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By November 10, 2016No Comments

By Brigid O’Leary

Nonprofit fundraising is moving way beyond the traditional to obtain funds to meet mission needs. Galas, golf tournaments and event internet giving campaigns, are now considered traditional fundraising campaigns. Nonprofits are now searching for the next generation of funding sources.

“Fundraising is one of the biggest stressors for nonprofits,” mused Jan Monroe, president and co-founder of STEPVA.

It certainly has been for the 3-year-old organization in Fredericksburg, Va., that provides sensory-based theater and arts programs for individuals with disabilities. STEPVA is hardly the only organization that must spend part of its time working to raise money to keep  programs running, and each nonprofit has to find something that works well for them.

Traditional events are only the beginning

For some, the traditional, large-scale fundraiser is the way to go. STEPVA has had help on that front from Fredericksburg Christian Youth Theater (CYT) another local theater-based nonprofit.

In the past, CYT has hosted different – yet traditional – fundraisers, including a New Year’s Eve gala. The last two years, the organization held a successful golf tournament.

CYT, which is dedicated to developing character in children and adults through training in the arts and by producing wholesome family entertainment, all of which reflect Judeo-Christian values, has been a name in the community for 10 years has used its influence to help STEPVA in different ways, including fundraising.

“That [money] helps go toward scholarships and giving kids the financial ability to perform at CYT. It also goes to general operations,” explained Carol Turner, member of the CYT board of directors and adviser to the group’s HYPE (High school Youth Pursuing Excellence) program since 2014. CYT gives away 10 percent of its performance tickets to community facilities such as Children’s Hospital or nursing homes “so that everyone can grow in the arts,” Turner added, and the golf tournament helps cover the revenue that would have been made from those ticket sales.

On top of all that, profits from the golf tournament have gone to help STEPVA as well, completely funding two sessions of a week-long summer camp for kids with special needs that first summer.

“The first year, from the proceeds they gained, they completely underwrote our complete summer session – it was all free [for participants, with] no cost expended from us,” explained Munro. “We were thrilled beyond belief for such a generous thing.”

“Our golf tournament can benefit both CYT and STEPVA,” said Turner, who added that being in the same field and both being nonprofit organizations doesn’t prevent CYT from helping STEPVA succeed. “STEPVA gets a part of what we make and we get a part. The more we get, the more we give.”

For others, the traditional golf tournaments, black-tie galas and balls have given way to 5k runs, but with every nonprofit competing for donations from the public, it takes some creativity to stand out.

“We’re a different, outside-the-box-thinking nonprofit. We like to rock the boat a lot,” said Grant Zarzour, Co-Founder / Chairman of the Fuse Project [] in Mobile, Ala.. Fuse Project is dedicated to providing the spark for innovation, funding and implementation of projects benefiting children along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. It invests in initiatives promoting the health, fitness, education and social responsibility of our children. Zarzour’s choice of words was not just a turn of phrase, either. The organization’s big fundraising event is a dragon boat festival, held in the summer.

“We’ve had three dragon boat festivals; the fourth will be in June of 2017. That was born of researching a lot. Our big mantra is ‘if its not ‘Wow!’, it’s not worth doing.’ We looked for 10 different fundraising ideas and dragon boat was one of them. We scratched the other nine because we wanted to focus on one, rather than nickel and dime it throughout the year,” he explained.

By focusing on one event, researching the different aspects of making it happen, learning what made the event successful in other communities and selecting the parts that worked best, Fuse Project put themselves on the map.

“The first year we made $100,000 with no employees and just 10 volunteers. We were too naive to know any better or accept the possibility of failure,” Zarzour said.

One challenge to the traditional fundraiser – even one as creative as the dragon boat race – is the initial investment required to make the event happen.

For that first dragon boat race, “We just swiped our credit card and prayed. You have to have a leap of faith and hope for a big return,” Zarzour said, before adding that “It’s not just luck – you have to have a good team wanting to make it happen.”

And the end results are often worth the effort.

“A gala is much more expensive. They are more involved and it takes money to put in … but the return is 3-5 fold or more depending on how well it does with ticket sales, but it’s a lot more effort and it takes a lot more coordinating,” Turner said.

Golf tournaments are equally involved.

“The golf tournament takes months of planning. It’s not a lot of money up front, but it needs a lot of sponsorship and work getting teams secured. It requires more marketing skills getting people to come,” she continued, adding that in addition to the golf tournament and previously held galas, CYT has also held “spirit nights” at local eateries, to moderate success.

“Spirit nights are minimal work for us,” she said, but the returns aren’t as big. The success of spirit nights are measured on a different level. “You can socialize and it’s a win-win for both the company hosting and the organization.”

Funding to meet needs not financial goals

The most effective fundraising depends less on the size of the event as it does reading – and meeting – the community’s needs.

Athletes C.A.R.E. [], a 501(c)3 operating at five different colleges or universities in the Northeast, uses athletics to make a lasting impact on the lives of others by providing assistance and support to the needy, hungry, and homeless.

To do so, they employ a myriad of fundraising options from events of varying size to optimizing the power of the internet.

“We go with the typical fundraising options on the website,” says Laura Zito, executive director of Athletes C.A.R.E. From the Athletes C.A.R.E. website visitors can use the donate button for direct donations via Paypal, print a donation form to send donations by mail or to set the organization as the recipient of AmazonSmile donations when the visitor shops on

The AmazonSmile Foundation donates 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the charitable organizations selected by customers who make purchase through AmazonSmile.

“Around the holidays and high donation times, we send out social media blasts and hope to draw in more donations,” continued Zito.

She added that the organization has found some success using online fundraising known as All-or-Nothing campaigns, the likes of which can be found on sites such as Kickstarter, Indigogo, GoFundMe and WeDidIt. For Zito, the key is open communication about the goal and who will benefit.

“We find most effective to say what the money is going to. With the All-or-Nothing we pick a group or organization that we want the money to go to, we create a video about it, and create an online campaign with a goal as to how much money we want to raise. If we don’t hit that amount, everyone gets their money back. If we do hit it, everything we raise (including anything over) goes to the organization we chose to sponsor,” she explained.

A connection with the community and openness about the end goal cannot be disputed when fundraising, especially at the grassroots level. Many nonprofits across the country look to large internet fundraising opportunities such as the Community Give and Giving Tuesday (the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, following Black Friday and Cyber Monday) as opportunities to boost their coffers. For STEPVA and CYT, the Community Give has been successful, though Monroe points out that each year is different.

“We’ve done the Community Give two years in a row and it was more successful this year. It’s a very nice way to let people know what we’re doing and not difficult for us to promote,” she said, noting that she had two college students helping with public relations and social media. “It’s a very low cost way to get your name out and get recognition that will, in turn, benefit the organization.”

The Community Foundation of the Rappahannock River Region, which organizes the Community Give in which STEPVA and CYT have participated, has decided not to hold it in 2017. In light of that announcement, STEPVA is looking to get involved with Giving Tuesday, and they’re not the only one. Fuse Project is going to give it a try as well.

“We are doing Giving Tuesday for the fist time this year,” said Zarzour. “I have no idea if it will work, because you’re relying on people clicking on your link but people are starting to know us. We’ve heard great success stories and we’ve heard not so great stories.”

As with anything else – from the dragon boat races to online campaigns – each new endeavor for fundraising comes with a bit of risk.

Funding using donor talents

And as with everything else, it’s not advisable to put all of one’s eggs in a single basket. Most nonprofits do not. The collegiate athletes certainly don’t just rely on the internet to fund their endeavors. The Shippensburg University branch organized a couple of 5K runs last year, and both the Boston University and Lafayette College branches held traditional canned food drives. As a whole, the organization has also have found allies within the grocery industry and the corporate world.

“We go through many routes like grants, such as one from Colgate-Palmolive,” she explained, noting that as a group they weren’t aware how many stores, including Wegmans and Shoprite, were willing to help them achieve their goals, even donating left over food to help feed those in the community who need it most. “We didn’t realize we could ask grocery stores for free food. We were able to run a whole event feeding the hungry in Philadelphia just with food that was donated.”

In fact, they have discovered that they could meet their goals with minimal investment – and sometimes without aiming to raise money, specifically.

“I think too often fundraising is synonymous with money. Sometimes you need to spend money but there are times you can make a difference without spending money or even raising money,” Zito added.

What those involved with Athletes C.A.R.E. did already know is sports and the organization has tapped into those skills, creating their 4Hunger clinics, which are easy to organize, take little money – if any – and introduces kids to philanthropy while they’re learning about sports. So far the 4Hunger clinics have been successfully run by soccer, basketball, and track and field teams.

“My favorite is the Kicking4Hunger and Ball4Hunger clinics. Our college athletes at different schools organize one day camps for anyone under the age under 14. Parents can bring kids and canned goods to college campus for a sports clinic,” explained Zito. “All the food collected is donated to local food bank. That’s definitely the most successful for communities. Kids see they can give back without having to give money. We build pyramid to show them just how much they’ve collected and we give them a fun day so they can inspire to do things when they get older.”

Form Connections, Forge Ahead

In the same way Spirit Night at a local establishment helps build the connection between CYT and the local community, the 4Hunger sports clinics provides a basis for Athletes C.A.R.E. to connect with the public. And that is where Zito has seen the additional payoff from the 4Hunger sports clinics.

“With the All or Nothing Campaigns, a lot of people who gave money were families who had kids who had participated in Kicking4Hunger,” Zito explained.

Connecting with others in the community is vital for a nonprofit. For Turner and Monroe, working together and reaching out to the community has benefited both groups.

“One thing with 501(c)(3)s – I see them getting hung up on their needs and their thing instead of partnering [with another nonprofit] and letting it work out to the benefit of both. They’re plugging for their own and they can’t expand themselves to open up,” said Turner. “CYT isn’t a rich organization but we could see how a partnership would benefit both, without worrying about who would get what. You get a bigger picture by expanding the ability for more funds to come in for both organizations and increasing donor pool, or at least exposure, as you fundraise together. You expand your awareness base and you potentially expand your donor base.”

At the very least, connecting well with the community can open doors, sometimes doors that no one realized were closed.

“When you’re young and you don’t really know a lot of people or people don’t want to return phone calls, you have to get on the radar,” said Zarzour. For him and his crew at the Fuse Project, the dragon boat races is what got their name out but they had to capitalize on that success.

“We’ve grown and grown and we were allowed to ask for one meal and people said yes,” he added. That dinner, he explained, was the Light the Fuse dinner. “It was a networking event. We only have had it that one time and it led us to an event we had last month: a CEO-only poker tournament. It was $5000/person to come and … the winner decides to which specific children’s project the proceeds go. They liked being with other CEOs. It was a really neat event we’ll have again in the future.”

Thinking differently about fundraising and networking is certainly helping the Fuse Project team meet their goals and Zarzour thinks many nonprofits could—and should—look at fundraising differently, to maximize their potential and returns.

“We’ve rocked the apple cart in our little town. There are established nonprofits who don’t raise as much money as we do. The vast majority of nonprofits are limited to their audience of those who are passionate about what they do. If we focused only on the people who are passionate about the kids, we’d be limited to a small percent of people. But we have events where people want to come. Eighty percent of people in our post event surveys did it because it’s a fun, outdoor event with friends and coworkers,” he said. “Nonprofits need to get over themselves and their projects to get the next level results, you have to appeal to everyone in the community not just in your own niche.”

Look beyond your niche and, he emphasized, look beyond the everyday events.

“If you’re doing a 5K or a wine dinner or anything that’s being done in your community and you’re competing with [other companies and organizations] over a Thursday night in October, change your strategy. No one is looking for another dinner with a speaker. Reassess and increase your goals. Do a google search and find something like a CEO card game,” he encouraged. Or a dragon boat race.

It’s advice not lost on the leadership behind Athletes C.A.R.E., which knows the necessity of being creative.

“For an organization like ours doing events in a small community, you can’t keep asking for monetary funds because you’ll deplete your options,” said Zito. “It’s more beneficial for the community to think outside the box and do events that bring people in or collect goods, rather than keep asking for money. People will later give money.”

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