According to Larry C. Johnson’s Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising, few non-profit organizations see their donors as investors. Often times a non-profit will focus on events where donors get some kind of premium for their one-time donation. Johnson ask us to re-imagine this — to move from a transactional construct to one that is more relational. When we ask people to give, we are inviting them to partner with us, to share in our vision and support our mission and programmatic goals. Before any event we should be asking: Does the event fit in with our mission? Is it worth the time, volunteer and staff effort, and upfront costs? How will we continue to engage our donors afterward? Regardless of the event, be it outreach or fundraising focused, it’s helpful to have a donor management system in place beforehand, to capture data and continue engagement post-event.
My center, the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, has held multiple fundraising and outreach events — a concert with an out of town performer who’d played previous benefits for our local NAMI chapter; a semicolon tattoo event — almost 100 people got permanent ink of henna tattoos that evening; hosting the film “The Mask You Live In”, a documentary about the risks of toxic masculinity, at our local art house theater; and a golf tournament this summer.
We have learned that the best fundraisers are the ones with the lowest initial overhead and the least amount of logistical work!
We have learned to not be too attached to dollar amounts, but to see these events first and foremost as outreach and volunteer engagement/recruitment opportunities. The concert required the most work and capital outlay, and we just broke even financially. We saw it as an overall success as the press surrounding the event did a lot to raise awareness of our service, and bring more prospective volunteers through our doors. The tattoo and film fundraisers were fairly easy to stage, cost relatively little up front and raised decent money between them. Finally, our golf fundraiser was hosted and staged by a person who had lost a family member to suicide some years prior and approached us with the offer.
We also held an outreach event at a local arts festival where we created “listening stations” (booths with hard wired phones inside and out). One trained volunteer inside each booth played a caller with a thought provoking but non-suicidal/ on-super acute crisis story to tell. We asked participants to pick up the phone and simply listen, while our volunteers, in role, shared their stories. The volunteer then thanked the participant for listening.
With the exception of the concert, our goal with each of these events is to have them be, if possible, “The First Annual…” which lowers the logistical bar for us for next year, and starts to build culture, community and history around each event, both within our shop and in our larger community.
Get creative! Ask your volunteers, staff, and local community members for ideas that fit with your mission! Most of all, have fun with it. Treat your volunteers, staff, and participants well, make the most of community engagement opportunities presented, and keep up the dialogue with all of your new and existing partners/ investors! If you are considering a semicolon tattoo event, keep in mind that an organization called Project Semicolon has trademarked some of the associated imagery and verbiage. We reached out to them and got permission in writing before moving forward with the event.
Guest blogger John Reusser is Director of the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline, and serves on the Board of Directors for CONTACT USA. John is also a member of the Idaho Council on Suicide Prevention, a board member of the Livewilder Foundation, and Certified ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) Trainer and a licensed Designated Examiner.Continue Reading