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FacebookImage-HolyCowI can’t tell you how good I feel, but I’ll tell you why.  Today I purchased a community bond from the Centre for Social Innovation. The traditional return is modest but the risk is low and the social impact is huge. CSI is raising $4.3 million to purchase an additional building to meet the needs of its expanding membership of social innovators and entrepreneurs. It is raising the money through the sale of community bonds, something they did successfully before, with the bonds secured through the property. Within a few weeks 84 investors have contributed $1.8M.

So there’s a lot to feel good about by supporting this award winning organization that is generating social good in new and sustainable models. There’s good in knowing that your money is being used well for a few years and then will be returned.

But what takes the feel good to an inexpressible level, is when you click “send” to confirm your purchase and within 30 seconds you get a call from the Director of Culture of CSI personally and genuinely thanking you for your support.

Fundraising has been the topic of the week and in addition to my salon I took in a webinar put on by Cfccanada.ca and thestop.org called Stocking the Pantry: Fundraising in the community food sector.

What’s a good ask (for money)?

For corporations and foundations there’s usually a clear process so follow it. For major gifts – build relationships, ensure alignment, have a good plan and articulate what you’re about, do research on target, don’t ask on the first date, be ready with an answer; be clear about the impact the donation will make.

More from the experts

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask and be clear about what you want. But make it a two-way dialog, not just about your organization; ask what the donor wants to accomplish
  2. Persistence and stewardship of leads/donors is key. Expect it to take 1-2 years to develop major donors
  3. Alignment is important – what’s the connection of donor and cause. Long term relationships are based on trust and common interest
  4. Don’t forget the 80/20 rule, 80% your funds come from the 20% so focus on that – usually major donors and foundations
  5. Practice relentless storytelling (about talking about your cause) and be on the lookout for allies
  6. Your desk has a gravitational pull; schedule moments to talk to someone about the cause; be on the road
  7. Every board should have at least one member who will fill the ambassador role, you need at least 2 who will ask for money. Always be on the lookout for board members that will fill this. Committees good way to groom new board members.
  8. You need unrestricted funded in addition to program funding, diversified funding; flex money is like R&D money. Ongoing donors where you have earned trust may be open, and you can challenge “is this the best use of funds”?
  9. Funders come and go so you need to diversify; relentlessly be on the lookout for other folks; juggle, keep and find new ones
  10. Use volunteers in fundraising; for events they are a key work force; as ambassadors; volunteers are donors in another form and you need to steward them. Segment your volunteer list according to the roles they want to fill.
  11. There are probably more time/cost effective ways to make money than events. With successful events, what’s your goal? Getting donors, cultivate potential donors, build your profile, get more folks engaged…good reasons. Measure the results. A big part of the event is the follow up; capture names and then follow up 1-2 days after (say thank you, offer a tour, sign up for newsletter)
  12. 3rd party events are less effort. Need to be clear about what you are willing to do. The Stop has guidelines online with expectations and how they engage.
  13. Marketing platforms easier for getting corporate funding than programs. Businesses need to entertain clients anyway so an interesting event would work – it also makes them look like good corporate citizens. What are your assets to leverage? The Stop has chefs and farmers.
  14. Measure the costs of each campaign (all costs), measuring soft costs (opportunity costs, could we have raised more with less time/effort, event vs. grant proposal)
  15. Research shows that a big reason donors stop their support is because of a lack of effective communication with the organization

Cool thoughts

Strategic planning process might be a way to get funders involved – they talked of a senior exec at a bank who got involved in the planning process, offered great insight and ended up a lifelong supporter

Plan-passion-persistence:“Money grows on the tree of persistence”

You are the link between the needs of your organization and the philanthropic desire of the potential donor that wants to have an impact; needs to be aligned

They had a couple of cautions

  • Be cautious about social enterprise. Only do it when you have the other pillars of fundraising solid – it is not the quick cash answer for charity. (By this I presume they are cautioning traditional charities that are looking for a snap on business that generates funds, not the new generation of social entrepreneurs.)
  • There is a new breed of volunteer/funder, angel investors, that come with a big sense of how you should run your organization. The advice is to stay true to your plan, be strong – don’t let them take you off course.

Lots more info in this webinar which is available online at http://www.learningnetwork.thestop.org.
Just register (it’s free) and you’ll get access to this session and many more valuable presentations.

indiegogo-smI am hosting the last in the series of 3 salons devoted to issues facing non profits. The first looked at boards and was a valued and vibrant conversation with board members and non profit execs and staff at the table. The second examined my fav topic, volunteering. The results were a couple of key insights, and the acknowledgement that the topic was large and worthy of many focused conversations.

For the last in the series I am covering what would appear a natural 3rd topic, money. Specifically individual and corporate donations and sponsorships. And yet, the demographic of this last salon is decidedly mature. This salon caught the interest and commitment of the experienced set coming from more classically non profit segments.

And yet this is a topic that should draw the many emerging social enterprises as they need to rise above the bootstrap funding model. Is my terminology no longer relevant? Should I be specifically talking crowdfunding rather than donations? Is crowdfunding any different than passing the collection plate in church?

Of my 3 topics, this one might have the greatest need for a blending of old techniques and new methods. Positioning a pitch for a corporate sponsor, and keeping a loyal donor happy are age old concepts. Add the global reach of the internet and galvanizing power of social media and you never know where your next donor will come from.

I’m proud of these folks. They are smart, focused on their cause and for nearly 30 years have helped make Toronto a better place to live and work.

I am speaking of the Toronto Community Foundation and they are this year’s Outstanding Foundation, as honored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals.

The AFP Greater Toronto Chapter Philanthropy Awards are a celebration of the outstanding contribution of time, leadership and financial support made by organizations and individuals, who have set excellence benchmarks in encouraging the spirit of giving.

This is an acknowledgment of the work of the Foundation not only in fundraising but in making philanthropy effective through informed and focused choices.

Community vitality has been our purpose, promise, and passion since 1981, when we started connecting donors to community needs and opportunities. Home to hundreds of endowment funds, we help people invest in Toronto, making it the best place to live, work, learn and grow. We monitor the quality of life in our city, identifying its strengths and weaknesses through our Toronto’s Vital SignsR Report. We provide the leadership and guidance to bring people together from all parts of our community. We exist for Toronto – for now and for always.

Congratulations to a team I am proud to support as a Strategic Volunteer.

I always considered myself pretty fluent in English. I was a top rated public speaker and considered a strong communicator with an ability to convey technical concepts to non-technical people.

But now I’m in the world of non profits and even though they are speaking English, I’m having difficulty understanding them. The words are so nuanced that a simple term turns offensive. It’s a sector specific language with good intentions but burdened with bureaucracy. It creates walls, barriers to understanding. This is in conflict to the inclusiveness that many non profits seek.

So as I go forward, appreciating the nuances of this new language I am mindful that to be understood by others outside this world, you need to return to the age old concept of Plain Language. Simple terms, easily understood because in the end, communication at a basic level to many is more valuable than precision for a select few.

The more you give, the more email you get.  I receive a variety of communications from charities and non-profits and sometimes I get them at the same time.  The other day I happened to get 2 newsletters both from equally worthy causes but one was clearly more appealing than the other.

As the former web goddess who advised clients on formats and approaches to optimize email, I found that of all aspects you could analyze, it was the style and tone of the content that drew me to one newsletter over the other.

The winner was New Circles, a small community based charity, who issued a PDF newsletter, emailed via reception on behalf of the Executive Director.

  • The email itself was simple yet gracious in tone, opening with “Please enjoy our Spring Newsletter” and closing with “With thanks and Enjoy!”
  • It contained a list of the features in the attached PDF presented as “Articles to note” and then the extra finesse of listing them in a conversational style like “An article to celebrate New Circles’ fifth anniversary; A Holiday Angel report; and A big thank you to anyone who has made a financial or clothing donation since the last newsletter.” Not your typical copy & paste of the titles.
  • They also get points for full contact info on the executive director at the bottom of the email which itself was all in a plain text format.

The PDF, although not my favourite format, certainly works for these folks.

  • A simple layout, basic black text on white with one colour to highlight, 6 pages in total.
  • Snippets at the top of stories, giving a summary, key stats in a call-out box, a variety of authors and perspectives, and a few big, clear pictures.
  • Back page holding key acknowledgements (“since the fall newsletter”), a list of clothing donations that they need and a standard ask for donations.

Now all this might sound pretty typical but there’s something about the style of writing, the stories told and the presentation that just makes you want to read it. It’s written for an external audience not just the insiders. It explains the background so you didn’t have to be there to know what or who or why. And all this in a plain language that somehow exudes warmth.

Here’s a link to the PDF new circles SpringNewsletter2010 Mar18 and I challenge the many other causes that send me email to produce something as gracious, informative and audience-centric as this.

Magic money

A theme seems to be appearing as I do my research. It’s a common theme among causes and would be entrepreneurs. That somewhere there is a magic person or organization that will just give them money to do what they want to do.

In my experience it’s not the best plan to count on such magic, an angel investor or source of funds that will surface, hear your idea and grab onto it with such passion that the checkbook is out before you’ve uttered your last sentence. It could happen but I’d hedge my bets with hard work, creative thinking and a pragmatic approach.

What’s in it for them?

Money is always hard to find and collect in larger quantities so you need to get creative. And I’d say you need to ask, “what’s in it for them.” Like any business looking for sales, how marketable is your offering? Who wants it, how do they want it, how much will they pay for it and do they pay for it directly or bundled in some way that has a greater perceived value?

Create a value prop

The direct link from request to the check may not exist. So how can you package, partner, or bundle to create a value proposition that works? What other assets do you have, either hard assets or people power, that can be converted into a marketable exchange?

This is the kind of analysis active businesses are based on.

  • It takes some self exploration.
  • It requires deep understanding of your target market.
  • It requires some creative partnering and packaging.
  • It takes time to communicate and build awareness.
  • It takes commitment to build the relationship that will be mutually fulfilling.

It’s a complex and creative approach but will probably be more fruitful than asking someone to just send their money to…

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