Fund-Raising: Tough Times; Here's How Members Can Help Their Favorite Charities and Foundations Keep the Coffers Filled despite Cutbacks in Government and Corporate Giving

Article excerpt

Fundraising for charitable causes has never been easy. But a stagnant economy has made the job of ferreting out donations--large or small--even more of a challenge for monprofit fundraisers. Just ask Stephen Hocker, executive director of the District of Columbia Special Olympics.

"Over the past 18 months, individuals and corporations have found so many ways to say no to nonprofits," laments Hocker, who is the only minority executive director of the Special Olympics in the United States "There's a lot of competition for the dollars. You hear that right away when you walk in to make a presentation."

Nonetheless, professional and volunteer fundraisers have found creative ways to keep the coffers full even when corporations turn tightfisted, government funding becomes scarce and individuals are overwhelmed by charities prospecting for contributions.

Hard times call for enterprise and creativity. For example, in Hocker's case, he took a different tack when marketing his organization's annual Christmas gala, an event highlighted by the auction of 30 designer-decorated trees. Instead of relying solely on individual ticket sales, he promoted "The Night of Trees" to local businesses as a way of either rewarding top salespeople or hosting a ready-made company Christmas party. The strategy worked; the organization sold 15 corporate tables for $30,000 at an event netting $80,000.

"By positioning our event as a way of giving employees a good time at a point in the year when companies usually say thanks, sponsors felt as if they were really getting something back for their money," explains Hocker. Of course, the strategy might not have worked, he admits, if the event didn't already have a nine-year reputation as a holiday crowd-pleaser.

Other ways in which nonprofit organizations are revitalizing their fundraising include:

* Targeting new donor bases, with an emphasis on minorities and small businesses.

* Developing innovative partnership and sponsorship opportunities with corporations.

* Creating and marketing unique special events.

* Establishing endowment, deferred-giving and payroll-deduction programs.

Furthermore, many nonprofits are going back to basics. They are relying heavily on board members for peer-to-peer solicitations, and are conducting extensive research before approaching prospects for major gifts. They are also reevaluating mission statements and making sure all their fundraising efforts relate back to them.

SENDING THE RIGHT MESSAGE

"You can't raise money in a vacuum. It has to be tied to the important needs of your community or service area," says Anita Joseph, director of financial development for the YMCA of the USA, headquartered in Chicago. "Sometimes that means going back to your organization's vision."

"An organization must have a strong message to communicate," adds William H. Gray III, president and CEO of the United Negro College Fund in New York City. "You must be able to explain your cause and what makes it different from other philanthropic causes. You also should have a history of doing good work."

As for new strategies, targeting untapped donors should be at the top of your group's list. The Cleveland Foundation recently formed the African-American Outreach Advisory Committee to evaluate how the foundation could better reach blacks, a largely untapped donor base that represents about half of Cleveland's population.

"For a long time African-Americans were not viewed as persons of high net worth," explains Steven Minter, executive director of the foundation. "But that view is gradually changing. You can see that with new ad and marketing programs geared toward persons of color."

What's also helping to overturn that view are studies that demonstrate the giving patterns of African-Americans. According to the report, "Giving and Volunteering in the United States," 64% of African-American families contributed to charities in 1991. …