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Should We Fundraise?

By June 2, 2023October 19th, 2023No Comments

Our agency receives the majority of its revenue from fees for services and government grants, so fundraising has never been part of our portfolio. I’m wondering if fundraising is something we should consider.

That’s an excellent question! Should your organization fundraise – whether it’s a ‘special event’ (walk, gala, golf, etc.) or major giving (asking supporters for large donations) or something on a smaller scale? If your agency is doing well with its current revenue and is able to fund all of its programs, then I’d say “probably not”. However, if your current revenue isn’t enough to cover that new program everyone wants then it’s worth serious consideration.

Be advised that no method for raising money is “quick and easy” – no matter how much they may appear to be. Running a big social fundraising event (walk, a bike ride, or something similar), or a big-ticket event (gala, golf tournament, testimonial, a roast, etc.) if you want to do it right it will probably take 6-9 months of planning and work (even if you have a super group of volunteers ready to make it happen).

Ticketed events (concerts, a basketball tournament, a sports challenge, etc.) will take 4-6 months to organize. As has been mentioned in this column previously, really good volunteers are so important to a successful event. People who have connections within the community, who are unafraid to ask for money, in-kind donations, or both! You’ll also need someone who is extremely organized and practically vibrates with passion for your mission. You’d be surprised how many people are reluctant to ask for donations. It’s considered one of most Americans’ greatest fears – next to public speaking.

Conducting a major giving campaign is a much longer project – major giving requires a very structured cultivation process, which can take anywhere from 2-5 years. It takes that long to bring a prospective donor to the point that they can be asked for a donation of $50,000, $100,000 or more. It needs multiple plans, dedicated and patient staff, and a lengthy time frame.

Using special events to raise money may not take that long but there are a few questions that need to be answered before starting a special event fundraiser.

  1. What event do we want to do?
  2. What event CAN we do? What is our capacity?
  3. Who do we know who may want to help organize this or lead the committee? If this is the first time your organization is conducting a special event fundraiser, it will need a committee. However, you may want to not call it a “committee”– that word can scare people off. Maybe call it a “task force” which sounds less intimidating! (“I’m a member of the ABC Charity Chili Cookoff Task Force.”)
  4. How will the event make the money?
  5. How will the event make the money?
  6. How will the event make the money?

The repetition for questions 4, 5, and 6 is very deliberate. Over the years there have been many “great ideas” for a fundraising event. The person proposing it is often very excited about it but can’t answer that very important question. How will the event make money? Sponsorship? Entry Fees? Donations collected? What are the profit centers, and what are the projected expenses? Who will attend? How will they be invited? How many attendees will we need at X amount of money to achieve our revenue goal? And what other parts of the event could be sold to sponsors? (Tee and green signs, cart cards, wine at a gala, the tables at a testimonial, the SAG wagon at a century bike ride; website recognition, social media recognition, their logo on T-shirts, caps, reserved tables signs – you name it.) “Thanks to ABC Corporation for sponsoring the wine for this evening.” “SAG Wagon courtesy of Mark’s Pintos and Pontiacs.”

If, after identifying all these factors, and it sounds as if it might be too big a job for your current volunteer leadership, you may want to put the idea on hold for now.

Then, make it a priority to recruit volunteers with the skills and connections that can help make this event happen. You may want to consider those outside of your current circle of supporters. Senior staff or a board member could volunteer to speak at the Rotary Club to educate people about your mission. Volunteer to speak at the Kiwanis Club, the Lions Club, or the Junior League.  Ask if you can speak at the next Civitan dinner. Make a presentation to high school students (they can hold some great fundraising events, with adult supervision.) Hit all local service clubs and organizations. If your mission is health-related ask local corporations with (a large number of employees) if you could hold a “lunch ‘n learn” in their cafeteria or auditorium. The company promotes it – “Bring your lunch and learn more about                    “. It’s a great opportunity to educate people about your mission. Make sure your presentation is educational and “tugs at the heartstrings.” If appropriate paint a verbal picture of possible consequences if your organization didn’t exist. It’s likely someone in one of those audiences has a connection to your mission and may be eager to help.

In a nationwide poll, people were asked if they had donated to a charity in the last six months. Those who answered “no” were asked why. The number one answer: “No one asked me.” A favorite fundraising truism “They can’t say yes until you ask” also applies to volunteering.

Don’t be reluctant to start small and “grow it”. Instead of starting with a full-blown golf tournament consider talking to a local golf pro about holding a “100 Holes of Golf in 1 Day”. The golfers may donate or raise money from family and friends ($1,000 to participate). Many golfers love this challenge. If you recruit 20 golfers you’ve just raised $20,000. Ask a golfer who is passionate about your mission to help spread the word. Consider using the old-fashioned way and print flyers which you place in every pro shop (with permission) at every golf course in the area, in addition to using the internet and social media to help spread the word. It should be held on a day the course is dark. Ask if you can bring your own snacks and beverages on course. Buying snacks and beverages at a big box store won’t break the bank but will add to the “fun factor” (beer, soft drinks, water, and easy-to-eat snacks). The golfers don’t play in foursomes, they’re solo (one golfer per hole) so they’re moving fast. You also won’t need 15 volunteers on the course for an event like this – your staff and a handful of others should suffice.

That’s just one idea on starting smaller but building from there. You need to start somewhere!

Randi Corey, Manager of Special Events and Partnership Development at 501(c) Services, has served as Executive Director of multiple nonprofit organizations. She has coordinated nearly 100 fundraising events raising a total of almost $29 million. She’s also supervised more than 750 staff and/or volunteer-coordinated events raising an additional $41 million. Randi has experience coordinating walks, galas, golf tournaments, sports challenges, stair climbs, celebrity waiters, 5K runs, and more.

(Image by sewcream from Freepik.)

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