Nonprofits share fundraising advice~ RH 2-22-16
Nonprofits share fundraising advice
By Gareth Henderson
Staff Writer | February 22, 2016
The challenges of fundraising are a part of life for every nonprofit organization, and for many, the recession made that more difficult.
As the economy slowly climbs out of its slump, organizations in Vermont have looked to strengthen their existing support and also attract new donations.
That effort has become more challenging in recent years, said Vermont Foodbank CEO John Sayles. He said the organization saw its donations increase by 10 percent annually for a number of years, but recent history has been different.
“That’s slowed down dramatically,” Sayles said. “We’re all trying to figure out what the new normal is.”
As a part of that effort, Vermont nonprofit officials are focusing a great deal on getting the younger generation more involved with their causes. For the Vermont Foodbank, Sayles said, this means being involved in multiple events that attract a lot of that demographic, such as the Magic Hat Mardi Gras in Burlington and other events around the state. He said the focus is to get the word out about the cause and connect with people directly.
“It’s really about finding those opportunities,” Sayles said.
He also emphasized that younger supporters are looking for ways to take action, and nonprofit organizations need to supply that opportunity.
“Younger people want to be engaged differently,” Sayles said. “They want to be able to do something, not just write a check.”
Organizations in Vermont are also figuring out how to raise funds online. A large part of that is crafting a message that stands out for people who are passionate about a particular cause, especially among the constant online communications people receive daily.
Tara Kelly, executive director of the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, or RAFFL, said the organization ran a “love note signature ad” to farmers in their Locally Grown Guide in early 2015. The campaign invited people to put their signature on the ad, which thanked farmers for their work and acknowledged the key role they play in the community. The ad also appeared online and in local media.
A big part of the campaign was regular Facebook posts asking people to add their signatures, and it included a link to the RAFFL website to donate to the organization. Kelly said this effort raised $4,500 and 136 people added their signatures. More than 100 people gave $5 to $50, and one person donated $1,000. But a donation was not a requirement at all — 20 people signed up without donating.
Kelly said a public thank you to the farmers was an attractive way for people to show their support for local food production. It also inspired people to donate.
“They were supporting our work, but they were also signing on in a public way,” he said.
Kelly said RAFFL receives 60 percent of its funding from grants provided by foundations. Individual support is also key for RAFFL, as the organization receives 17 percent of its funding from individual donations. That 17 percent goes up to 28 percent when including donations RAFFL receives at local events throughout the year.
Kelly also said RAFFL has had success through an online auction, which has received many donations from businesses. She added that the auction gives great exposure for the local businesses as well.
On more recent developments, Kelly said RAFFL recently began a formal program that allows donors to contribute on a monthly basis, called “sustaining supporters.” She said it’s not only an easy way for donors to give, but it’s also income the organization can count on each month. Kelly said RAFFL still gets most of its donations through their annual appeal, but they intend to grow the sustaining supporter program over time.
Ken Shattuck, head of the event leadership team for the Rutland County Relay for Life, said it’s hugely important to make fundraising efforts enjoyable for donors. That excitement can easily lead to donations, he said.
“You always keep the fun in fundraising,” Shattuck said.
In the case of Relay for Life, which raises awareness — and funds — in the fight against cancer, a number of people and their families whose lives were impacted by the disease have been involved for many years. Shattuck said his 13-year-old son has participated since he was 3. Shattuck himself started out as a participant 12 years ago.
He said that a collective passion for the cause drives the event’s success.
“It’s not just a fundraiser, it’s a family event that we do, and over the years I’ve seen that grow, the family involvement,” Shattuck said.
He also said nonprofit organizations have to be creative about how they raise funds. He said the various Relay for Life teams have different fundraising efforts that they do on site, within the overall Relay event.
Shattuck said organizations should always try to come up fresh ideas for fundraising.
“On the event leadership team, we’re always talking about, ‘What’s something out there that nobody’s doing?,’” he said.
He is also a big advocate for involving the younger generation in these efforts. Shattuck said the event leadership team has a high school student on the team, who gives a fresh perspective to the various projects the team tackles.
Svea Miller, the Relay for Life community manager for the American Cancer Society’s New England division, said some new efforts are underway that get kids involved.
“This year we put a lot of focus into partnering with schools in the Rutland County area to host fundraising events such as Coaches vs. Cancer sports games or holding Relay Recesses at schools, where students take part in our program, that educates students on cancer prevention, healthy lifestyles, leadership and philanthropy,” Miller said.
Further north in Middlebury, the Vermont Community Foundation works with many local nonprofit organizations each year. Patrick Berry, the foundation’s vice president for philanthropy, said he’s seen some nonprofit organizations become more hesitant in asking for money in tough economic times. He said it’s critical to press on in good times and in bad and continue to raise awareness about the work the organization is doing. He said these efforts are well worth it, even if they don’t result in dollars right away.
“Just because people don’t have the capacity to support you now, it doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to inspire them,” Berry said. “It’s about planting seeds today that will bear fruit sometime down the road when times are better.”
Berry also said a major focus should be to keep existing donors inspired.
“When you lose donors that decide not to support you, it’s really hard to get them back,” he said. “A fundraising goal at any time should be to get your donors to increase their giving level over time.”
During lean economic times, the approach might need to change a little bit.
In a difficult economy, Berry said, “You may need to rethink how much you pressure donors to increase their support. You’re better off keeping them participating than to push them and lose them.”
He also said organizations that are looking to build up their endowments shouldn’t be afraid to turn the focus of their fundraising more toward operational expenses, if needed, and refocus on the endowment later. Berry explained that donors appreciate knowing about urgent needs and ways that their donations can have the maximum impact for an organization they support. This is especially true in tough economic times, when donors may not be able to support multiple campaigns in the course of a year.
Berry also urged organizations to have a variety of funding sources and to share compelling stories as part of their fundraising campaigns.
“I always encourage nonprofits to have three really compelling stories about the work you do, and share the one that best fits with the prospective donor,” Berry said.
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Robert Layman / Staff Photo From left, Elena Gustavson, director of communications at the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link, looks over the organization’s Locally Grown Guide with Executive Director Tara Kelly.