SOFII's Blog - interesting fundraising trends and ideas from around the world

SOFII is an online archive of fundraising best practice and creativity. It is filled with an ever expanding array of easily accessible exhibits, articles, videos, opinion pieces, hints and tips, book reviews and recommendations. The SOFII blog is a place for us to share some thoughts and ideas that might not have an obvious home on the SOFII website. It’s also a place for us to invite guest bloggers to share their views. If you’d like to contribute to our blog please get in touch with

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The trials and tribulations of event fundraising.

By Vishal Talreja

One of the trustees of a children’s shelter home in India was able to get a rock bank to perform for free, so the home decided to host a rock concert. The shelter had to organise the event and cover related costs, which they were initially confident they could get through sponsorship. However, a week before the scheduled date of the concert, no sponsorship had been found and the costs were eating into their reserves. Furthermore, they had only sold 500 of the targeted 3000 tickets. They were in a difficult position; they could not afford to spend any more money on marketing, yet their only hope was to sell more tickets to recover costs. In the end, this charity made a loss of USD 6500 on the event and pledged never again to organise a fundraising event.

What went wrong? Was it just bad luck or could they have avoided this loss?

Without a doubt, event fundraising can be either one of the most effective, sure-fire ways to raise funds for your organisation, or it can be a nightmare-like experience plagued with low numbers and a lack of sponsorship. Fundraising events are a double-edged sword and many a charity has fallen into the trap of planning an elaborate event before they are ready or have all the necessary competencies in place in order to guarantee its success.

Over the past 11 years, I have conducted some successful and some not-so-successful fundraising events for small charities and have come up with seven lessons to help you avoid the mistakes that I made.

Lesson one: is your organisation ready for event fundraising?

Not all charities are capable of planning and hosting an event. The children’s shelter mentioned above is a classic example of this. Access to a celebrity or a rock band is never reason enough to jump into an event unless you have right staff, the capital to make an investment, the network to attract sponsorship and the necessary marketing muscle to sell the event.

Lesson two: recognise and play to your strengths

Yes, it was a strength that the trustee of the children’s shelter had access to a rock band, but that was the only one. It is important to recognise what your strengths are and then plan an event around them. For a truly successful event, a charity may require multiple assets and resources. Don’t be put off if you don’t have them all right away, they can be built up over time.

Lesson three: collaborate

The best way to make up for a lack of resources or assets is to collaborate. If organising an event, finding sponsorship, or selling tickets aren’t your strong points then you could perhaps involve an event management company. While it does reduce the net proceeds, it will increase your chances of success and you will learn from the professionals, so that next time maybe you could try it on your own. You could also try collaborating with another charity with complementary strengths to your own. Or you could ask a corporate partner to buy the event exclusively for their staff. The important thing is to know what you are least good at and find a partner to fill the gap.

Lesson four: look for opportunities in your environment

There are event opportunities all around us. The most successful places where I have found a new opportunity are in the newspapers or on the radio. The opening of a new restaurant, a new shopping mall, a new product launch, a new company, a new store, an existing restaurant running a theme night, festival time, or a celebrity coming to town are all opportunities that could be converted into potential fundraising events. For example, a new restaurant might be persuaded to donate the proceeds of the first night or the first week to your charity if you are able to sell tables to your supporters and networks.

Lesson five: exploit existing opportunities

I believe that charities should never organise their own events unless they are building an idea that can be run for at least three to five years. For years, a large Indian charity has been hosting a corporate quiz night that has become very successful. However, it took them a long time to build the brand around the event. For smaller nonprofits, it is often easier and more successful to use existing platforms and exploit opportunities that are already there, the most successful being marathons, concerts, plays, or musicals.

Lesson six: create win-win propositions

Fundraising events are often not so much about supporting a cause as about creating a ‘wow’ experience for guests. If you are organising a rock concert, the main motivation for the majority of ticket buyers is the music. It is important to make sure they have a good time. Similarly the main motivation behind the participation of the rock band is probably the chance to play their music in front of 3000 fans, rather than your cause. Therefore, it is important to create a win-win event for everyone involved.

Lesson seven: know when to phase out

Most events have a life cycle and it’s important to recognise when the event has peaked and it is time to phase it out. It can either be stopped altogether, or it could be revamped or repackaged to suit new audiences. It is important to phase an event out before your target guests or audience feel tired of it – this will end up with a loss of revenue and a loss of good will, which may affect future events.

I’m sure there are many more mistakes that I could mention but I will finish here. Events can be a great source of funding for charities and they can be a lot of fun to organise and participate in. Choose them wisely to have more chance of success.

Happy fundraising!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Beat the statistics by falling in love with your donors.

By Pamela Grow.

As a fundraising consultant I work primarily with smaller charities. Here in the US, over 50 per cent of our registered nonprofit organisations have assets of less than $1 million.

Fundraising in a one-person shop is tough enough to begin with and these days fundraisers are faced with a barrage of discouraging statistics every day. According to Blackbaud first year donor retention stands at a paltry 29.3 per cent. Email response rates are abysmal, individual donations are declining, foundation grants are drying up, yada yada yada.

You get the picture.

How do you keep your spirits – and funding – up in the face of such devastating statistics? Could the answer be as simple as falling in love with your donors?


Bear with me on this.

We’re all accustomed to the culture of immediate payoffs. When we hear about the $30 million raised via text for the Haiti victims, we all want to jump on the text bandwagon. A friend tells us that their organisation raised $10,000 using Facebook Causes and we’re sold.

The truth is that sustainable fundraising is a nurturing process. You wouldn’t mix up some flour, yeast and water and throw it in the oven expecting bread would you? Of course not, you’re going to mix your ingredients, knead your dough, allow it to rise, punch it down and maybe even repeat the process, then bake it. It’s the same with fundraising – you’re creating a nurturing process with your donors and prospective donors.

That relationship with your donors should be all encompassing: from personal contact to direct mail, to your web presence to email and to how people in your organisation answer the phone.

In everything that you do, you should be thinking about lifetime value.

Nonprofit marketing always takes place in a context of what we call – wait for it – a market. And when you consider your market, there is a line separating your potential donors (demographics, psychographics, etc of people that can or might give you money) and donors (people who have actually given you money). You may prefer to look at them as potential vs. proven. If you must ensure that your messages pay off, do you allocate your resources according to this model? Or do you favour your existing donors?

While on this topic – love your donors, not your mission. It is all too easy to get caught up in nonprofit marketing that is I/me based (we are so good because.... we are number one because...). By falling in love with your donors, you make them the focal point, you monitor their feedback (notice I didn't say ‘dictate’ the marketing as they’re not qualified to do so, but they are very qualified to vote with their dollars as to the effectiveness of a particular appeal), and you are aware of their preferred method of contact. Another word of caution on the meaning of ‘preferred’: just because people say they prefer tweets doesn't mean they respond best to tweets. It is important to test.

So, what are the most powerful ways to love your donors?

Two words: thank you. One of the ways to show love is by showing appreciation. Make it a practice to say thank you not once but twice or even three times. Schedule 30 minutes in your daily routine to call a handful of recent donors to thank them personally for their gifts.

Touching: you physically touch someone you love but you can also demonstrate touch by calling or writing to someone and saying, ‘You’re an important person in my life and I just wanted you to know that’. Or, ‘Hey, just wanted you to know that I was thinking about you’. I recommend a minimum of 12 touches a year. They could be a combination of three print newsletters, two direct mail appeals, six email newsletters and one postcard. A minimum of 12.

Donor appreciation events: you get together with family and friends during the holidays...why not get together with donors (you love them, remember?) and celebrate with them?

Gifts: do I really need to elaborate? They don’t need to be expensive; they just need to show your appreciation. You could use fun tokens such as a pack of chewing gum, a refrigerator magnet, or a stuffed animal. Not sure how to make this work? Get creative. Here's an example with gum:

‘Dear Dave Donor,

Are you wondering why I’ve enclosed a packet of gum with this letter?

Well, I just wanted to say thanks and I was thinking how 'sweet' you were to give a gift earlier this year and giving you something sweet seemed appropriate.

Enjoy! (These are the new Trident Rainbow flavoured ones so they are sugar free and won't cause cavities.)’

See what we’ve just accomplished? We made our interactions with this person fun (and you do have fun with your friends, don’t you?), it wasn't a 'give me money' communication, and it was most definitely memorable. Do you think they'll see us in a favourable light the next time we do ask for money?

Remember, now is not the time for emulating the majority of your peers when it comes to fundraising. Now is the time for creativity, boldness, a sense of joy and genuine love of your donors.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Social capital and fundraising: where is the connection?

By Kirsten Bullock

National Public Radio (NPR) published a story on their website earlier this week entitled: On TV we have friends. On the Internet we have friends. In real life we live alone. It really struck a chord with me and highlights a concern echoed by many that we, in the US, are becoming more and more isolated.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to hear Dr. Robert Putnam speak about his research on social capital, which he outlined in his book Bowling Alone. It was fascinating to hear about the number of picnics we were having in the US and about all the other indicators of social capital. While there are many definitions of social media, the essence of it is all of the ways that we are connected to each other. These connections make it easier for us to relate to each other, and to be more forgiving in those areas we don’t agree on. The World English Dictionary provides a more formal definition: “the network of social connections that exist between people, and their shared values and norms of behavior, which enable and encourage mutually advantageous social cooperation.” There are five primary benefits that Dr. Putnam highlights:

· safer and more productive neighbourhoods

· increased economic prosperity

· improved quality of civic and democratic institutions

· improved education and economic production

· improved health and happiness

Unfortunately, the decline in social capital seems to be continuing (with a possible exception of involvement in politics). As related in a recent study reported in the Boston Globe, young Americans seem to care less about each other.

At the same time, organisations are finding it not only difficult to find new donors, but also to keep them. To address this, many have suggested that it is time to reinvent the donor pyramid. Instead of starting the first level with donors acquired through traditional methods (direct mail, events, telemarketing), there should be a new level that includes people involved with the organisation in any way, for example subscribing to our e-newsletters, taking part in online dialogue, introducing their friends via social media, volunteering, advocacy, etc.

Perhaps we in the nonprofit sector have an opportunity to engage people in the work we do (helping our

organisations become more stable financially), while also creating more social connections and thereby increasing a sense of responsibility for each other.

So the questioon becomes, how do we do a better job at involving people in our work?
I suggest that we take at look at some large, recent campaigns and look for similarities. Specifically, I’ll look at three organisa
tions here, Charity:water, Barack Obama’s presidential campaign, and Kiva, which have four similarities that stand out:

1) Persistence

In Kiva’s case, the founders, Matt and Jessica Flannery, were persistent in the face of naysayers, who included their friends as well as heads of foundations.

2) Transparency

Both Kiva and Charity:water keep donors updated about how their loans and donations are being used. A few weeks ago, when a well they were drilling ran into serious problems, Charity:Water sent an email to donors to tell them about that particular challenge. They treated donors as partners and investors in the project.

3) Focused

Instead of trying to have several different strategies to work on, the Obama campaign chose just one. Instead of trying to solve all of the problems facing a community, Charity:water chooses to focus on water, Kiva focuses on microloans.

4) Use of technology

Social media is prevalent for each of these organisations. In 2008, when Charity:water was approached by Twestival (or Twitter Festival), at that time, the largest global grassroots social media fundraising event, they embraced the partnership and raised over USD 250,000 for their cause in 2009. In March 2010 over $460,000 was raised through Twestival events. Kiva have developed their own social network to connect lenders with entrepreneurs.

All of the causes listed above are connecting people to causes that are bigger than them. They are in many ways increasing social capital, and social media is a large part of developing that. Here are a few of the opportunities that are made easier through the use of social media:

· Meaningful dialogue with others who are passionate about your cause.

· Give early feedback about the impact a new programme will have.

· Educate people about the complexity of the cause you are addressing.

· Target messages to those who are interested in your cause.

· Allow others to easily share information about you to their friends and family.

· ‘Listen’ online to feeds/posts about your organisation.

There are several online resources that provide the technical details you need to get started. Network for Good, Mashable, SocialBrite, Beth’s Blog, TechSoup, and John Haydon are a few of my favourites. So in this forum, instead of getting technical, I’ll close with three thoughts on social media as it relates to social capital.

First, it’s a relationship. We don’t have to control it.

Second, it’s a relationship. We should be open to a two-way dialogue.

Third, it’s a relationship. Let’s simply help people connect with a cause they are already interested in , find methods to engage them in ways that are meaningful to them, and invite them to participate with us as together we change the world (one relationship at a time).