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Fundraising--The Art of Finding Your Optimism in an All Volunteer Campaign

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever had. Margaret Mead


Every once in a while I am reminded of just how difficult fundraising can be. Anyone who has done it--a CEO, a volunteer, a development team member--must quickly learn to have a sense of humor coupled with an indomitable will laced with a great deal of patience.


Recently I volunteered my services for a small campaign in the community and the reality of all-volunteer fundraising soon loomed broadly before me. The organization has a terrific, beautiful goal. It has a great constituency. It has never been involved in fundraising before. Indeed, board members are so worried about fundraising that they are unsure they want to proceed. Without a fully committed board, fundraising can be challenging if not impossible.


As happens, other board members are forging ahead. Developing a campaign committee is critical. Clearly not all of the board members are going to want to solicit prospects...a capable campaign committee must be recruited to help raise awareness and educate the constituents. They will need to have a real sense of commitment, and a determination to proceed by asking their neighbors for a gift and they will need to make the first gifts to the campaign themselves.


Most people don't take to fundraising like a duck to water. That's for sure--even many fundraising professionals feel the same, but if you want to get to where you are going...well, you have to take the first step.


Best to ease in...it is also important to remember that all of these people are easing in with goodness in their hearts and many questions each step of the way. This is where patience and humor come into play. And plenty of gratitude. After all, they've got game.


When you are ready for such a campaign, keep these important ideas in mind: Henry Russo is one of America's most distinguished fundraising professionals and he has described "The Ladder of Effectiveness." This is pertinent in such a community campaign and I appreciate the idea of going "up."


The ladder portrays the relative effectiveness of the various methods used to solicit gifts...in this case, each step up the ladder indicates increasing effectiveness in the solicitation procedure.


Rung 1: Personal phone call with a follow-up letter: Solicitation by call is not considered the best, but sometimes, particularly when there are many prospects and all volunteers, this is the only alternative. If the prospect agrees to give, a thank you letter should be sent immediately. A stamped self addressed letter must be included with a pledge card for their signature or for convenience to them so they can send their check.


Rung 2: Solicitation by personal letter with a follow-up phone call: A peer communicates with a personal friend using personal stationary. If there is no response within about seven days, then the solicitor calls to follow-up. Note that each call, letter and solicitation always uses a chit that the solicitor has built up. But when the campaign is successful, all participants are so pleased that somehow the solicitor gets that chit back for use another time.


Rung 3: Personal visit by one person: This can really be effective if the solicitor is committed to the organization's mission and if he or she feels committed to this particular initiative. If the solicitor is uncomfortable or reluctant to solicit, it is best not to risk the danger of ineffective solicitation. Under these circumstances, a solicitation can be painful for the solicitor and the prospect. However, this is a very good approach when the solicitor is a committed individual. It remains one of the best techniques.


Rung 4: Personal visit by a team: This is the most effective method. Two people can make a team, so can three. A peer of the prospect and an organizational representative (s). The peer is a volunteer and the other individual has an organizational appointment that makes him/her an expert--on the board of the community group, or someone who is simply at the heart of the volunteer community (seen as a key leader). A team approach with enthusiastic members is simply irresistible and that people took the time to come together and meet with the prospect is a true sign of respect.


In a formal established nonprofit campaign each prospect is so valuable that a personal touch has to be made. He/she cannot be solicited with impersonal approaches--these can be grievous strategic errors. However, in a volunteer campaign structure, sometimes this strategy cannot be avoided when resources (time, money, energy) are limited.


Later in the campaign, as much of the money has already been raised, other strategies can be used including a phon-a-thon or direct mail--these strategies can be used to ensure that everyone has had a chance to be involved and to stretch to reach the campaign goal. The above strategies could also be combined with some serious grantsmanship as well as some meaningful special events that raise money, create excitement, while ultimately helping to reach the goal. They are priceless.


When such a campaign is conducted successfully in a smaller community, there is another important benefit that accrues: the development of genuine esprit de corps. It is the sense of teamwork existing within the members of a group that inspires enthusiasm, devotion, and strong regard for the honor of the group. It is a sense that they have accomplished something so important and beneficial that it creates a long term link among the committee members and the community itself.


Generating such a feeling helps to ensure that a next venture will be even more successful, building on the base that already exists. With everyone participating, it also increases community satisfaction. Those benefits build on themselves over time.


An all volunteer campaign is a challenge, for sure. But clearly great benefits accrue. With each successful step the committee should celebrate with one another. And when the goal is reached, the whole community should celebrate together because, against the odds, they all made it happen. And that's inspirational. And that creates optimism that hopefully overflows in the rest of your life.


Alone we can do little, together we can do so much. Helen Keller

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