In 2008, the jazz band at my daughter’s school had an opportunity to compete in the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival held in Moscow, Idaho. This was at a time when the economy was awful, and about half of the parents of these music students were unemployed or underemployed, so they couldn’t afford the cost of the trip. The group tried a couple of ineffective fundraising efforts, so I stepped up and created a fundraising opportunity that involved no selling of overpriced merchandise or big expensive events, and the group raised the money so they could go to the festival and compete. The kids liked this experience better than selling and said they would do it again. This successful experience became the paradigm I used when I started my fundraising business a couple years later.
Before I went public with the business and approached potential clients, I did a lot of prep work. I researched the ways schools and small nonprofits tried to raise money and the results they got. Most of those efforts involved kids or their parents selling overpriced candy, cookie dough, gift wrap, calendars, or other items, and by the time kids got to high school, they had burned out on selling, so results waned as students got older. I looked into who the decision makers in school activities were and found out who the best people were to approach and make my offer.
I did market research using online polls and asking people, potential donors, around town if they would rather buy something from groups raising money or support a group using my method, and I got an overwhelming response indicating they would rather support a group using my method, and because they felt they would get a better return on their financial investment, they would give more than they would spend on a purchase. I found individuals would give in a lower amount, but businesses would give larger amounts, so that became a part of my fundraising strategy.
I created relationships with those that could help my business and my potential clients succeed. Since my fundraising method centered on making my community better, I developed partner relationships with organizations throughout the city that could provide my clients with opportunities via projects. I sent emails, made telephone calls, and met Executive Directors and Volunteer Coordinators for coffee to discuss what I was trying to do, and how it could benefit my partnering groups. I effectively used social media to start conversations with local news professionals in television, radio, and newspapers that were willing to report on the efforts of my clients, and that helped grow greater support for their projects and their causes.
Finally, when all my ducks were in a row, I was able to contact potential clients. I promised that for a negotiated fee depending on the size of the group, I would plan and administer a fundraising project, train the participants to be more affective when approaching supporters, help them get media attention that would bring more awareness of their group and programs, and help them build their donor base for future cultivation.
I also informed them that their fundraising success would depend on how dedicated they were and how much effort they put in. I always gave a conservative estimate of what they would make if they did the minimum requirements, but emphasized that they could and should do better than that estimate if they followed the steps laid out for them.
If you are a fundraising consultant, contractor, or interviewing for a development position, do not promise things that you cannot deliver. The AFP Code of Ethical Principle and Standards states “Members shall present and supply products and/or services honestly and without misrepresentation and will clearly identify the details of those products, such as availability of the products and/or services and other factors that may affect the suitability of the products and/or services for donors, clients or nonprofit organizations.” That means that you must be up front about what you can do and let them know about the limitations of your services. Don’t guarantee that you can raise a certain amount of money for your client or promise to bring in big donors from past clients or employers. Failing to do so can harm your client financially, and it will harm your reputation as a professional. A good reputation is an absolute necessity in the field of fundraising.
I have found that it is better to be conservative with your fundraising estimates and let your clients or your organization be surprised and pleased by exceeding their expectations than to overestimate your goals and disappoint your clients or organization.