Those are the ingredients for success that Deb Minton of Grand Rapids-based Philanthropia Partners shares with her clients when they seek counsel on nonprofit fundraising. While Minton always encourages new approaches to engaging and soliciting donors, there are three principles she never strays from.
“Nonprofit organizations would do well to make a commitment to focus on securing contributions from individuals,” she said, adding that Giving USA 2011 figures show 75 percent of the $298 billion generated in philanthropic support last year, or about $217 billion, came from individuals.
“While it is easy to get distracted chasing increased contributions from corporations or foundations, the best returns for staff and volunteer efforts remain gifts from individuals,” Minton said.
Also important for organizations is ensuring that the highest-ranking executive, whether it is the president, executive director, CPO or CEO, is the principal fundraiser of the organization, she said.
“As such, he or she must spend a significant amount of time visiting with individual donors and sharing their vision and plans for the nonprofit,” said Minton, whose clients have included Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, Ethnographic Media, Association For the Blind and Visually Impaired, Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors Inc., Association of Fundraising Professionals and Catholic Charities of West Michigan. “Simply put, the CEO must spend time endearing himself and the organization to those who can make the dream come true.”
“Finally, it is critical that fund development have a significant place within an organization’s strategic plan,” Minton added.
“Oftentimes when I am called to come into organizations for a ‘development’ issue per se, our inquiry goes back to the strategic plan and discovery of the fact that there lacks a bold vision, or several big hairy audacious goals,” she said.
Also known as “B-Hags,” big hairy audacious goals are clear, compelling and bold long-term goals for the organization.
“People often do not recognize the interdependency of strategic planning, good marketing and development,” she said.
Matthew Downey, director of nonprofit services program for the Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy at Grand Valley State University, agreed on the importance of individual donors, adding mid- and lower-income earners have traditionally given a higher percentage of their wealth to causes in which they believe.
“As our economy shifts and we have more wealth concentrated in [fewer] people, some organizations may struggle in the near term,” he said adding that the successful organizations will be the ones that figure out how to engage simultaneously with wealthier donors and also many mid- and lower-income donors.
Also key for nonprofits will be to remember to invest in the organization to secure its sustainability in the long term, something that’s often forgotten and sometimes frowned upon.
While people expect corporations to invest in the professional development of their employees and boards, sometimes donors expect nonprofit organizations to invest all of their resources in their mission.
“We call that the nonprofit starvation cycle. You’re starving your organization of the capacity to raise more money,” Downey said. “It actually may not be the smartest thing. In order to solve childhood hunger you need to have staff who are trained. You can’t starve your organization just to make sure 100 percent goes to the intended program. … If I were a donor, I would be more interested in making a contribution to an organization that understands that it’s important to invest in the organization as much as you invest in the program.
“To tackle a very important issue, don’t we want the best and smartest people to do that?” he said.
Janice Fonger, president elect of the Association of Fundraising Professionals West Michigan Chapter, agreed, and said sometimes organizations struggle to find the resources, both financial and time, to get the training they need.
“It is not that organizations choose not to. They’re so mission-focused, on doing all the great things that organizations do, that sometimes they don’t look at those bigger pictures and don’t do things that will ensure we’re there down the road,” she said.
Training and professional development of staff — which work in an increasingly competitive environment, and also training of board members who need to understand how the organization should be run, reach out to potential donors and make budget decisions — is key, she said.
The equation, Downey said, is simple.
“More money, more mission. Less money, less mission. To accomplish more mission means investing in the organization’s capacity to raise money,” he said. “If a board doesn’t understand the importance of a good communication and branding strategy and all our money needs to go into feeding the bottom line … that organization will eventually struggle.”
Fonger said organizations like the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Johnson Center for Philanthropy at GVSU offer great resources for nonprofits seeking less expensive options for professional development.
“Organizations are making conscious efforts to put pieces in place to make sure that you’re going to be sustainable. It comes down to resources and capacity to do it,” she added.