General fundraising: September 2007 Archives

September 19, 2007

Get Those Dead People Out Of Your Donor Records!

It happened again yesterday: I got a letter from an alumni association directed to a previous occupant of our house--a woman who passed away many years ago. I don't know how long ago that was, but we've lived in our house for eight years.

Now, unlike other types of nonprofits, I can understand an alumni association continuing to send letters to potential donors long after the time when most other nonprofits would have given up on them. But, there's a catch: I've called this office at least twice to ask them to please remove the person from their mailing list.

MailboxWhat's the harm, other than wasted paper, printing, and postage? It looks bad! If I were a potential donor to this organization, I'd be wondering about its efficiency. And if they sent me personalized letters, I'd know just how personal a connection they felt to me, given that they don't take note of whether their donors are alive or dead.

Just another reminder that, when we send out letters containing wrong information, they don't just disappear into a black hole. Someone reads them, possibly gets annoyed, and makes judgments. That makes updating donor records seem less of a time-wasting chore than it might first appear.

For more tips on how you can run a more efficient organization, check out Starting & Building a Nonprofit: A Practical Guide, by Peri H. Pakroo (Nolo).

September 13, 2007

Fundraising Classes in College--How Cool Is That?

The leaves are turning, the fashion magazines are gushing about Katie Holmes wearing plaid, and I can't find parking within a mile of the local campus. It must be back-to-school time. And I admit it, I'm jealous. Not just because I'd happily return to school anytime, permanently, but because of all the great classes they get to take. And look, even classes in fundraising!

College scene That's right, students can sign up to take classes with titles like "Grantgetting, Contracting, and Fund Raising;" Introduction to Nonprofit Management;" "Fundraising as Ministry;" and "Fundraising in Museums." And they're on campuses from Columbia to U. Michigan to the Covenant Theological Seminary to San Francisco State.

I don't think we had fundraising classes when I was in college. Or maybe I was too occupied with aesthetic theory and Chinese philosophy to notice. But I hope today's students are taking notice, because a class in fundraising could offer them two of the things they may want most for their future: a practical skill and the power to change the world.

As Lupe Gallegos Diaz, who teaches a course on development at U.C. Berkeley, said in my book, Effective Fundraising for Nonprofits:

"At first, I put 'fundraising' in the course title, but students weren't attracted by this, not realizing that it would prepare them to make real change in their communities. So, I changed the title to 'Leadership and Community Involvement.' Once I get the students in the class, they say things like, 'Wow, we didn't know fundraising was a profession, something you can use.' I try to show them that fundraising can be both a career that utilizes their academic degree and skills, as well as a way of serving their own community."

Does the availability of these courses have any relevance for people already out there working in nonprofits? I think so. For one thing, you can look for new staff who actually have fundraising training and a demonstrated commitment to nonprofit work. For another, if your local colleges and universities offer such courses, you might make yourself available as a classroom speaker (and of course tell students how they can get involved in your nonprofit), or offer your organization up as a placement opportunity for internships.

September 5, 2007

Hello Busy Fundraisers!

You're too busy to raise as much money for your organization as you'd like. Your donors are too busy to read what you send them or get back to you. Heck, I'm probably too busy to write this blog. So what are we all supposed to do?

Answering this question will be at least one of the ongoing themes of this blog. In the few minutes it takes you to read this, I'm hoping you'll pick up concrete tips on how to make your efforts more efficient and productive.

So let's launch right in. One answer - which may sound obvious, but which I see all too many nonprofits overlooking - comes from that Type A, 21st century concept of multitasking. Just like I've got the toaster and kettle making my breakfast while I write this, you can find ways to have your fundraising and marketing efforts do double - or even triple - duty for you. Here are three possibilities, with more to come later:

1. Ask board members to do something concrete at their meetings. For some members, board meetings could as easily be called bored meetings, as they study financial charts and hear dry reports. They'd be only too happy to set aside an extra half hour to stuff envelopes, handwrite some thank you letters to your donors or volunteers, or even do some of the photocopying and filing that's been piling up around your office.

2. Use every human contact as a way to gather names for your mailing list. I've been to benefit concerts where I paid cash and no one asked my name. I've volunteered for organizations that don't send me their literature. And yet their fundraising staff probably tear their hair or spend big bucks trying to expand their direct mail lists. When you encounter people with even a little interest in your organization, get their names!

3. Include more than one fundraising method at special events. If you're doing a walk-a-thon, add a raffle at the starting point, which family and friends can sign up for. This one does triple duty, because you get more names for your mailing list. (Just make sure raffles are legal in your state). At a dinner event, add a silent auction. But notice that I'm not recommending selling mugs or T-shirts - retail sales are risky, because you can easily wind up with more inventory than buyers want.