A friend of a friend recently (and successfully) applied for a new community fundraising job at a prestigious university and asked me to help her develop her application. It made me think about how community fundraising can be a successful component of the fundraising mix and how it is a bedrock of the fundraising pyramid.
In my personal experience and in what I have seen elsewhere I think that there are three main aspects to successful community fundraising:
Firstly, you must ensure community fundraising is integrated into the overall fundraising mix and valued by colleagues (both fundraisers and beneficiary colleagues, i.e. academics). There is an historical tendency to view community fundraising as a bit of a poor relation as the individual gifts tend to be at the lower end of spectrum and the activities organised to raise them tend to be ‘softer’ and equally focused on the social aspects of fundraising. But this type of fundraising has many benefits:
- it engages donors on a very personal level
- it builds a strong base for the giving pyramids (little gifts often lead on to bigger gifts)
- it helps prospect researchers to identify new prospects and gather good market intelligence
- it strengthens the culture of philanthropy allowing opportunities not only for individuals to give but to get used to the practice of asking others to follow suit (peer to peer asking is very powerful)
- it creates opportunities for saying thank you
- it creates opportunities for the current student body to engage with the alumni – extending the alumni community
- not least – it draws in a steady and valuable income.
To succeed as a community fundraiser, you must realise that you can’t do everything yourself and facilitation is the key to success. Clever volunteer management and support means that you will be able to deftly manage many more projects than you could do if you took personal ownership of every initiative. You need to be able to create a supportive framework for volunteers which gives them the responsibility and freedom to take the initiative and balance this with gentle intervention and support when you are needed. This ‘framework’ is likely to be a basket of initiatives from written guidelines to a named network of ‘friendly faces’ across key University functions such as catering, security and parking to help volunteers to make their on-campus events successful. It might also include a modest ‘seedcorn’ fund to get initiatives off the ground.
Good communication is always a fundamental foundation of any successful fundraising activity. As the Community Fundraising Coordinator you will be the crossing point for information exchange between volunteers and also between volunteers and fundraisers. You need to be able to successful manage huge amount of information and make sure that everyone knows the things they need to know. You also need to develop a sixth sense and to be able to identify information that is significant to major gift fundraisers and other specialist fundraisers such as legacy officers and to have the diplomacy to facilitate appropriate introductions when necessary. The communication banner also covers the ability to say ‘thank you’ repeatedly and in ways that will be heard and valued by the donor. Someone giving £10 needs to know that they have been thanked and to have the same warm glow about their gift as someone who has given £10,000. Good communicators have the ability to translate the bigger themes of a University’s campaign to a form that is meaningful to the community donor. Community donors need to appreciate that the £50 they raised from running in the fun run not only represents an immediate benefit to the sufferers of motor neurone disease but it is part of the bigger picture of the University’s overall battle to overcome MND – if a donor can see the ripple affect of their gift and its importance in the overall fundraising mix then they are more likely to be inspired to make bigger donations and continue their support.
Don’t forget that in most universities ‘community’ extends to an extensive network of overseas alumni and friends – be innovative about how they might be included in community fundraising. The online community is also a valuable asset but it must be nurtured and focused if its true benefits are to be realised.