Enhancing the fundraising experience

by Renee Probetts

When developing a social change project, fundraising is not the aspect that most are excited about. However, it is inevitable. This was the focus of Stephenie Lazarus’ seminar, Development for Nonprofits. Lazarus is the Development Director at Providence Englewood Charter School and makes her living doing exactly what she was speaking on… fundraising.

After introductions of each delegate and their project, Lazarus began the conversation with a simple question: what is fundraising? Fundraising can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There are annual gifts, major gifts, events, foundations, and corporations. The part that most tend to forget, is that all of these types have one thing in common: people. It may seem counterintuitive when sending emails and applying for grants, but Lazarus emphasized the importance of remembering that there is a person on the other side that will be giving the money. “A successful fundraiser is a professional friend who will someday ask you for money”, she said.

In order to fundraise successfully, one must create a development plan. Lazarus maintained that first step is to analyze strengths and weaknesses with a focus on three parts: you, your team, and your issue. Utilize the strengths of each member of the team. Some people love talking to people and others might prefer to write emails. Delagate the tasks.

Continuing with the focus, Lazarus explored the biggest asset that fundraisers have: people.

She believes that there are four types of people involved in fundraising. These are planned gifts, major gifts, annual gifts, and occasional gifts. These four groups form a pyramid with planned gifts at the top and occasional gifts at the bottom. The major gifts are from highly involved people who will give much to the cause; however, there is a much smaller amount. And while occasional gifters are not providing as much money, Lazarus stressed the importance of keeping them involved in the project. People are quick to change their minds, meaning that major gifts may come once in a large sum, but aren’t guaranteed again. Occasional gifters and annual gifters can also just as easily move up the pyramid.

Going off of this, Lazarus presented the pie chart of time spent fundraising with four sections: thank, involve, identify, and ask. Thank and involve were the two largest sections of the chart. Due to the fact that fundraising is about people, these are critical. “Never underestimate the importance of a handwritten thank you note”, Lazarus commented. Thanking donors is incredibly important to keep them as supporters. Involving is another way to increase success in fundraising. Keeping donors in the loop, through the use of social media, newsletters, etc, helps them to feel involved. Asking for advice is another way to ensure involvement she mentioned. If someone feels as though they have an emotional stake in a cause, they are much more likely to donate. According to Lazarus, volunteers are some of the best potential donors. By getting involved with the organization itself, a person can see what they would be investing in first hand.

At the end of the day, a nonprofit is constantly looking for donors. “If you don’t identify new donors, you will exhaust your current donors”, Lazarus said. Fundraising is important to all projects and this seminar gave a different light to fundraising. Natalie Burg, an American delegate from Northwestern University, remarked “it was very helpful. She was engaging and had a lot of good points and experience.”