“The point of a fundraiser is to make money. If we don’t, it’s a social occasion. Since this is a fundraiser, we’re reorganizing it to make money,” I told a committee stunned into silence several years ago in my first year as their president. Fortunately, they opted to listen to me and make the most of my expertise in strategic and organization planning.
The year previously, they had tried a new fundraiser that didn’t quite break even. I’ve had those learning curves and knew that we take what we learn from those experiences and retweak what we’re doing to make money. We re-invented the entire model for the fundraiser (a talent show) that year. First, I cut the ticket price in half. In addition, I decided performers did not need to buy tickets. Then, we switched from having a full dinner theatre menu to a dessert reception halfway through the performance. With the dessert reception, to save money, I asked the parents to donate desserts. Because we went from a dinner theatre to desserts only, we eliminated the need for tables and could fit more chairs into the auditorium. As a result, we had more opportunities for ticket sales.
Because the new ticket price was only $5, more families decided to bring grandma, grandpa, their uncles, their aunts, and their next door neighbors. We sold out of tickets, the parents brought in beautiful desserts, and the entire event was a fun success.
In the brave new world of nonprofit development, the smart ones solicit expertise from business professionals. It’s a risky venture for them. Right now, I help two different nonprofits who have decided to make the leap and ask for more help from the business community. With one of them, we meet for lunch each month and review their marketing strategies/fundraising communications. With the other, we meet twice a year for a lunch followed by an intense afternoon of review and discussion of their publications. That one is particularly exciting, because the other members of the committee are from St. Louis, Louisville, Indianapolis, Bloomington, and Evansville.
Both of these organizations have decided to take the risk of bringing materials they have prepared to a table of business professionals from varied fields and ask what we think. And we tell them what we think – what works, what doesn’t, and how they can more effectively present their message. Smart nonprofits recognize that the business as usual, 20th century model no longer yields the same results. They don’t want us to simply rubber stamp their ideas but to share our talents. If we tell them a logo is dated and needs to be fixed, they may not change it, but they listen attentively to us and thank us for our input.
I thoroughly enjoy those nonprofit panels because I learn from the other professionals attending. We each have unique perspectives, and I like to think we make a positive impact on the nonprofits involved. Our combined efforts are more effective than if we worked individually.
But there is a deeper issue here. Maybe once upon a time, businesses simply cut checks to organizations they wished to support. What these organizations have realized is the value of cultivating our time, talent, and our treasure. Successful business professionals can bring a lot to the nonprofit volunteer table. We’ll scrub tables and do dishes, but we’ll also analyze ways to fundraise smarter if asked.
The organization wise enough to make the most of my talents is also going to be the one that I support the most financially. Yes, there are other organizations I may write an occasional check to support.
But the nonprofits that wisely make the most of what I can offer them are the ones I’ll support the most and promote the hardest.
And those nonprofits, with a more mature vision of public/private partnerships, are the ones that will most likely succeed in the future.