, Parker believes BIG has played a significant role in helping Orchestra London get back on its feet. "We haven't received huge money, but we are getting consistent influxes of donations from foundations that have allowed us to be very innovative. A key factor has been the resources on BIG Online."

BIG Picture: By developing engaging, informative and high quality grant proposals your organization can vastly increase its chances of being funded.

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