Lisa Smith, executive director, of Mary’s House, a South Carolina emergency shelter for women and children fleeing abusive homes, struggles to raise general operating support.
As the economy continues to present challenges, we are a faith-based nonprofit funded primarily by our community of churches and civic groups, but we also have some grants for a couple of programs. Our main concern is operational costs. I have a shelter that requires 24/7 staffing, utility bills, insurance premiums, and a small but dedicated administrative staff. We have an excellent rating from the Secretary of State’s office. We just need new and effective ways of generating operating income.
We asked Terry Axelrod, the founder of Benevon, a company that helps small- and medium-size organizations to answer Lisa’s question. Ms. Axelrod’s approach is designed to teach charities how to raise big gifts.
Begin offering tours to groups of individuals and representatives of foundations and corporations to let them experience the power of your work. Open the tour with a board member welcoming everyone and telling why he or she believes so much in your mission. Then, as executive director, tell your own story of involvement with the organization and describe three main areas of impact for the people you serve. Those might be empowering a young mother to get job training or transforming a child’s life. Take them on a short tour with three stops, showing them one example for each area of impact, including a story about a life that was changed in each area.
Try to tell a story that dispels a common myth for each area—for example, the myth that most women living with domestic violence don’t have the courage to walk away. Without asking for money, tell them what adding one thing, such as a new staff position, would provide. For example, one more job trainer could help get 20 more single mothers back on their feet.
End your tours with a live testimonial from someone whose life was changed because of your work. Follow up with each guest a few days later to get their feedback and ask if they would be willing to invite others on a similar tour. During this second contact, do not ask for money.
If you do this faithfully twice a month for a year, this one simple act of providing well-crafted tours can introduce hundreds of new people to your work. Offer tours to church groups, groups of corporate employees, foundation program officers, and civic groups such as Rotary Clubs. The followup calls will engage people who, in turn, will open up more doors.
The time to ask for money is in your annual appeal or at an annual event. Contact everyone who has attended the tours and invite them to participate. Offer an option for people to make large gifts of a few hundred or a thousand dollars and ask them for a pledge to give at those levels for three to five years. The income stream will provide some financial security as you plan for future years, including hiring dedicated fundraising staff who can keep the process growing.
What advice would you offer? Use the comment link below to weigh in on the discussion. And if you would like advice on another fundraising problem or issue, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.