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From Trenches to Triumph

There are multiple paths to becoming an accidental fundraiser. And, let’s face it, accidental or not, fundraising is hard. But in the end, it’s worth it.

Throughout this season of Accidental Fundraiser, you’ve heard story after story of extraordinary individuals who learned hard lessons, made mistakes, and found success beyond their expectations. And while there are exciting things ahead, it’s time to bring season one to a close.

In this episode, we’re recapping highlights and reflecting on key takeaways and themes that emerged from our conversations. Listen in to hear why experience isn’t everything, and why your mission and connections matter more than anything else.

Key Takeaways:

  • You don’t need experience to be successful
  • Build powerful connections
  • Focus on the mission

Episode 12 Transcript

I’m Kimberly O’Donnell and this is Accidental Fundraiser, the show from Network for Good, that shares radically authentic stories from the trenches. There are multiple paths to becoming an accidental fundraiser and let’s face it accidental or not, fundraising is hard, really hard, but in the end, it’s worth it on this show.

We shared story after story of folks who have learned hard lessons. Made mistakes and found success way beyond their expectations. And while there’s more to come for accidental fundraiser, it’s time to bring season one to a close. In this episode, we’ll be revisiting some highlights and reflecting on key takeaways and themes that emerged from our conversations.

This season. To begin, let’s talk about experience or more accurately. The lack thereof. It’s true. Everybody starts at zero, but for many of our accidental fundraiser, there was no ramp up period. They simply found themselves in situations where the survival of their organization depended upon their ability to fundraise.

And they had no prior experience to draw from. Thankfully experience is not a prerequisite for success in the nonprofit world. Here’s Emily Wojcik, managing editor of Massachusetts Review, talking about the fear that comes with stepping into fundraising. When I first was starting out. It was terrifying, the prospect of, of, you know, asking people for money and begging people for money.

And you work in a situation where you’re dependent on people supporting you. And that really shifted over the last 20 years that has really shifted. And I think it’s partly because at Paris per I had a boss who told me, look, you’re not begging for money, right. You’re giving people an opportunity to participate in something that they love.

And that I think has really stuck with me. And that has become kind of my guiding star when it comes to fundraising is you’re not saying to somebody, oh my God, I need 20 bucks. you’re saying, look, you love poetry. You love art. You love literature. Here’s this really easy way to make sure that it continues.

And all it takes is, you know, 10 bucks. 25 bucks, 50 bucks. And you’ve made a difference. You, no, your name goes in the magazine. It goes on the website and I think that’s really satisfying. And I think having that in my back pocket means that I can go to a small donor or a big dinner and say, look. This is the thing that I know you care about.

Don’t you want people to know that you care about this. Don’t you want to put your mark on this and, and make a difference in some way. And so that’s now how I think of fundraising is giving people an opportunity to do something that they may not have thought of. Otherwise. Do you still have any fear around it?

Oh, totally. Where do you have that little bit of fear now? Like what does it lie with? I have it a bit with, with bigger donors, because of course you’re asking for more money, though. Again, what I’ve learned is that if someone is in a position where they can give you more money, they’re often not as frightened of, of money as, as you might be.

And I think, you know, and just the initial, you know, the initial. Courage to make the ask in the first place. Just, you know, a lot of fundraising is not entirely cold calling, you know, we have their names and addresses for a reason, but often, you know, you’re reaching out to somebody for the first time in, in that capacity.

And I think it can be, it can be a little bit. Intimidating just to kind of take that deep breath and say, it’s like going off the high dive, like take the deep breath and take that step. And you know, you know that there’s water beneath you. , you know, you’re not gonna splat, but it is. It’s a little tricky.

And I think the, the other thing that I was told long, long time ago that has been really helpful is the very worst thing someone can tell you is no, which puts you. Where you currently are. right. And I think that’s a really important thing to remember. I think we build up in our heads that someone’s gonna hate us and they’re gonna yell at us and they’re gonna find us and shame us on social media or whatever.

And it’s like, no, no, no. If you go to someone and you say, would you like to give $10 to master view? The worst thing they’ll say is no. And you say, okay, thank you. And I’ll try again next year. For Shayna Ronan co-founder and executive director of I Can Do That Performing Arts Center, their rapid growth created a need for $750,000 to accommodate their growing program.

Despite no prior fundraising experience, Shayna knew failure. Wasn’t an option. I love our community so much. These kids, these families have changed my life tremendously. And the last thing I wanna do is not deliver. So that was where I found a lot of my pressure coming from myself is the worst thing I could do is let them down is, am going to do this and not accomplish it.

Ultimately it’s their choice. I’m not forcing anybody to give. They are so allowed to say that doesn’t work for us this year, but thank you for asking, but we’re giving them really an opportunity to have some like ownership and making this come to life. And that’s true. We saw grandparents able to give of a lot of our parents and we asked for this.

Started birthday fundraisers for us or during giving Tuesday and over, you know, the end of the year started fundraisers for us through their friends and saying, could you give just $10 to this thing that we believe in? And we got thousands of dollars that way. One of the sweetest stories that was like, or crying puddle on the floor was one of our students.

Came up to us drew and I together with an envelope full of cash and said, I’ve been saving my allowance for years. And I want you guys to have it and gave us a thousand dollars that she’s been saving four years. Cause she’s like, you guys have saved me. This is my safe place. And I, I want this to happen.

Shayna touched on something I wanna draw attention to as it highlights our next theme from the season. And that’s building connections. Your fundraising work will be exponentially more successful if you create and nurture relationships and not just one year or as you start out. But as you go along year after year after year, build on those relationships branch out and continue learning.

Here’s Fereshteh Forough, founder, and executive director of Code to Inspire talking about the importance of connecting and being authentic with donors. Being authentic and just let the donors and supporters know what are you going through? It’s very important. Even emotionally, if you feel like sad about certain situations, if you feel like you are just like hopeless, these are not only people who are coming to you on the time that you are asking for.

Monetary donation. These are the people who believe in you and who are part of this journey. So as much as you can be honest to them and share your feeling with them, they feel much more, I think, included and comfortable with you because you wanna make it personal. You wanna like also, like maybe have them see some of your students see their stories.

Who are these people? Who are you? I think the video and. Either it’s a voice or also like in person makes a huge impact on people rather than just sometimes sending, uh, a written text. So as much as you can communicate with them to the videos, either personally, or a group video with your students or the people they are helping, it’s very important for them to see the faces, to experience that other side of the help that they do.

Brit Hotaling director of development and marketing at Dorothy Day House emphasize the correlation between effective fundraising and effective communication. She reinforces the idea that success in the nonprofit world is all about the connections that we create. You can’t really have an effective fundraising plan without an effective communications plan.

They’re deeply intertwined from my perspective. So the advice that I would give is to kind of look at it like its own art form. There is a lot of time management. Involved. And it does get a little bit overwhelming at times, but at the end of the day, people give to people and we have to keep that in mind, it’s all about relationships and what’s the cornerstone of a good relationship, communication and communicating with each other and making sure that we’re keeping people informed and letting our donors that we’re there for them.

Bonnie Sawyer, executive director at Heron Project. She knows the importance of relationships as well, but you know what? She’s taken it up a notch for Bonnie. It’s all about the personal touch. Everybody wants to feel good about the gift that they’ve made and to know that they made a difference. And I think that was something early on that was repeated over and over.

Whether sitting down, having coffee, you know, sometimes we get so busy in a development office and I think it’s easy to let the stewardship in that C go to the wayside. And that’s something that I’ve really tried to make. Probably the most important piece of my fundraising strategy, you know, every single year when I first came on, I was just given this database of people and I was like, oh no, you know, like, what am I gonna do?

I mean, at the time it was probably almost 20,000 people. No one knew really anything about it. And over time, I was able to really learn about who these people were. And there was a man who kept giving a thousand dollars to her project. And one day you reminded me, oh, it’s his birthday today? I had no idea.

So I went on, I did the video, I said, happy birthday. And first off he sent me a note immediately and was like, Lord, he said, that was so, so nice to receive. And he was so grateful. One year later, that thousand dollars donation was 10,000. And I do think that it had to do with that personal connection. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s what we all want.

We wanna know that the place that we’re giving and trusting with our donations and our financial means really is with you and on board and on that journey together. And you know, that together are actually making a difference. The final theme that surfaced this season is to stay true to the mission.

And isn’t that what nonprofit work is really about here’s Hannah Hausman, executive director for the Santa Fe Children’s Museum. Sharing a story about how this mantra has affected her nonprofit career. The CEO would always say to me, does this support our mission? Why is this essential? You know, we’d have staff run in and say, oh, we just got a call from, uh, you know, and it could be a big donor and it could be a project that sounds really great.

But even, even so she would say that sounds wonderful. Is, is this supporting our mission? And they’d take a step back and she’d say, come back to me when you figure out if it does, because we can’t do it all and we can’t be everything to everybody. So I still do that. I talk to my team and I’ll say, well, that’s a great idea, but, but how does that support our mission?

And I say that to our board because you know, board members can also take it right to another place too, and come to you and say, well, we have this really good idea. And so you just have to take a step back and say, that’s wonderful, but is not supporting our mission right now, you know, and what we do and how we serve the community.

And I just use that. That’s just that one, one statement and I’ve to really help direct us and divert us back. Sometimes if you’re going down the wrong path, And finally we have Darius Baxter, CEO and co-founder of GOOD Projects, which launched while he and his co-founders were still students at Georgetown university.

Thanks to massive successes early in his career. Darius had to learn some hard lessons about staying true to the mission and doing things for the right reasons. I found myself spending more time doing podcasts like this, or standing on stages or being at cocktail receptions than time that I was spending, thinking about how I was gonna further the community that I commit to serving.

And I didn’t realize at the time when I was in the midst of it, just how much it was affecting my spirit and my physical as well. And I would wake up super depressed and super sad. And I couldn’t quite put my finger on why I’m like everybody else is a court. I’m doing things right. I’m raising money. Our outcomes are there, but I’m always just down.

And it was really getting deep, deep, deep, deep into my conversations with God that I realized that all of the world was celebrating me. I wasn’t happy with. Who I was becoming in this space and it took me taking a complete 180 and saying, I’m not doing more speaking engagements. I’m not talking to anybody.

I’m not doing an interview. I’m not getting on no planes. I am gonna spend every day in this community. And people didn’t like that at first. And we lost some funders cuz of that, cuz they’re like, who does he think he is? And calling people out and saying, I don’t think that you’re funding us for the right reasons.

I think that you’re more interested in who I am as an individual than the projects that we’re focused on. It took some internal shifting. It took us finding funders that were genuinely interested in the mission and vision that we had. And at one point we got down to about $3,000 in the bank and my board is in my everybody’s just like, are you sure this was the right decision?

And I stayed firm in my convictions and in my faith. And I knew that. If I operated with integrity and I always did things for the right reasons and things that made me feel good mentally, spiritually, physically, emotionally, that, uh, it would all work out as we bring this season to close. I hope that you’ll remember these three takeaways, one you don’t need experience to be successful in fundraising.

You just need to get over your, and remember that you aren’t asking you are inviting people to support your cause. And they can say yes or no. Both answers are okay. Two build connections. You never know when and what might bloom from your networking. Three focus on and stay true to your mission. Be authentic.

Be courageous be you. Yes, you can do this. And I’m Kimberly. See you next time on Accidental Fundraiser and be sure to follow along wherever you get your audio.

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