Empower Your Board to be frontline fundraisers. Check out this presentation from Mar. 25, 2014 about recruiting champions from your board and setting the stage for regular outreach and solicitation.
I have been immersed in statistics this week, so I've been thinking a lot about how best to apply the science of data to help us predict the results of our fundraising efforts and steer us toward the best chance of success.
When it comes to grantseeking, particularly from new foundations, we sometimes lose sight of how improbable it is to get that first-time grant. We may be overly optimistic. But by analyzing a couple of key variables as part of our research, we can dramatically improve our predictive abilities. At some point early in the process, try to ascertain the following:
How many grants did the foundation award last year?
What was the ratio of renewals to new grants?
How many new applications were considered?
Of course, there are a lot of factors in grant decisions, but foundations do tend to be creatures of habit. It’s safe to say that the best predictor of whether you will receive a grant is whether you have gotten one before. But where does that leave those who are going for a first-time grant?
Here’s an example of how to use the data you have collected to estimate your odds.
The XYZ Foundation receives 100 applications and awards 50 grants. So, if we submitted our grant on time, we should have a 50-50 chance, right? But what if the foundation awards 47 renewals and only three new grants. And suppose the number of new grant applications was 50. Our odds change dramatically. When it’s three out of 50, we now have only a 6 percent chance of receiving the grant.
The statistics may seem daunting, but don’t let them deter you. Use this knowledge to plan more effectively. First, expand your initial prospect list. If you started with ten, expand it to 25. Second, balance out your list with near- and long-term prospects. In some cases, the whole process may take 18 to 24 months, so plan accordingly. Third, if you are not successful on the first try, go back the following year. Persistence usually pays off.
As a development director, you no doubt will be called on to predict the likelihood of receiving a grant. By using the right statistics, let’s hope your crystal ball will be just a little bit clearer.
I'm a natural skeptic when it comes to special event fundraising. An awful lot of money gets spent on activities that often fall short of desired, or promised, results. That being said, I've also seen fundraising events work really well -- elevate an organization’s profile, educate the community about important issues, and broaden a group’s reach.
But the big tell with events is whether they raise enough money to fund program work that fulfills the organization’s mission. How much is really left at the end of the day for program priorities? In my experience, successful fundraising events, those that leave at least two-thirds of their proceeds to program work, share four things in common.
1. The first and most important element is the money person(s).
Why? Because you make your money in fundraising events with corporate sponsorships, high-dollar table buys, and other mechanisms that encourage people to pay 10 times the regular admission price. This money-person can be the event chair who leverages business relationships to bring in corporate sponsorships, a wealthy patron with deep pockets and lots of friends, or a mover and shaker willing to open her Rolodex. It could even be a committee. The important thing is this person or persons understands his or her role. They are essential. Recognize that your regular ticket sales will only cover your costs no matter how many tickets you sell. The base ticket price, whether it’s $75, $250, or $1,000, is designed to get people to come to the event, not to make money. As a rule of thumb, your sponsorship total will be your profit.
2. The draw. A celebrity, elected official, an accomplished artist or performer are all possibilities.
In the case of advocacy groups, it could even be Noam Chomsky. Whoever it is, this person should be interesting enough to generate some buzz. But it is very important not to confuse this person with your money person. They are two completely different roles. Believe it or not, your draw will not make money for you (no matter how big the name) without the other three elements in place. In fact, your draw is often counting on you to deliver an audience. This is a little counter intuitive, but remember the best draw in the world is only one element of your success.
3. Base of supporters.
You need a group of people who will purchase tickets and show up for the event. They are your regulars, and you will need them to encourage family, friends and colleagues to attend and generally help you fill the room. The events that are successful are often well-established, signature events that have built up a following over the years, so don’t expect a new event to draw a lot of people who have no association with your organization. Make sure you have enough supporters you can count on.
4. A logistics person.
Generally you need a paid staff person to hold a successful event. I have seen some fantastic volunteer groups handle this under certain circumstances, but it was a very well-organized group with lots of experience running events. Promotions, recruitment, program development and execution are all functions for the staff person.
If you are missing any one of these elements, I’m guessing you will find it difficult to net enough money to call your event a fundraiser. You may still value the opportunity to get your organization’s name out there, build partnerships, or network (read: face-time) with your supporters. But if you’re counting on your event to be a source of revenue, make sure you have the four essentials in place.
Blue Strike offers free and low-cost resources to help you handle a range of common development tasks. In addition to materials intended for a general audience, our services include customized staff and board training, executive mentoring, strategic planning, and transition services.
Designed for the busy fundraising professional, these 45-minute sessions are full of field-tested practices and time-saving techniques to help you manage your daily tasks. Register in advance or just join the day of. Free. See slides from previous webinars.
Recent webinars and training sessions
Filled with recommendations for how to tackle typical scenarios in nonprofit organizations, these concise one-pagers cover topics such as special events, lapsed donors, and executive transitions. Free.
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Author's note: This blog was originally posted in Jan. 2014. The topic is especially relevant at this time of year.
A really good question came up this week during our webinar on recapturing lost donors. It was about how to re-engage donors who stop (or scale back) giving once the urgency of the moment has passed. Here are five suggestions for tackling this all-too-common problem:
1. Analyze data on your lapsed donors
Look for common characteristics among these donors: location, age, giving level, join date, giving method, online donors v. mail. Are they clustered in one state? Did they all join in response to a particular campaign? Are they online donors or did they come in through a special event? If you can group these lapsed donors into specific segments, it will help narrow your focus and point to possible solutions.
2. Gather feedback
Try a survey or focus group to dig a little deeper into their concerns. You may have a good handle on some of their issues or concerns, but a survey could reveal a little more about their priorities, and a series of open-ended conversations in focus groups could help generate three to five new messages that you could then test via email to see how well they resonate with a larger audience.
3. Launch a targeted reinstatement effort using custom campaign materials
Develop materials that address the priorities identified in the survey and focus groups. If there is someone associated with a high-profile issue or legal case, ask that person to be part of the campaign, to sign a letter for you, have their story told in emails, even make a few calls. In your materials, make sure to include the threats still posed by the opposition, specific efforts by your foes to roll-back progress, and the need for vigilance in protecting hard-won gains.
4. Donor engagement activities
Are there other ways for donors to be engaged? Is it possible to hold small-scale donor events in key locations or an evening program featuring an inspirational speaker? On the advocacy level, if your organization has petitions or lobbying efforts it needs help with, appeal to the lapsed donors for help. It’s not a substitute for financial support, but it might at least keep them in the fold.
5. Plan for the ebb and flow
Be prepared in the future to leverage high-profile moments into multi-year giving commitments; this will make your organization less vulnerable to the ebbs in donor attention. The urgent moment, whenever it comes, reminds everyone of the importance of your mission. It also typically puts your organization’s leaders front and center in the media and gives you an opportunity to reach out to everyone from former board members and major donors to foundation officers and long-time members. On the fundraising front, it is an opportunity to secure multi-year pledges and lock-in giving for future years. When the heat of the moment has faded, your donors will still be paying those pledges.
Blue Strike was founded in 2013 to provide straightforward solutions to nonprofit organizations looking for ways to improve their fundraising. Believing that all staff and volunteers can be successful fundraisers, I advise organizations to use cost effective, proven methods of reaching donors and I encourage staff to leverage existing resources, rather than buying into expensive gimmicks, to acquire skills and techniques they need bring in strong operations.
I started my fundraising career in 1987 raising funds for United Way in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I discovered that I loved connecting donors with good causes. My career led me to the national office of United Way where I had the opportunity to work with fundraisers all across the country identifying and sharing best practices. I eventually moved to the development office of The Campagna Center, a local charitable organization serving low-income children and then onto the National Women's Law Center where I raised funds to establish a permanent endowment. Most recently, I worked for five years for the Nobel-prize winning organization Physicians for Social Responsibility. I returned to school to obtain my Masters Degree in 2015 and now work as the director of development for the Association of American Law Schools.
I enjoy working with board members, executive directors and development staff at every level to set up and carry out successful fundraising plans. When people are passionate about an issue and dedicated to their organization -- and with a little encouragement and guidance -- they can be successful fundraisers.
Blue Strike provides advice and assistance to advocacy organizations seeking better performance in fundraising, marketing, and communications. Using time-tested methods and cost-effective solutions, our goal is to help you implement sustainable programs that reach people in meaningful ways.
Organizations engaged in public policy, civic engagement, and public interest law face unique fundraising challenges. Shifting political opinion and intermittent media attention are just a few of the factors that can derail your development plans. On top of that, your organization is working on complex issues for which progress can be long and arduous.
Our services include customized staff and board training, executive mentoring, strategic planning, and transition services. We also offer free and low-cost resources to help you handle a range of common tasks found in a development office.
Join me Thursday, September 28, 2017 for a fundraising session sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals in DC. Register here: Association of Fundraising Professionals - DC Chapter Education Session.
Download the slides here.
Mary Dillon Kerwin, President Bio
Blue Strike: Inspiring Support for Civic Engagement
Blue Strike is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Founded in 2013 and incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia, our mission is to provide strategic advice to nonprofits and to address the educational needs of development professionals working in progressive advocacy organizations.