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Fundraiser stands the test of time

In his various associations with faith-based nonprofits, AAI Principal Rich Gerig gets to hear firsthand about the ups and downs of all things development, including special events. While such events represent the initial foray into fundraising for many nonprofit organizations, a number of factors call into question their long term viability:

• Fundraising events require a substantial amount of staff time and energy, and rely upon the active involvement of volunteers.

• Attracting adequate numbers of pancake eaters and quilt buyers is a growing annual challenge.

• Depending upon how they are measured, events often offer a poor return for investment when compared to other fundraising approaches.

It is not surprising, then, that some statistics place the average lifespan of a fundraising event at just seven years.

Despite these figures and trends, one Arizona retirement community has had a different experience. Next month, campus will be abuzz as Glencroft (Glendale) holds its 40th Quilt Festival & Auction.

Event Chairman Barb Lenards and Kandy Wagenbach, who serves as vice president of development and officer of Glencroft’s Friendship Foundation, took some time to share with AAI why they feel the auction continues to be worth the effort. In learning about Glencroft’s long standing festival and auction, readers should take careful note of the goals and strategies at play, including key opportunities for both fundraising and “friend raising.”

AAI: Give us some of the history of the Quilt Festival & Auction. How did it get started?

Glencroft: The auction was started by Merle Graber, who owned and operated a trailer factory in Phoenix. Over the past 40 years, it has grown in scope and attendance. In 1989 Glencroft began holding the sale in a huge tent as well as surrounding buildings. The event has always benefited the Glencroft community and residing seniors through the organization’s Friendship Foundation.

AAI: What are the goals of the event?

Glencroft: This year our monetary goal is to net $130,000. A second goal is to maintain the sense of homecoming for those who attend, many of whom visit Glencroft each year only for this event. For us it is a time of community coming together as well as a fundraiser.

AAI: How is the event organized? What stakeholder groups are involved? When does the planning start?

Glencroft: The event operates at the discretion of Friendship Foundation. An Auction Team provides leadership for the various booths, attractions and areas needed to operate the event. This year’s team has 22 members.

Larger donors are invited to donate according to designated giving levels to help underwrite the costs. In addition, more than 100 businesses give smaller gifts that we use for a silent auction. We also depend heavily on our board members to supply financial support and gifts for the auction. We have quilt sponsors who underwrite the cost of the quilts. In total, close to 500 stakeholders are directly involved.

Planning for the next year begins within a month after the event with a trip to Indiana to purchase quilt tops. Furniture and items for the many booths at the event are collected all year long, washed, priced and stored for the big day.

AAI: Share some highlights for those involved.

Glencroft: The highlight for those planning the event this year is a quilt collection with patterns that were introduced 100 years ago in celebration of Arizona’s 100th birthday.

The highlight of the event for our guests is certainly the live auction on Saturday, but festival-goers also enjoy the many chances throughout the weekend to gather for meals, entertainment, our silent auction and the different booths.

AAI: How are the proceeds used?

Glencroft: Recent past projects have included a chapel in Providence Place (our care center) and the development of Sarah’s Place, a memory care facility currently under construction. The board of trustees decides each year how the funds will be used.

AAI: What are your thoughts about the return for investment of this event? Do you attempt to measure those? How do you calculate?

Glencroft: If you took all of the volunteer hours donated and the upfront costs on any fundraiser you will always lose money – even the high profile ones that raise millions of dollars.

But how does one measure the benefits that don’t show in your bottom line?

• How do you know when you get a $100,000 planned gift, that the seed was not planted during a special event?

• Does a new resident move to your facility or become involved with your agency because of the involvement and connection they made through an activity you offered?

• Our campus and our residents take on a new life as the auction approaches and residents know that family and grandchildren will soon arrive. What is that worth?

• What price can you put on our winter visitors who arrive three months before the auction to help and to be part of a bigger cause than just raising money?

• How do you evaluate something as priceless as the closeness of a group of 30 women who quilt together day after day?

Having been in fundraising for 35 years, I’ve had people ask, “Why do we do these fundraisers that cost so much money and take so much energy and time?” We tell ourselves we could just go out and ask for planned gifts and make much more money with much less expense and effort. But I think that is a false conclusion; to me large donations come because of the courtship we do with our donors through special events, which prepares them to say yes to the marriage of a planned gift. So, it is necessary to do special events, but also to then offer our donors that next level of commitment.

AAI: What are the opportunities and obstacles faced when considering events as part of a fundraising program? What would you say to another CCRC development director who is trying to evaluate the value of current fundraising events or thinking of starting some for the first time?

Glencroft: The obstacles of an event are always the same: the time and expense of preparing for the event. The opportunities are to bring like-minded people together to champion a common cause and to build a sense of loyalty and commitment to the organization.

My advice to another development director would be to find that event that embraces your organization’s mission, speaks to the heart of its stakeholders and brings community together. Follow up on this event with more personal relationship building with donors, which will help them move up the ladder from just a participant in a special event to making a more permanent commitment that will support your organization.

AAI: What other comments would you like to make about fundraising events?

Glencroft: When planning and holding fundraising events, involve those stakeholders who will give you honest input as well as financial and volunteer support, and who have a clear vision of your organization’s mission.

Fundraising events—even those that seem like a perfect fit for your organization—need to be redefined over time. With all of our events we evaluate what we can do better to produce the best results. If you have an event that has run its course, let it go and create something that will give new life to all of your fundraising efforts.


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Development officers…they’re nowhere, they’re everywhere

A recent special report in The Chronicle of Philanthropy (March 18, 2004) confirms what many CEOs and board members of nonprofit, church-related organizations already know: Development officers are in hot demand these days, and attracting an experienced fundraiser to your organization is no easy task.

We can identify many of the factors causing this dilemma. As income from government and other external sources lags, many nonprofits must turn to increased charitable support. Relatively few people aspire to be fundraisers. Even fewer have formally trained for the task. Turnover and burnout plague the development profession; the average fundraiser lasts only 2-3 years in the same position. Two particular obstacles often faced by many church-related organizations are their rural locations and the modest salaries they offer. And even if these organizations are fortunate enough to find productive and experienced fundraisers, such professionals are often quickly lured away by appealing offers made by larger organizations who enjoy higher profiles and greater resources. What to do?

While we don’t argue that previous experience is unimportant in the development profession, Advancement Associates believes there is another way small, church-related organizations can find—and keep—fundraisers who are effective in their tasks and committed to the missions of the organizations they serve. This alternate approach requires three key understandings:

1. A focus more on essential qualities than on previous experience in seeking candidates for your development position.
2. Active identification of those who have development potential and effective means of encouraging their interest.
3. Realistic expectations and adequate support, training and resources for your new development officer.

Let’s explore these understandings in more depth.

Essential qualities

What are the qualities most important for the successful development officer? To supplement my own reading and learning from many years in the profession, I conducted an informal survey of the fundraisers with whom I currently work. Fourteen attributes emerged in the following order of frequency. Note that some of these qualities are inherent, while others can be learned.

1. A person who knows the organization and believes in its mission.
2. A relationship builder, who enjoys, respects and understands people, can motivate others, and has a good sense of humor.
3. A communicator, who has verbal, written and listening skills.
4. An organizer, who keeps accurate records, makes timely calls, and does thorough follow up.
5. A motivated self-starter, who works with persistence, optimism and creativity.
6. One who can maintain good working relationships with CEO, board and staff.
7. A generous donor to the organization.
8. A person who understands the “principles” of fundraising and adheres to high ethical standards.
9. One who is comfortable asking for money.
10. Someone who is open to learning and applying marketing concepts and strategies.
11. One who can use technology tools in support of the development program.
12. A flexible worker who is willing to travel and maintain irregular hours.
13. One who is committed to continuing education and willing to ask others for guidance and ideas.
14. A well-balanced person who has a life outside work and a means to maintain health and energy.

I invite you to consider the above qualities as “cake” and previous development experience as “frosting” when seeking an effective fundraiser for your organization. You’ll have many more candidates to consider—and enjoy the likelihood that they will stay a long time because they are committed to your mission.

Searching, finding, attracting

As you focus more on essential qualities than on previous experience, you’ll discover that potential candidates for your position aren’t actively looking for a fundraising job and may even have a dim view of the development profession. Beyond preparing a job description and placing a position announcement in the right publications, how can you effectively search, find and attract such persons?

I suggest that you first actively involve your organization’s leaders and key stakeholders—board members, staff, major donors, and others—in the search process. Introduce them to the list of essential qualities and have them identify potential candidates that come to mind, including comments about the specific strengths these persons would offer. Be intentional about this process and work with a timetable and deadline.

As the referrals arrive, look for the names mentioned most often. How might these potential candidates be best approached and invited to consider your development opportunity?

The goal of your search is three strong candidates—each of whom could do the job.

Supporting a new development officer

If you have followed the steps outlined above, you will have hired a new development officer who has all of the ingredients necessary to become an outstanding fundraiser—but no experience. You owe this person the support and resources needed to “get good.” How is this done? Some ideas:

1. Create a “learning plan” for your new development officer that includes a detailed orientation to the organization; adequate budget and staff help; opportunities to “network” with other professionals; provision for attending helpful workshops and seminars; and access to an outside consultant.
2. Have the development officer report to the CEO.
3. Expect and encourage board and staff interest in fundraising, and acquaint them with the roles they play in creating a strong development program.
4. Be sure the CEO is directly involved with development, especially building personal relationships with major donors.
5. Ask for a comprehensive, formal development plan each year that includes measurable goals, objectives and activities.
6. Set realistic contribution goals that reflect both budget needs and fundraising potential.
7. Conduct an annual evaluation of your development officer that includes reasonable measures of accountability.

So, depending on what you look for, how you look, and how you provide support, development officers are nowhere . . . or they’re everywhere! Best wishes for a good search and a great outcome!