Nonprofit Fundraising Tips from Leading Experts

The following interviews, conducted by Ben Killian, seek to understand:

  • If creative entrepreneurs typically seek capital in starting their organizations
    • OR if leaders of nonprofit leaders, how they raise funds
  • What ways they may have done so, if applicable
  • What advice they have for aspiring creative entrepreneurs. 

John Killian has served as the Chairman of the Board for Parent Project Muscular Jogn KillianDystrophy in the past and is a current member of the board.

Ben: “Have you sought funding for your organization?”

John: “Yes”

Ben: “In what ways have you sought funding for your organization?”

John: “We have sought funding for our organization through several means including grassroots fundraising events, friends and family, and through government grants.”

Ben: “What funding pursuits have proved most effective and why?”

John: “A combination of government grants, and grassroots events. The government grants were successful because they raised a significant amount of money, however, they were only for very specific purposes. The grassroots fundraising events raised a good amount of money for unlimited use for the organization.”

Ben: “What three pieces of advice do you have for aspiring nonprofit entrepreneurs?”

John: “First, start with a plan. Without a plan, you spend a lot of time and effort working on things that don’t ever seem to get anywhere. Next, make sure you find people who are committed to your organization to work both as paid employees, and as volunteers. And finally, know what success looks like, and always make sure what you are doing is working towards that success.”

Kimberly Galberaith is the current Chief Operating Officer of Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.

Ben: “Have you sought funding for your organization?”

Kimberly: “Yes I have sought funding.”

Ben: “In what ways have you sought funding for your organization?”

Kimberly: “I have sought everything from major gifts, to grassroots fundraising events, corporate support, sponsorships, as well as in-honor-of gifts and in-memory-of gifts.”

Ben: “What funding efforts have proved most effective and why?”

Kimberly: “Well, for us, community fundraising is very successful because we have a very dedicated and passionate community. Because our cause has such a limited number of families, they actually are more engaged because of the need. We have been very successful with family-run fundraising events, as well as our marathon programs and our race programs.”

Ben: “What three pieces of advice do you have for aspiring nonprofit entrepreneurs regarding raising funds?”

Kimberly: “I would say, the first bit of advice would be to really know the audiences you are approaching for money. When you are talking to your community members, making sure what you are raising money for is relatable to them, that they can understand what the need is. I would say the second thing is donor fatigue. I would say make sure you have a really well thought out plan regarding who you ask when you ask and how often you ask. You have to ask enough, but you don’t want to ask that one extra too many times or you will have what is called donor fatigue, and everything will topple. And I think really being able to tell the story; It’s not just about sometimes the flashy news article about whatever the topic is, it’s about how you put in context for your donor. So for instance, for us, if there is a major breakthrough or some new drug or some clinical trial everybody is talking about, and the company puts out a press release, It’s our job to say to the community, ‘here’s the press release, but here’s what it means for you’. Being able to tell that story is what keeps donors interested. And then I know you only asked for three, but the fourth bit is always to be very grateful, and thankful. Our motto is ‘thank before you bank’, and that we always make sure to reach out to our donors and make sure to do the very best job we can to let them know how important every dollar is whether its $20 or $250,000.”

Kaylan Moitoso is the Senior Vice President of Development for Parent Project Kaylan MoitosoMuscular Dystrophy.

Ben: “Have you sought funding for your organization?”

Kaylan: “Yes.”

Ben: “In what ways have you sought funding for your organization?”

Kaylan: “So, very many ways, and I guess I can categorize them in a few key ways. One is individual donors, and individual donors have a few prongs within that category. Those are individuals who give through campaigns that we organize such as our holiday campaign, which you might see, the in-home mailers, and then the series of emails that go out. So we have several campaigns where we have intentional donation asks throughout the year, and we have individual donations that we have come through from our constituents, so friends, family, and others who know the organization. Within that individual donor [group] we also have sort of mid and major level gift givers, and those individuals aren’t always responding to a general appeal like our holiday campaign, but rather have a vested interest in the organization overall, and give more significantly, and by more significantly I mean sort of above those ranges that we would ask for from a general campaign. We consider ‘mid’ sort of $10,000-plus individual gifts at any point throughout the year, and major would obviously be a lot higher than the — ten so probably about a hundred — like six-figure potential donors, so that’s sort of the second prong. We’ve got the general campaigns, we’ve got the individual donors, and then sort of a hybrid response. Especially at PPMD, we have a lot of family foundations. Sometimes when individuals are diagnosed with Duchenne they begin their own foundation because the disease is obviously so specific to a person and how it manifests. So, sometimes if you want to move the pipeline a little bit more aggressively, depending on whether or not you are amenable to nexon skip or sort of what your genetic mutation is, people start family foundations. So we actually see quite a bit of money come from family foundations, and they aren’t technically individual donors because they are foundations. But in our world, they are still very much linked to families, so we sometimes consider those individual donors since they come through that individual we know, rather than from your typical foundation. So, those are sort of the prongs of individual donors, and then a quick segue into foundations; we also seek some support from foundations — so foundations that aren’t necessarily those families that we know, but foundations across the country that give to health and research organizations. We see some nice income from them, and sometimes we have foundations that find us through other constituents, and other donors and they invite us to apply. So foundation income is yet another way that we seek support for the organization. And then we also seek support from industry partners here at PPMD. We’ve got about twenty-plus different pharmaceutical partners in the space right now. Obviously, our goal at PPMD is to move the therapeutic pipeline forward so we engage with these partners to help get that those therapies through that pipeline into clinical trials and into patients as quick as we can. As part of that, we actually seek support from them in order to accomplish our mission which really ultimately helps their end goal as well. We qualify it as corporate income, but its specific to our industry partners. And then we see other general sorts of corporate support as well from companies that have come to know us through friends or families, or through corporate matching, and then we have pretty standard turnkey events. We have our grassroots events and we have our endurance racing events. We have a grassroots fundraising program and within that program we see events that raise $500,000-300,000. That, I think, adequately describes our fundraising mix here at PPMD. We have foundation, individual and corporate, but then there’s sort of subcategories within all those.”

Ben: “Which of these pursuits has proved most effective and why?”

Kaylan: “Oh, that’s tough. So if you look at dollars and cents, our individual donors are more than 60% of our fundraising portfolio, so if you’re looking at where the money is coming from then individual donors are the most successful, but I don’t know if you can make a fair comparison amongst the types of investment. Partially because we are very intentional about how much time, and how much income we will accept from corporate entities because we want to ensure that we are transparent and that the optics of accepting, especially industry money, never bring the organization into a negative spotlight. I think some of our most successful fundraising endeavors come through things like our run program, and that’s because it accomplishes almost a threefold goal. One, PPMD is getting our name out there through means that aren’t necessarily related to people with duchenne our their families. We gain have been able to onboard some corporate partners who are interested in reaching more than our target audience. And, I think it serves a good purpose for the donor. So what I’ve heard time and time again is that when you deal with a Duchenne diagnosis, you often times need to channel your energy in a certain way, and the run program helps do that.

Ben: “What are your three pieces of advice for anybody aspiring to enter the nonprofit sector as an entrepreneur or a new nonprofit?”

Kaylan: “Well first, roll up your sleeves, and no job is too small in the nonprofit world. You see the most success when you work with a team that realizes that it is really really hard work to exist as a nonprofit. Sometimes you are working with limited resources, and you are judged on your overhead. Second, donor-centricity is not an option. You have to remember that your donors come to you with a very specific purpose and you need to ensure that they feel valued. The donor needs to be your priority. Third, you have to have the passion. Sometimes, working as hard as you do in this sector that isn’t as financially rewarding as others can be, you need to keep focused on why it is you are doing what you are doing. You have to go into this sector knowing that the days may be long, and some of the things you do may be totally crazy, but if you have the passion and the commitment maintaining that drive is easy.

Analysis: It appears to me that there are a few key things that help to gain support in the nonprofit sector. Individual donors appear to be integral to nonprofits because they provide a large portion of the funds, they provide connections, and they spread the organization through word of mouth. In attaining donors, it is important to consider who you are asking, and what you are asking for. Making your “ask” understandable, reasonable, and specific to the person or demographic you are asking makes the donor feel that their contribution is important, and makes a difference. Once a donor has given to the organization, it is critical to show the organization’s gratitude. Personalized, and prompt thank you’s are necessary to ensure continued support from the donor. It was also abundantly evident to me that those with close ties to the organization or that share the same passion to achieve the organization’s goal are incredible assets to the organization. Grassroot events and family foundations serve PPMD very well, and I believe this is because each grassroot event or family foundation has a unique ability to engage their local community as opposed to a national organization. In the case of PPMD, boys affected by the disease provide local fundraisers with a face with which to humanize their ask, and personal, and moving reason to donate. In conclusion, the key to securing and maintaining donor support is establishing a personal connection between the organization’s goals and projects, and the donor as well as making the donor feel appreciated and impactful.

This interview process is part of SMU Meadows’ class Creative Entrepreneurship and Attracting Capital.

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