Category Archives: Fundraising Kudos

Fundraising Kudos to: PFAW, for Emailed Holiday Wish List

fireWith all the “noise” of incoming emails from nonprofits and retailers alike, it’s a miracle that anything short of a fire alarm (plus smoke) can catch my attention these days.

But a recent email from People for the American Way (PFAW), with the subject line, “Holiday Wish List,” created just enough curiousity in my addled pre-vacation brain to induce me to click and open it.

And that already means they cleared a huge hurdle. The rate at which people open nonprofit emails is low — around 27%, according to a Silverpop survey for 2013.

Inside, I found the following message:

Holiday wish list:

  • A constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United
  • Good judges confirmed and the end of right-wing dominance of the federal courts
  • Full equality for LGBT Americans and their families
  • Safeguards for voting rights and women’s health

Ilona, We’ll be working our tails off to fulfill these wishes in the coming year.

Help us do it by renewing your PFAW membership for 2014 with a generous donation now.

Its a mercifully short message, with some pretty compelling material. Here’s what I think the group did right:

  • Surprise the reader a bit — I was expecting a wish list like, “Please someone send us a new laser printer,” or “Our clients desperately need x-and-such.”
  • A hook to current events. Instead of just repeating their mission, they put it in terms of holiday wishes.
  • A concise, jargon-free reminder of their mission and work. This gets left out of nonprofit email messages more than one might expect.
  • An ask! (Gotta have the ask.)

Contrast this with an email I received from another nonprofit lately, which says only, “Pretty much of a donations disaster at this point, a record bad fundraising day. We need so few of you to contribute to make this work. Who will step up? Now is the time.”

Which group would you support, if you believed in both causes equally? (And I haven’t even named the second group, because I don’t wish to beat up on them.) Most donors would rather give to the group with an upbeat, clever message; which may, in fact, explain the second group’s “donations disaster.”

Forbes Publishes List of U.S. Nonprofits With Most Individual Donations in 2013

cash_handsIf you’re with a small or struggling nonprofit, get ready for some pangs of jealousy: Alth0ugh Forbes calls them the “largest” U.S. charities, its top-50 list for 2013 actually uses “private donations received” as its “main metric” for inclusion.

Together, the listed nonprofits pulled in $30 billion worth of donations this past year.

Not surprisingly, you will have heard of many of these: United Way, Salvation Army, and . . . Task Force for Global Health?

Okay, I hadn’t actually heard of them. But as a newcomer to the list, they’re clearly a group to watch. What are they doing right, to have rocketed to the third spot on the list? It looks like most of their giving (to the tune of $1.7 billion) was not in the form of cash, but donated medicines.

Still, one has to admire a couple of fundraising-related aspects of the Task Force’s website: They post their annual report quite visibly (thus emphasizing financial transparency); and when you click the “Donate” tab on the home page, you’re given interesting background information on where your dollars go before being presented with the form to fill out.

For tips on achieving results with your group’s own website, see Nolo’s article, “Your Nonprofit’s Website as a Fundraising Tool.”

Congrats to 2013 “Purpose Prize” Winners!

golfing womanThe best — or the most meaningful — may be yet to come for any of us.

Don’t believe it? Check out the stories of this year’s winners of Encore’s Purpose Prize. They’re all over 60, in the so-called “leftover years” of their life, when they’re supposed to be playing golf and poring over glossy brochures for round-the-world cruises.

Yet they’ve all drawn on their significant experience, professional and otherwise, to throw themself into a cause in an innovative way.

What struck me about the winners’ stories was that each seemed to have identified a truly unique need or approach. Just when you think the U.S. contains every type of nonprofit or charitable program imaginable, you hear about someone like winner Carol Fennelly, who saw how difficult it was for family members to keep in contact with their incarcarated relatives, and created Hope House. It offers programs that arrange video teleconferences between school-age children and their fathers in prison, helps inmates make recordings of themselves reading books aloud for their children, and operates a series of summer camps for children ages 9 to 14 that allows then to spend a week visiting their incarcerated fathers. Wow.

And there are six other winners, all with inspiring stories of their own. After reading them, you’ll be asking yourself the same question as presented on the Encore website: “What’s your encore?”

Got Milestones to Celebrate?

childrenThe East Bay Children’s Book Project recently announced to its email followers that, “We are getting ready to celebrate an amazing milestone. We will give away our millionth book sometime this year.” In recognition, the group is sponsoring a contest to guess the exact time they give away that millionth book, collecting one million pennies, and otherwise inviting publicity.

Let’s think about that milestone for a minute. It’s impressive, and it’s legitimate. But unlike, say, an organization’s tenth anniversary or the graduation of its first class, “millionth book” is not a milestone that stares you right in the face. This group basically had to decide to measure, mark, and announce it. And kudos to them for their nonprofit marketing savvy.

Milestones are an excellent way for nonprofits to engage with their members and supporters on topics that don’t scream desperation. Even if a group doesn’t build an event around them, they can be fodder for email campaigns and social media. And some milestones will, in fact, be worthy of a special event. Let this be inspiration for you to think about what milestones your group is reaching, beyond the obvious ones, and make the most of them.

For free tips on how to hold a special event, and how to engage with supporters via social media, see the Nonprofit Fundraising section of Nolo’s website.



Setbacks and Emergencies? Turn to Crowdfunding

One of the issues that established nonprofits sometimes have in taking advantage of crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter, Fundraise.comRazoo, or indiegogo is that most of their projects are ongoing. They lack the time-delimited, snazzy, “Hey, with your help, look what we can achieve!” allure of, say, an artist who’s trying to raise money for a film, or even a small group trying to raise enough to buy its first piece of equipment.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can’t be creative in thinking up bite-size portions of your work or projects that your social networks might support, as described in, “Using Crowdfunding to Raise Money for Your Nonprofit.” But there’s one type of occasion in which hardly any creativity is required: when your group has suffered some sort of setback, or has an identifiable, emergency need for a quick cash infusion.

dachsundThe Berkeley East Bay Humane Society (BEBHS)’s recent Razoo campaign to replace its stolen van provides a perfect example. This isn’t a case of a nonprofit that just ran out of money and thought Razoo could plug the leaks — the organization had a perfectly lovely, working van, which it regularly used to drive to local municipal shelters and reduce their animal populations by picking up dogs and cats for adoption via BEBHS.

That van was stolen, thus leaving the agency unable to implement a key part of its operations. The $25,000 needed to replace it is no small change for a small nonprofit already in the middle of a capital campaign to rebuild its fire-damaged structure — but a sum that could realistically be raised by enough contributions from concerned supporters. As of today, they’ve brought in $8,525 . . . not there yet, but a good start.

Fundraising Kudos to: Strike Debt

Okay, let’s just all drop our collective jaws at the success of Strike Debt’s recent telethon, which raised money for a project it calls Rolling Jubilee. The group brought in a whopping $293,000 — enough, it figures, to buy $5.9 million in unpaid medical debt obligations off creditors, and thus save a lot of people from bankruptcy. (Around 62% of bankruptcies are caused by medical debts.) The group is calling it a “bailout for the 99 percent.”

Why did the fundraiser work so well? I’m sure much could be said about the organizing, skills, and determination of those running the telethon, but it also sounds like, in the words of the Village Voice, they “struck a nerve.” With the group’s origins in the Occupy movement, it tapped into Americans’ frustration at the crippling nature of debts that arose for reasons beyond their control.

Being able to point donors to the exact way in which their money would be used is an unusual feature of this fundraiser, as well.

Strike Debt is basically acting as the middleman to a person in need — which should be true of many nonprofits, but the link is often harder to demonstrate.

What’s more, donors are getting a “bargain” — their money doesn’t pay off another’s debt dollar for dollar, but is going to buy bad debts on the secondary market, where the creditors are typically willing to sell them off for pennies on the dollar. No wonder this one’s going viral!


Book Review: “Boards on Fire,” by Susan Howlett

I stopped by my local Foundation Center library the other day, and asked which recent books they were most excited about. (By the way, if there’s a Foundation Center near you, it’s a great resource — free access to nonprofit-related books, advice, software to help you research funding sources, and more.)

The first book the librarian mentioned to me was  Boards on Fire! Inspiring Leaders to Raise Money Joyfully, by Susan Howlett. Dutifully, in order to bring you the latest news, I sat down and read it cover to cover.

Okay, I confess, this took me about half an hour. This book is SHORT! No, let’s call it compact. Lots of substance, no fluff. That’s enough to make me joyful right there, in a world where most authors seem to think they have to get their books to one inch thick to be credible.

The book contains some excellent points about how to overcome your board’s resistance to fundraising. Even if you’ve heard some of them before, it’s a fine refresher, or something to give to a friend who has become an E.D. or development director and feeling frustrated with the board.

Some of the points that stood out were:

  • The usual reason that board members are unhappy fundraising is that they weren’t told ahead of time that this would be part of their responsibilities. But even the ones who feel this way can be brought into fundraising step by step, through development of genuine relationships with donors.
  • Howlett discourages standard board member contributions upon entry, as well as “give or get” plans, on grounds that you don’t want the board members with greatest capacity to stop fundraising or giving at their “goal.”
  • You can’t expect board members to ask others for money until they’ve learned about the organization in depth — its mission (beyond the tag line), its stories, where it fits into the community (including differences from the “competition”), what it actually achieves, and so forth.
  • Board meetings can always be made more interesting! Put fundraising early on the agenda, have one board member per meeting share a “mission moment,” and serve food.
  • The organization can model donor relations in its own relations with the board, by joyfully asking them for support, and thanking them well.

That’s not all; as I said, the book is already boiled down to the essentials, so I can’t do any further boiling. In any case, I’ve got to start working on shortening a book of my own.

Fundraising Kudos to: SF Mime Troupe’s “Adopt a Bill” Appeal

Nonprofits try all manner of modes of explaining their financial need and how donations can move them from desperation to success.

But perhaps no financial appeal I’ve seen lately is so direct as the San Fransisco Mime Troupe’s “Adopt a Bill” appeal. It’s sort of a wish list on steroids. The troupe (which, BTW, does political theater in Bay Area parks, not mime) simply listed some of the debts it has coming due — with humorous explanations, so that any reader can see that bad luck, rather than bad planning, was the cause of some of its need for cash infusions.

There were, for example, the “surprise truck repairs,” and “GENERATOR RENTAL, because ours got sick and had to see the doc.

Better yet, the group updates the page as donations come in, and thanks each bill’s adopters.

The only catch seems to be that nobody, so far, seems inspired by the idea of paying for portapotties or Parks & Rec permits. (But imagine the  complaints if the portapotties weren’t there!)

Fundraising Kudos to: St. Augustine Church

Sometimes you learn the most about grassroots fundraising efforts from the local — and I mean really local, as in neighborhood — paper. The April, 2012 Rockridge News, for example, is where I came across an interesting story by Don Kinkead, about St. Augustine’s Church’s efforts to raise money for the Tonga Parish Mission.

Apparently Father Mark Wiesner was moved, after visits to Kenya, to raise money to help orphaned children there. The area has been hard-hit by HIV-AIDS. He could have just passed the collection plate and asked that parishioners add a little extra for this cause, but . . .

He chose to do something a little different. And different, in fundraising, is often a great way to get people’s attention. Fr. Mark did pass the collection plate alright, but instead of asking for people to put money in, he asked them to take envelopes out. Each of those envelopes contained some seed money, in varying amounts. The total withdrawn from the church’s coffers for starters was $12,100.

Then he challenged the recipients to go forth and raise some real money. “The excitement has been phenomenal,” he is quoted as saying. As of the article’s publication, results included one man using the money to buy $25 worth of candy to sell at his workplace, which raised $150; a ten-year old girl using her $25 to set up a lemonade stand, raising $184; and 20 parishioners banding together to plan an artisan fair to be held on church grounds, profits yet to be determined.


Fundraising Kudos to Emeryville’s “Shortest Triathlon Ever”

Sometimes all it takes is a little twist on an old fundraising theme to capture people’s attention. With its “Shortest Triathlon Ever,” the Bay Area Orthopaedic Sports and Spine Foundation has done just that, in a benefit for the Emery Unified School District’s Health & Wellness Initiative.

I noticed the event because it’s garnering local press coverage, such as in the March edition of the East Bay Monthly.

“[S]o short, anyone can do it!” is the foundation’s catch phrase for this event. It combines a 10o-yard swim, 2.5 mile bike race (on flat ground), and a 2.1 mile run — on a window-shopping course that includes a mall, no less. Kids and people of varying fitness levels are encouraged. (Hey, I think I could even do it!)

By having a shorter race, they no doubt cut down on the hours which they must ask of volunteers, or for which they must get permits or rent facilities. Of course, this doesn’t mean plenty of planning won’t still be required. For in-depth guidance on what’s required to plan this type of fundraising event, see The Volunteers’ Guide to Fundraising.