Individual Fundraising – How To Do It

Nobody likes to talk about money, but there comes a time in everyone’s life where you need to start having those hard conversations.  Now, you can continue to avoid the dread ‘M’ word issue or you can deal with the fact that every facet of your life deals with money.  The sooner you become comfortable talking about it in everyday conversation the easier this talk is going to be.

Non-profits thrive and prosper on the development team.  This part of the organization is the area that brings in the money and makes all the wheels turn from production to education to everyday operations.  In my research to become more apart of the dance world in Los Angeles I have recently applied for a development position.  In my prep for not only furthering my career, but an overarching understanding of the arts world from commercial to nonprofits it is important to grasp knowledge and research what you still need to learn.  One of the components of this potential position includes individual fundraising, which I do not have experience in, but you have to start somewhere.  Granted I have an understanding of grant writing, fund reporting, fundraising efforts with the community, database maintenance and upkeep, and donor event planning, but I have never done anything directly with individual donors and major gifts.  So, I did what I do best which is research like a crazy person.

Started by talking with a woman who has been in the major gift and solicitation game for thirty years.  She told me that following the 10, 10, 80 rule is the most important rule.  Ten percent of funding are grants – foundations, government, corporate, ten percent are smaller funding donations from annual appeals and e-mail solicitations, but eighty percent are your major donors.  These donors need to be cultivated, courted, and become part of the company’s family.  Understanding this rule I came to the understanding that individual giving is the most important aspect in development.  Needless to say I have gained a tremendous respect for the employees that have taken on this intimidating and daunting task of approaching people for funding.

So my thought to maximizing an individual giving program is to first draw up a plan with short and long term goals that have deadlines attached to them.  For example, start by concentrating on the circles that surround the company.  Around the company you have the executives of the organization and board members.  I would want to uses these people to test the case of support to the leadership by developing the story of the company that could be presented to donors (i.e. mission, artistic work, education, community…etc).  Exciting and engaging the people that are associated with the organization so they (board and other leaders) will participate and are comfortable to participate and give one hundred percent to fundraising plan.

Once you have the leadership on board and the basic pitch it is time to get to know the database of the company.  What do your current donors have in common?  Are their relationships between the donors (i.e. friends, family, or board relation)?  Once you are able to separate your current donors into giving categories take a look at other organizations to see if their giving levels are the same or is their a potential for a higher donation that hasn’t been tapped.  Don’t solicit your donors the same.  Continue to target and ask for the right amount for the right type of area of the company to fund.  Continue to communicate to all donors through multiple channels – social media, mail, e-mail, and individualize calls and letters.

Next it is time to leverage the connections.  You know how I was talking about those circles around the organization?  Well the next circle would be friends, associates, and connections with VIPs of the company.  Enlist board support by getting their inner circle to get to know the organization by hosting a small event in a personal setting.  Educate, inform, and involve them.  Cultivate the relationship long-term.  Getting the donor to go from donation to investment in the organization is key.  You want these people to not only give money but believe strongly in the organization.  To do this you need to develop an investment opportunity, give the donor an opportunity to transform the organization or the community, and then you as the organization need to demonstrate that change.

Donor solicitation is a lot like dating.  First you get to know a person.  What are their interests?  How could their interest connect with the company’s interests?  If both of the parties (i.e. the individual and the company) interests can connect in a positive way you start a courtship with the donor.  Throughout the courtship you educate them about the company, find common interests, and get the donor to connect in a personal way.  From their comes the commitment (i.e. the proposal).  The asking for the funds from the donor and how their investment will be used.  Looking at solicitation like dating makes it a little less scary because it fits on a level that everyone can relate to in society.  The thing to remember is that money isn’t as scary to talk about it if you can find a common ground.

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The Inner Workings of a Non-Profit Dance Comapny

There are two looks of a dance company. The dream-like state that the audience sees on stage, and then there is a reality to it. Being apart of the dance world since I was a child and understanding all aspects of the business side is important to running a dance company.

First you have the mission of the company. The message that the company is driven on. It should only be a few sentences long, and should be the basis of the company’s story. If a reader can’t figure out what your company is about based off the mission statement you need a new one. Next you have the artistic vision of the choreographer. There needs to be a way to present his/ her vision to not only to the general public through marketing, but to current and potential donors.

This brings me to the administrative offices. First you have the marketing team. The marketing team is what makes the company look good visually. For the marketing team you need photos shoots to happen at least once a year. This will allow new works to be photographed, new dancers to be highlighted, and old works that are coming out of retirement back into the current repertoire to be photographed with new casting. Next you have the development team. The development team writes the grants, researches foundations and government funding, does solicitations to individual donors, courts donors for major gifts, organizes and manages capital campaigns, and is the go to person for managing and maintaining relationships with the donors. A good development team is key to having a successful dance company because they are the ones bringing in the funds to keep the artistic product moving forward to new opportunities.

Since we are talking about money you need an excellent finance person who can be sure to monitor all areas of the company so overspending is not happening. Obviously, there is that old saying “it takes money to make money” but in a nonprofit it is vital to be breaking even. It becomes increasing difficult if the company gets into a financial hole to get out of it because not only can any one see your financial numbers if you are in the negative for multiple years, it will be difficult to convince a donor they are not giving to a black hole or that you are unable to handle your funding positively.

Finally, you have the management and executive staffing like the company manager. This person is equally important to artistic side as well as the administrative side because they are like a ping pong ball bouncing back and forth playing the in-between to presenters, lawyers, publicists, dancers, teachers, travel companies, record and publishing labels, and of course the executive and artistic director to be sure that the company is on the same page. It is vital that this person can work well under pressure, multitask, and understand the importance of what is a priority.

The next time you go see a dance company remember that all the people that work behind the scenes are just as important as the choreographers and the dancers; and without them, the inner working of the company would fall apart.