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Ready to Take the Plunge? Launching Your Fundraising Program

Perhaps this is a critical moment in your development program and you want to take it to the next level. Or you are getting your development program started. Or you are ready to launch a capital campaign or simply have a major initiative for which you want to secure funding. This also might be a unique moment for raising your organization’s profile within the community or beyond.

To truly move the ball forward there are so many things to do that it can be overwhelming. So I have distilled five key issues below. To begin, harness the powerful potential that exists in most organizations. Set the stage for real growth and success.

Early in your plans you’ll require at least five items for success:

  1. Support and time commitment from several groups who are willing to be part of a team approach. These groups need to devote the necessary time to make the efforts successful––and they need to understand the time commitment. They extend the reach of the organization into the community, and they act as models for others’ philanthropy. You will need the commitment of your board or your council or your volunteer group. This also is an opportunity to review the membership on your volunteer board or council and determine those for whom the organization is not a priority, who don’t attend meetings and who don’t make contributions. It is a prime opportunity for recruiting new volunteers, while thanking those who will step down.

  2. A clear image of the organization. This needs to be coupled with a detailed strategic plan for growth and improvement that can be communicated clearly to supporters. Long ago I learned that you can have pages and pages of strategic plans, but summarizing them on one page as an elevator speech is clearly important to your audiences.

  3. Well-defined and measurable objectives. These objectives should be based on important institutional plans, goals, budgets and needs. They also should be completely understandable, measurable and designed for community impact. They must have an urgent flavor and should not be seen as important solely for the organizational leaders, but must resonate with all audiences.

  4. Donors ready and able to give. Some donors must be able to give substantial gifts while others will need to support at all levels throughout the year. Determining how, when and how much donors and prospects would like to be involved presents a wonderful opportunity for discussions with them in advance of any solicitations.

  5. Long-lasting institutional energy. Development is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. All involved must recognize that and be conscious of the fact that campaigns particularly affect the development team and the level of work.

Conducting smaller campaigns can help to educate the organization in fundraising. These provide arenas for personal growth or increased understanding of fundraising for those involved. Such campaigns also can provide a bright screen for highlighting issues within the organization or between groups. Fundraising approaches can then be adjusted and the organization can be more prepared for the next campaign or initiative.

Campaigns provide a genuine opportunity to develop a culture of philanthropy and an increased impact across the organization. Increased understanding, teamwork, new events and approaches, and increased knowledge of fundraising all have the added benefit of expanding the philanthropic culture.

Increased Volunteer Involvement—A Real Life Example

Throughout this process, clearly it is important to retain and stabilize staff and volunteers.  If volunteers are passionate about your mission, they can play a major role into the future. The following is a remarkable example of the growth of one volunteer couple––and its impact on the staff.

There is one couple who I have known over the last 20 years, Mr. and Mrs. T.  They played a major role at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and then with the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center. 

They became involved through a gala at Children's, then remained involved through some of the early fundraising efforts for cancer. They chaired one of the first cancer galas, then Mr. T chaired an early campaign to involve others in the new giving society (for friends who gave $10,000 or more in one year). They urged people to join this group, identified others who could be asked, generated excitement and clearly enjoyed leadership positions. 

This couple thought a great deal about the fundraising processes that were being developed.

One day Mrs. T suggested that we could recognize publicly those who were members of the $10,000 society by asking them to wear a medallion to the gala. The ribbons would match the colors of the evening. I was a little skeptical about this, but we went ahead to test the waters. Other donors also were unsure until that night when Mr. and Mrs. Henry Hillman (the cancer center’s namesakes) entered the lobby of the gala with 700 people in attendance, reached into their pockets to get their medallions and, in a very enjoyable public moment, proudly helped each other to put them on with humor and good spirits.

It is 15 years later and everyone eligible proudly wears the medallions. Some newcomers to the gala will ask, 'How do I buy one of those?'

Mr. and Mrs. T have remained unwavering in their commitment over the years. They host events in their homes in Pittsburgh and Florida. They enter into the excitement of events they attend. They have great suggestions that frequently take the staff further than they had expected to go. Laced with creativity and generosity, these two people are powerhouses in their volunteer efforts.

In the first years of their involvement, the numbers of $10,000 society members hovered at around 40, and they have taken great pride in the fact that those numbers recently increased to close to 200.

Such volunteers raise the expectations of the organization and make a profound impact. They do it with grace and charm, earning the respect and appreciation of all involved. They advance fundraising through their efforts, raise the level of excellence in research programs, attract others and create a genuine focus regionally for the work underway, which supports an increase in overall activity. They provide a sustainable advantage to your organization.


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