The Next Big Thing… Technology?

December 28, 2007

As a nonprofit today you have the opportunity to be creative and try new things you never have before. With use of email & the internet there is the opportunity to reach a greater and more diverse audience than ever before. Through mail merges and online prospect research there is the ability to personalize communication. Through blogging and e-newsletters current information is more readily accessible.

In such a technological world I think that it would be wonderful to see more CEOs or Executive Directors blogging about the work of their nonprofit. I am very happy when I see an organization sending out a quick e-newsletter update on a project area that the organization is working with or creating a distribution email to engage experienced volunteers in urgent projects.

Check out this post about what could happen in 2008 from a great blog called Tactical Philanthropy. I encourage you to try some new ideas and new fundraising programs. If you are a small non-profit your organization is often a lot more nimble and has the opportunity to try some new creative programs and I’d love to hear about them (write a comment and let me know about what you are doing). Another new and developing area in fundraising is cause marketing here is a great post on how to start from a blog called Selfish Giving.

More About Using Board Members & Volunteers

December 24, 2007

Lets talk a little more about getting donors (and board members) involved in your nonprofit. I think that it is important that we do not take a too narrow view of fund development. Every nonprofit has a lot of different needs that vary from simple volunteer tasks like sorting or answering phones all the way to creating an IT infrastructure, crafting a marketing campaign, or advocating on behalf of the organization. Wouldn’t it be incredible if a nonprofit started to view volunteers, donors, and board members all with the same value? How often have the lines been blurred between all of these different areas? A good nonprofit will learn how to use these vested individuals in greater depth.

A reader wrote a great comment in response to my posting, Using Board Members to Fundraise. I think that you can change “board member” to “executive volunteer” and get the same result.

“My claim is that to maximize your board’s effectiveness (at fund raising or whatever else) the organization needs to look at things in reverse. ‘Who are my board members, why are they here, and how best can we use what they bring?’”

This represents a profound shift in thinking. What would happen if a nonprofit really thought this way? I think that it would result in some incredible partnerships, new programs, and increased donations.

I really liked the questions that were asked in that post but I might rephrase the question just a little bit. I think that if a nonprofit can really use it’s board members greatest skills they would get a lot further. But, I think that it is important that in doing this they do not lose track of their mission. So my rephrase would be, “Who are my board members, why are they here, and how best can we use what they bring to further the mission of the nonprofit?” Maybe that redirection to connect the volunteer work with the nonprofit’s mission is what makes a good fund development staff member.

One last thing. When you start down the path of engaging volunteers in their passions and their skills start small. It is going to take time to create the working relationship between your nonprofit and that specific board member or volunteers. I have known a lot of volunteers that come in really excited and want to do 100 things and they don’t end up doing 1. But the most profound impacts that I’ve seen have been board members that came in to do 1 or 2 things and followed through. Make sure you sit down and talk with this volunteer about what they can do and what they want to do. Before you do anything else go back to your organization and talk to them about what the organization needs to do to be able to use those skills and abilities. Make sure to follow up with the individual (in person or by phone) and talk about how the partnership will work and what the organization is doing to support their work. Continue to check in to thank them, see what kind of additional support this volunteer might need, and see how the project/task/involvement is going. If they want to engage in a deeper way or do some additional things make sure that it will not stop them from being able to finish the task they are on. You can tell them the organization is not ready yet or the need is greatest with the work they are doing right now. Only tell them that if it is true. Explain to the volunteer why you are not ready yet.

Do you have any examples of using volunteers well or and comments? Let me know I think we are starting a great conversation on this topic. Be sure to read the comments as some really insightful things have been said.

Event & Campaign Sponsorship Levels- Part 2

December 21, 2007

Read Part 1 talking about presenting sponsorship levels and program history.

Make sure that you have a few different tiers of sponsorship. Have a basic level that will be your entry point for new businesses and organizations to come in. I usually put that between $500 and $1,500 depending on the size of the event. You want to have a middle level to upgrade those businesses to, and a higher level for your major supporters. The middle level could be anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 depending on the size of your event. For a high level sponsor I’d put the level somewhere between $5,000 to $10,000. If you have a huge event you might have another level in there but do not set too many levels or it gets confusing. I think 3 to 5 levels is a good start. If you are a small event with just a couple hundred people $5,000 might be your presenting level.

Think about who you are approaching. If you are approaching a big business they probably have or with the right amount of cultivation could be a major sponsor at some point for you. If you are working with local stores and small family businesses they will probably give in the $500 to $1,000 range. Asking businesses for the right amount is important make sure you are cultivating existing sponsors and that you know something about them (see my post on Making “The Ask” and Prospect Research).

Another thing you can do with sponsors that cover hard costs is provide them with a sponsorship for an in-kind gift or in-kind and cash gift. I would only do this if they cover a hard cost. Some example might be if you have a sponsor that creates your annual video for you for no charge, or you are getting medical supplies for no charge, or services. Make sure that it is something that you will actually use not just a general in-kind service.

It is hard to set levels and set a hard rule for all events. If you have specific questions or you have sponsorship levels at your organization please post them below. Another time I will talk about sponsorship benefits and what kinds of benefits you can offer and what businesses are looking for. My next couple posts will probably be about how to find donors or transparency in giving. Thanks for your comments and please post any ideas or questions.

Event & Campaign Sponsorship Levels- Part 1

December 19, 2007

Do you struggle setting levels for your sponsorship events? Ever wonder what is too high or what is too low? I think those are questions everyone struggles with when you first start a sponsorship program.

Before you set your levels make sure that you have some way to steward and work with these groups (see my post on starting a business program). It is also useful to have a gift acceptance policy and have talked about beforehand how you will negotiate with sponsors regarding their cash and in-kind gifts. I’m getting ahead of myself.

When starting a sponsorship program make sure that you know your history. Many organizations have programs in place with historical sponsors to those programs. Take the levels that you currently have and have an internal discussion about if they are working. Is it really easy for you to get a high level sponsor (then your levels might be too low)? Do you traditionally have a lot of major sponsorship gifts or is it all small size gifts (levels too high)?

Before I say anything about levels I should say that your sponsorship levels really change depending on the size of your event, your organization, what kind of benefits you can offer, etc. So this is more of a starting place than a definitive reference on how to set your sponsorship levels. It makes a difference what businesses or groups are geographically near where you work, are you in a big town with lots of small middle and large businesses? Are you in a small town that has mostly small businesses?

Often times non-profits will either ask for way too much or way too little. If your fundraising office raises between 2 to 7 million dollars a year it is going to be a long time before you are able to find a presenting sponsor at the $50,000 level. I would say set your presenting level at somewhere between $20,000 and $30,000. It might take a couple of years to get there but at least you have a starting place. If you have a great event with a sizable number of prominent people coming don’t sell yourself short.

Part 2 will have more specific information about sponsorship tiers, what levels different size businesses will give, and a musing about in-kind sponsorships.

Note: I want this blog to be about what your nonprofit needs and questions are. Please let me know if I am talking about information you are interested in or if you have specific or general questions. If your questions are not about this topic, post them on the ideas, questions, and answers page.

Making “The Ask”

December 17, 2007

I think that making “The Ask” is most people’s number one fear in fundraising. But in my experience making “The Ask” has been one of the easiest parts of fundraising. It does not have to be a scary or frustrating thing at all.

Many nonprofits make the mistake of spending all their time planning “The Ask” and no time cultivating and stewarding their donors. The key to making a good ask is proper preparation. Your donor needs to know who you are and have a relationship with you in order to make a good ask. Make sure that you are taking time with your donors individually and as a group to talk with them about who you are and who they are. Know what specific areas they are interested in, why they give, and why they give you your organization. Know when their birthday is or when they get a promotion. Send them a card, make a short phone call, send them an email, all these things are part of proper cultivation and stewardship.

When you get to the point that you have a relationship with your donor making “The Ask” is simple. You should know specific interests of your donor, where else they give their money (and approximately how much, see my article on prospecting), and their past giving as a result of your cultivation and conversation. You are not uncomfortable in relating with them because you have a track record. So all you have to do is ask. Ask for something specific and reasonable and you know interests them. Make sure you are thanking them for their past giving, volunteer work, etc. If your ask involves a sponsorship, grant, or proposal make sure that you have all that information to give them. I have found that many times donors are waiting for “The Ask” to come and that making a good ask is more of a compliment to them. Everyone likes to be asked.

Starting a Business Program- PART 2

December 15, 2007

Read PART 1 about working with employee groups and setting up a gift acceptance policy.

When starting your program you can look to develop in a few different ways (cont’d):
Have businesses sponsor event or programs. Look at your organization and figure out what is that you have that you can “sell” to a local business. They want to lend their name to your organization it makes them look good and adds credibility to your organization. What annual events or campaigns do you have that you could ask businesses to sponsor? I’ll talk more about setting levels at a later time. Is there a place on your organization’s website that you could post a message that says, “this page (or website) is sponsored by” and post a business logo? This can be done for an e-newsletter, a monthly publication you send out, a brochure you create, etc. It is important that you are specific about what the business is getting so they know what exactly they are sponsoring and for how long. And don’t sell yourself short. One of the biggest problems non-profits have is that they will offer too much for too little.

General contributions and grants. Lots of businesses have money that they want to give to local and national community projects. My best advice here is that you just need to ask for it. A mid to large size organization might get some random gifts from local businesses but if you are a small non-profit they probably don’t know about you (same thing if you’re a mid-size non-profit). Put together a plan for how you will approach past business givers, and a plan for how you will look to involve new ones.

I could probably talk in a great deal of more depth about business and will continue to at a later time. Do you have any specific stories or questions related to business giving?

Starting a Business Program- PART 1

December 13, 2007

How do you start and cultivate relationships with local businesses?

This is a question that I ask myself every day. I work as the project lead for the business giving program at my work. As you look to start engaging with local businesses it is important to have a gift acceptance policy. Who will you accept gifts from and who will you choose not to? You might say that all money is good money. But what if the business is counter to your mission. For example an organization like Money Tree that provides short-term high interest loans is a bad organization for a non-profit that works to help financially struggling families build assets and move out of poverty. Why? Because high interest loans create more financial problems for a low-income family than they solve. It is also important to have a gift acceptance policy so that you know what kinds of gifts you will receive and what kinds of gifts you will not. For example many businesses want to give in-kind goods and in many cases that is wonderful for your organization. However, what if they want to donate used shoes to your organization and you exist to teach people to learn to read. What are you going to do with all those shoes? Your board should approve this policy so everyone is on the same page.

When starting your program you can look to develop in a few different ways:
Work with local businesses employees. Involve local offices to do an employee fund drive for your organization. This provides a great base level of support, can boast your number of annual fund donors, and is a great way to garner higher-level support within a business. I will often ask to meet with a member of upper level management to brag to them about how great their employees did in running the drive. I will then talk about all the great things that the employee’s did and ask the senior manager if the business would be interested in matching their wonderful employee’s gifts.

PART 2 will be about sponsorships and general contributions. Please post questions, stories or comments about how you have or have not worked with local businesses.