Repositioning for Fundraising

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See if this article of mine originally published in 1994 by Nonprofit Management Strategies remains relevant today. I am struck by how many of the principles presented here made it into Fundraising Strategies for Community Colleges eighteen years later. Can you recognize any organizations you know in the advice below?

Repositioning for Fund Raising

Loss of Government Funding Often Sparks Attempts to Enter the Fundraising Market

You are the executive director of a small agency that historically has not raised much in the way of private funds. You have just been notified that long-held government funding will be lost or curtailed. After the initial panic wears off, you take a deep breath and resolve—once again—to approach the board about the need to raise funds.

Just don’t overlook the need to reposition the agency for fundraising.

Organizations that ask themselves, “Why can’t we raise funds?” often overlook one obvious answer: government funding.

Like an I.V. in a patient’s arm, government funding is an artificial-life support compared to fundraising in the private sector. Yet there’s no problem until it’s cut off.

In the book Nonprofits for Hire (Harvard U Press), authors Steven Rathgeb Smith and Michael Lipsky assert that governmental funding now accounts for roughly half of all social service agency income. They estimate the amount of governmental funding to be in the range of $15 billion a year.

Can this amount of money change nonprofit organizational culture? The answer is, “You bet!”

“Is he knocking government funding?” you ask.

Only to the extent that government funding breeds an organizational culture of indifference to fundraising. And that, unfortunately, is a common occurrence.

The reason not to engage in fundraising is, of course, it’s too hard. And organizations that have failed in past attempts to raise funds know better than anyone how hard it can be.

Repositioning 101

Repositioning involves three elements:

  1. Make your own commitment. (You. The executive director.)
  1. Give volunteer leadership a stake. (Here comes the culture change…)
  2. Enlist your board of directors. (They may never forgive you, but they will respect you.)

The Executive Director’s Commitment

A note to the executive director: You are the fundraiser in-chief. It’s your responsibility to:

  • Educate yourself.
  • Get serious about fundraising.
  • Develop a realistic plan to reposition the agency.
  • Cultivate volunteers everywhere you go.

Volunteer Leaders Are Made Not Born

Certainly one of the most fascinating elements of philanthropy is the human drama of volunteer relations, and the leader of any nonprofit organization has got to be good at it.

Many seasoned professionals will tell you the most satisfying part of their job consists of the many and varied relationships they enjoy with their volunteers. So how do you and your organization take advantage of this? You know the old saying about business—“location, location, and location.” With volunteers, it’s “cultivation, cultivation, and cultivation.”

The Board of Directors: They Really Will Forgive You

Here’s a premise you may not like: It is the responsibility of the executive director to manage the culture and performance of the board of directors.

And a premise they may not like: Repositioning for fundraising nearly always requires significant change at the board level.

Significant change at the board level is accomplished via the Alpha and Omega of board building: the nomination process and evaluation process. These processes belong to the board, but are managed in part by the executive director.

You can be successful without a high-powered board in the traditional sense of the term. There are many wonderful organizations out there proving it every day.

But you cannot be successful without the attention—and involvement—of your board. The trick is in finding the right roles for committed, trained board members to play. And of course, everybody gives.

Here are 12 keys to board success:

  1. The board must establish the repositioning effort as the number one or two priority of the organization. The effort must be characterized by measurable goals and accountability for performance.
  2. Find your potential board president and work for his or her advancement to that position. Lobby.
  3. Educate the board as to the principles of fundraising. Use outside counsel.
  4. Define “Give, get, or get off” and enforce it. This means offering nonperformers an “out” such as your new “advisory council.”
  5. Recruit strategically.
  6. Seek commitment, time, talent, connections, influence, and money.
  7. Without commitment, the other resources are wasted.
  8. Define expectations up front. Be firm. Be clear.
  9. Cultivate those who really interest you. Their time should be worth your time.
  10. Make a compelling case for the need and the mission.
  11. Giving begins with the board. Make it your first campaign.
  12. No one is exempt. All trustees must feel some involvement with the fundraising process.

Ira S. Robbins wrote in Fundraising: A Crucial Role for Board Members:

“The first responsibility of a board member, of course, is for himself or herself to make a contribution. It may be a large amount or small, but giving is of great importance.”

Nine Handy Maxims by Which to Survive & Thrive

  1. It is not sufficient to preserve the status quo.
  2. Success on a modest fundraising project is better than failure on a large one.
  3. Avoid committees where possible.
  4. Get out of the office.
  5. Fundraising performed in the context of a cohesive plan wastes no effort.
  6. Grantwriting is not fundraising.
  7. Board giving is the cornerstone of all giving.
  8. Give yourself two years.
  9. The truth about fundraising is that it’s hard—but it’s worth it!

The Scholarship Recognition Event: an Essential Cultivation Tool

One thing I’ve learned in 25 years of raising funds is that a little recognition goes a long way.

Hundreds of two-year colleges have had success bringing scholarship recipients together with the donors who funded the scholarships through a scholarship recognition event.

But make sure that donors are connected with the students they have helped to support, and that students themselves are doing the talking from the podium. Just vet them and coach them in advance, and keep the remarks short. Three minutes will do. The goal, as one foundation board member put it to me: not a dry eye in the house.

Have some donors onstage to speak, too. Unless there is a strong narrative arc in the remarks five minutes can seem like an eternity (particularly true when administrators are doing the talking!).

One nice touch when you don’t have too many students in attendance: have them receive scholarship certificates, convocation style, where each is called in turn to the podium to shake the hand of the president and a donor and receive the certificate.

Don’t forget to pair scholarship recipients and donors at their tables.

And whatever you do, put the mission first.

The Second Most Important Thing You Can Do to Strengthen Employee Annual Giving

[second in a two-part series]

The second most important thing you can do to strengthen Employee Annual Giving is to address the maximum number of faculty and staff at a single gathering.

I call this the “Kickoff Close.” The occasion offers the opportunity to make a concerted, personal pitch for Employee Annual Giving as you collect pledge cards.

Here’s how it works:

1) Find the occasion. It might be an all-employee meeting, in-service training day, or a welcome-back orientation. The key is to find an occasion that includes both faculty and staff. And the occasion has to be proximate to the desired window for a two- or three-week employee campaign.

2) Get 15 minutes on the agenda. This can be difficult, but you need this amount of time to build momentum for the message.

4) Distribute pledge cards and envelopes to attendees.

5) Use effective speakers with powerful messages. My preference is to open with the president, then offer a few words by a faculty or staff employee campaign chair, followed by the chief development officer, followed by a development staff member who pitches a raffle for a premium like an iPad or smart phone available to immediate donors. Each of these presentations must be short, short, short!

6) Lead with thank yous. A big part of the pitch is engaging and thanking donors. In fact, every speaker must thank donors. If you are using the sustaining membership program described in my last article, a significant number of your audience are already ongoing donors.

8) The CDO’s message: Tell employees what the foundation and the college accomplished with their gifts from last year. This includes scholarships, emergency assistance grants, and program improvements touching a variety of departments. If you want broad support, demonstrate broad impact.

Make the Ask. You need to make a succinct, heartfelt, compelling, personal Ask that establishes you as the college’s leader regarding philanthropy.

Don’t forget to ask nondonors to fill out their pledge cards on the spot.

9) Offer a raffle. Have a development officer close with a pitch for a raffle to anyone who turns in a pledge card within 24 hours of the meeting. I advise offering one compelling item. It could be an iPod or a Kindle reader, whatever, it’s worth it given the development staff time you will save by kicking off the campaign this way.

Allow entry to the raffle to anyone who fills out a pledge card whether or not they make a gift in order to comply with state and federal lottery or raffle regulations. However, you can automatically enter anyone who has already made on ongoing pledge. (Don’t worry, very few nondonor employees will take advantage of the offer.)

10) Send out a blast email the next day informing employees of the initial rate of donor participation. You may be pleasantly surprised to see how high this rate already is. Then announce the winner of the raffle item.

There you have it: 10 quick steps to success in Employee Annual Giving—just what you need as you embark on follow-up departmental and section meetings.