One of your staff is attending a party unrelated to your organization’s business when an excellent fundraising opportunity presents itself. She is among a group of strangers, and not surprisingly, everyone is fetching for conversation. The inevitable ice breaker is posed: “So, what do you do for a living?” The ensuing conversation can either be a benefit to your organization’s fundraising efforts or a squandered opportunity.
“I work for a local community development corporation,” she replies.
“Oh? What does it do?”
“We do lots of different things. It’s really hard to explain.”
Or Conversation #2
“I work for a local community development corporation. We’re a nonprofit that helps low- and moderate-income families buy homes they can afford.”
“Yes, if they have financial problems, we provide them with free debt counseling, and then suggest ways that will help them save money for their down payment. In some cases, we even offer them grants.”
“No, and before they buy a home, we provide a pre-purchase course so they’ll know what to expect when they begin dealing with real estate agents, mortgage brokers, housing inspectors and attorneys, as well as what will be required of them at closing.”
“I wish I’d known more about that stuff before I bought my first home.”
“Lots of people do. We also offer a post-purchase course and a course on home maintenance so they’ll know what it takes to take care of and stay in their new home.”
“And all this for free!?”
“Yes, or for a very nominal cost for some of the services. You see, we’re funded mostly by foundation, corporate and government grants, as well as individual givers. But we’re always looking for additional revenue so we can help more people. We use some of our funds to purchase and refurbish old housing stock in the community. As bad as the economy was around here last year, we were responsible for more than $6 million worth of local economic activity, most of it going to small businesses.”
“I’m impressed. I’ve got some friends and family members who might be able to use your services. I also know someone who might be able to help you out financially. Does your organization accept donations?”
The employee in Conversation #1 is simply attending a party. The employee in Conversation #2 is one of your most valuable fundraising assets.
Nurturing this Asset
In their efforts to raise funds, many nonprofits often overlook the true value that staff and volunteers can play in the process. If they are passionate believers in the work that you do, are valued as partners in achieving your mission, are keenly aware of and well versed in your need to raise funds, these people can really make a difference.
And these people include everyone from your board members to the people who answer your phones. Put another way, there is no one in your organization who is not a potential fundraising asset.
Nurturing this asset takes some time and resources, but not as much as you might think. Here are a few simple suggestions to help get you started:
Incorporate fundraising into your new-hire orientations or into your next all-staff or volunteer meeting. Let everyone know what your fundraising needs are and why it’s so important for them to be able to speak knowledgeably about your organization at all times. For example, think of all the key information that was conveyed about the organization in Conversation #2, including who they are, what they do, who they do it for, what their impact is on the people they serve, as well as the community, in general. The more that this kind of information gets out to the public, the easier it is for you to solicit funds.
Create a one- or two-page document of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about your organization. Make sure everyone in your organization not only gets a copy, but also knows the answers to those questions.
Include fundraising as part of everyone’s performance review. How well do they know your fundraising needs – and what those funds support? How many opportunities have they taken to convey those fundraising needs in speeches and presentations they may give during the year or at informal gatherings they may attend?
Recognize and reward people for their fundraising efforts. It can be as simple as calling a staff member or volunteer into your office and thanking them personally for the fundraising lead you just received as a result of their efforts or hosting a special fundraising awards dinner or luncheon to celebrate a good year of fundraising, and make a point of letting everyone present know the positive role they played. Be creative. The fact is a little acknowledgement and recognition often goes a long way.
Besides, studies have shown that, when asked, staff and volunteers are usually the first to give to the organizations they work for. So the next time you’re about to launch a fundraising campaign, make sure your most valuable assets are in the loop.