7 ways fundraising can be a powerful program tool

The idea that raising money is a great way to strengthen your programs isn’t often discussed in nonprofit circles.

Yes, yes, we’d all agree that your programs are funded by the money you raise and thus are strengthened in that way.

But that’s not what I’m describing. I’m making a case that the fundraising process itself, in particular, donor relationship building, is program building, and not just the means to an ends.

7 Ways Fundraising Can Strengthen Your Programming

  1. You get out the door and talk to your constituents — the best way to get feedback on the issues and concerns that matter to them.
  2. You see the real life, real people impact of your work.
  3. You can educate your constituents — and key influencers —  about the importance of your issues and your solutions.
  4. You can build long-term, good faith relationships that help you weather short-term program storms.
  5. You create powerful allies and an ready constituency for your public policy reform.
  6. Over and over, you are forced to confront the quality, design and impact of your programs.
  7. You continuously test your relevance to your community.

Here’s an example:

When I was development director at a regional environmental organization, my Executive Director and I set out to meet as many of our business donors as we could. Among our donors were many small businesses who gave $50-$250 annually.

This wasn’t surprising as the organization had successfully run a classic annual corporate giving campaign for many years (campaign chair, captains, teams, etc). As both of us were new in our positions, we were eager to meet these donors.

Many were manufacturers, including metal platers, as our region had historically been a big producer of costume jewelry. Metal platers had historically been notorious water polluters. Our organization had aggressively pushed for the toughest standards for industrial pretreatment to force these manufacturers to remove these metals and other toxins from their water discharges into our rivers and Bay.

(Aside: For those of you who get discouraged at the impact you are having, this has been one of the great success stories of environmental regulation. From 1981 to 2008, discharge of toxic metals and cyanide into the two main sewer systems had declined by 97%.”)

But at the time that we were visiting these manufacturers, the battles over industrial pretreatment were still fresh.  Cautiously they let us into their plants and shared their stories with us.

The two of us walked many a shop floor and looked at a lot of industrial pretreatment. What we found were business owners who loved the Bay as much as any environmentalist. They were boaters and swimmers and fishing enthusiasts who also loved our state. That’s why they contributed to our organization. While they didn’t always like the positions we took, most of these owners were working very hard to comply with environmental regulations. They were proud to show us their newly installed pretreatment systems and their continuing experiments to “be green” (long before that was a recognized business strategy).

What we also learned was that this wasn’t simple. Too often, as these business owners and their environmental compliance officers reported, the regulations that were supposed to push them along their path were holding them back. Promising innovations weren’t allowed. By complying with one set of regulations they often found themselves wading into a different quagmire with more onerous regulations and hugely costly paperwork.

After dozens of these conversations, my Executive Director emerged with a new perspective on the unintended local impact of what appeared to be well-crafted law and regulations. As a result of his knowledge, Carol Browner, the new Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, invited him to serve on the metal-finishing subcommittee of her aptly named “Common Sense Initiative,” a national project designed to cut paperwork and simplify environmental regulations at the same time advancing environmental protection and fostering industry innovation.

All of which started with our simple goal of wanting to get to know our donors a little bit better.

(By the way, many increased their gifts into the $500-$2,500 range. At least two of the manufacturers became major financial supporters of the organization, giving over $10,000 annually).

6 responses to 7 ways fundraising can be a powerful program tool

  1. Stacy Reynolds

    Excellent example. Thanks to Gayle Gifford for Tweeting the link.

    Too often fundraisers are seen as “problems” by the program side. What an excellent demonstration of fundraising and programs meetings to come to a better place.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      You are welcome. I agree. I’ve always been confused as to why there is such a divide in many organizations between the program and fundraising sides of the organization… though I’ve experienced it myself.

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