Be a Vigilant Fundraiser
In November 2012, Toronto and Calgary teams faced off in the annual Canadian Football League Grey Cup finals. Ontario and Alberta Premiers made a public wager on the outcome of the game—the loser would donate 100 items of warm clothing to the winner’s chosen charity.
The Ontario Premier’s team won, and he selected the Red Door Family Shelter in Ontario. The unexpected gift provided the charity with the opportunity to raise its profile—both the Premier and offensive guard Joe Eppele of the Toronto Argonauts delivered the items to the shelter’s administrative office, warranting a press release, photographs, and unexpected media coverage.
It was the sort of pleasant surprise that couldn’t possibly have been part of the charity’s fundraising strategy. In this position, however, many a clever fundraiser could grasp the opportunity to build upon the positive profile. A few phone calls or letters could turn the gesture into a mini-campaign for short-term needs. The theme could be used for a recurring gifts drive. I can see it now: Football for Fleece! Touchdowns for Toques!
If you’ve followed the first 11 steps in the 12 Step Fundraising plan, you’re the proud owner of a clearly defined case for support and fundraising strategy. A dedicated group of volunteers follows your advice on “making the ask.” Your robust communications plan ensures that your target audiences get the message, fulfill the call to action, and feel recognized for their contributions.
One final, vital question remains. Are you being vigilant? Could you take a high-profile gesture and turn it into a windfall? Do you know how to determine when your plan has been a success?
What is vigilance?
Vigilance is associated—but should not be confused—with meeting a fundraising target. While it does take a certain amount of vigilance to crack that goal of, say, one million dollars, the truly vigilant fundraiser is one that is constantly on the lookout for opportunities to support an organization’s long-term sustainability.
Seasoned fundraiser Jim Watson often advises clients to “plan your work and work your plan.” Vigilance means having a keen sense of when to push boundaries or try something new, but always using your strategy’s clear mandate to drive those decisions.
What does “success” look like?
A successful campaign yields more than just funds—it provides potent information for future use and planning. The vigilant fundraiser looks for ways to make the most of a sound fundraising strategy, learning from the past to plan for the future. How does this work?
- Develop metrics for success. Review past campaign strategies and results. Use this information—and, if you like, information from similar organizations—to create benchmarks. This process will help you set reasonable expectations and guide your strategy. Later, comparing your results to your benchmark will help you assess your performance and better plan future campaigns.
- Create a system for feedback. Take the pulse of your team—staff, board, and volunteers—as well as your trusted peers and frequent donors. What kinds of questions will help you gather useful information? How are you doing? Do they have ideas to contribute?
- Assess your data. What worked? What didn’t work? Did you meet or exceed your goals? Take stock of your plan and performance, and consider all feedback. If you’re really gung ho, poll peers in similar organizations. How have they set goals and benchmarked for success?
- Consider the whole organization. Complete a 360-degree review of your whole organization. All activities have the potential to affect your strategy. If all departments are aligned and work toward similar goals, you’ll have a better chance of success.
Eyes open, ear to the ground
Survival—and success—depends on doing more with less. Survivors keep their eyes open and their ears to the ground. They may have limited budgets, but they recognize opportunity and find creative ways to pounce.
Creativity doesn’t have to be expensive. Make friends with the media and remind them that you can provide “talking heads” on your topic at a moment’s notice. Offer you organization’s expertise for talks at local business associations, clubs, and forums. Set up promotional partnerships with allied organizations. You can also look to the private sector for ideas and tools. To get the creative juices flowing, here are a few ideas for building your audience and sharing your message.
- Make technology work for you. YouTube is free. Same with Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Which platforms does your targeted audience use? Does a social media campaign make sense for your organization? How can you use it to your advantage? In a notorious campaign against coal, GreenPeace used Facebook’s terminology to advocate “unfriending” the resource. Over 500,000 people signed the online anti-Facebook petition and more than 330,000 watched the campaign video, which featured Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. With web analytics programs (also free) the response is easily tracked.
- Try your hand at “guerilla” marketing. Guerilla marketing is a low-cost, unconventional approach to promotion that often takes advantage of a specific place or gathering to reach a targeted audience. Here’s one example. Prior to the release of one of the films in the Twilight series, marketers hijacked pictures of models in existing bus shelter ads to make “vampire victims” using branded red dot stickers. Easy, cheap, and effective!
- Hold an unprecedented event. Events can be powerful experiences. They don’t have to cost a fortune, either. When properly executed, a free event can provide a similar impact, building your organization’s profile and drawing positive attention to your cause. Forget flash mobs—instead, hold a “cash” mob! As part of a statement against pro-life activism, a group of people gathered at Planned Parenthood and raised $2,000 in minutes in October 2012.
With each of these measures, remember that it’s important to take the time to know your targeted audience. Explore other areas that interest the people you’re trying to reach. If you discover that a large percentage of your supporters are also football fans, a CFL-sponsored gift drive might just work. The vigilant fundraiser is always on the lookout for these types of opportunities.
Like the Boy Scouts say, be prepared! It is one thing to be observant and quite another use that keen sense of opportunity to pull off a successful intervention. Everything you learned doing the earlier steps in the plan will help you make the most of unexpected opportunities. Setting the stage to collect information will help you evaluate your success year after year, so you’ll be all the better when the Premier comes knocking at your organization’s red door.