All non-profit organizations want to implement successful fundraising campaigns. The problem arises when they focus on what they want to “sell” and focus less on what the donors want to “buy”. Often they know they need funds but they do not always know the best time to begin the fundraising campaign. There are any number of elements that go into planning, designing, and implementing a fundraising campaign so that the campaign not only raises funds but also strengthens the organization.
Every agency faces a real challenge when it decides to raise money from supporters, potential supporters and the community at large. There are several different types of campaigns. There is the annual campaign to provide funds for general operating expenses and it usually aims for unrestricted funds that can be used as determined by the organization. These funds are the most desirable since there are no restrictions on the agency’s use and often they make the greatest impact since they have the most flexibility.
Included in the effort to increase the number of unrestricted gifts is a membership campaign. Many non-profits have developed a category for general support and identification with the purposes of the organization which is done through encouraging people to become members of the agency. Members may be entitled to receive publications, attend public meetings, and receive invitations to special programs or presentations. In fact, some agencies establish categories of membership and each designated membership level entitles the members to participate in unique programs or receptions with guest speakers.
There are also categories of fundraising efforts that focus on special capital projects like purchasing a building; building offices form the ground up; and/or renovating existing offices. These campaigns seek to attract donors who are interested in contributing to a specific project and provide naming opportunities. When the funds are given to the organization the donor can decide if they want to honor or memorialize a family member or someone close to them by having the gift acknowledged with appropriate signage.
These special gifts are not restricted to physical projects and there are times when an agency’s program will be named in a similar fashion. Often the donor recognition policy of an organization provides an added incentive to the contributor and encourages someone who is contemplating making a gift. Naming opportunities should be viewed as a way of offering an incentive to people who have an interest in the agency’s programs and services.
Of course the most important aspect of fundraising is the engagement of the potential donor and finding a way to connect their interests with the agency’s programs and services. Once this has been accomplished then the rest of the process is focused on strengthening their attachment to one or more of the options the organization has presented to them. Thus, you are enabling them to express their commitment to enhance the services provided to the clients.
There is always a question of the timing of the campaign and if now is the appropriate time to initiate new fundraising campaigns. I may be overly optimistic, however, the present economic environment should not dictate a halt to reaching out for contributions for special projects. It is a time to be clear about the message the organization is presenting to the community about the need for the campaign and to design a strategic plan that communicates the message clearly. When the need is articulated and the plan is well thought out then the chances are much greater of reaching the campaign goal.
Good planning means that there are already a significant number of committed donors who are prepared to have their gifts announced prior to the initiation of the formal campaign. These “early bird” supporters can often set the tone and attract other potential donors in the community. An integral part of the strategy is to begin to cultivate those people who have committed to the organization and are prepared to have their involvement be a voice to attract new contributors.
It does not matter whether the agency is fundraising for a building project, new equipment, or innovative program, what is important is the clarity of the message to the community and a single voice speaking heralding the need for the additional funds. A successful campaign will not only provide the needed funds but will also strengthen the organization’s leadership, their commitment to the agency, and the agency’s standing in the community.
If the need is real then one should not be deterred by the challenges in the world of fundraising. Accept the challenges and view it as an opportunity to enable the agency to provide better services to those in need and to demonstrate the agency’s commitment to the community.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.