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November 27, 2001 - 20 Fund-Raising Tips From Blacktie Panel

What: Panel discussion:

Where: Westin Tabor Center

When: November 27, 2001

Beneficiary: Blacktie members and all Colorado Nonprofits

Host(s): Blacktie-Denver.com, Westin Tabor Center

EMCEE: Kenton Kuhn, Blacktie COO

Attendance: 400

Blacktie Photos by: Elizabeth Byrnes


 Blacktie-Denver.com, co-host to the Ask the Experts Seminar
Blacktie-Denver.com, co-host to the Ask the Experts Seminar

How can nonprofits find funding during the economic recession?

The job will be difficult, but not impossible, five experts in the field of charitable giving told an audience of 375 on Nov. 27 at the Westin Tabor Center. The event was sponsored by Blacktie and the Westin.

Blacktie-Denver.com provides Denver nonprofits with programming services via the Internet, including communications software, a perpetual calendar of fundraising events and story and photo coverage of the events.

Economist Tucker Hart Adams, auto dealer Mike Shaw, investment banker Walt Imhoff, Sally Rippey of the Coors Foundation, Joni Baird of US Bank and marketing expert Gary Wright addressed the topic.

Among their top 20 tips:

1. Reaffirm your mission. If you’re straying into non-critical areas, it’s costing you money.

2. Bring your 50 biggest donors into your office, one by one, thank them, solicit their opinions, and tell them their help is needed now more than ever.

3. Urge donors to be creative. Suggest they divert money from their advertising and marketing budgets to charitable giving.

4. Cut your expenses.

5. Be specific about your needs. When Easter Seals recently told its donors it would have to close its therapy pool because of low funds, donors ponied up promptly.

6. Re-evaluate your programs. Ask your board members: “What aren’t we doing well?”

7.Remember board members are key to your success. They are your ambassadors, and you must convince them to lean on their influential contacts on your behalf.

8.Consider zero-based budgeting. It forces you to prioritize your spending and focus on your mission. Answer the question, “Where would my first dollar go?”

9.Don’t feel sorry for yourself if donors turn you down. Be gracious, thank them, and try again next year.

10.Don’t treat your donors as if they were money machines. Let them know you’re genuinely grateful for their gifts.

11. Dated mailing lists with old addresses cost you time money. Clean them up.

12. Prime the pump: continually build your donor base by cultivating younger people.

13. Remember fund-raising is a process of relationship building. Donors have to know and trust you before they’ll give.

14. Know your donors’ phase of life. They’re much likelier to give after their kids are well out of school, they’ve sold their business, etc.

15. Listen to your critics. They impart valuable information about your competitors.

16. When seeking grants for capital campaigns, make your case statements “laser sharp.”

17.Think twice about hiring national-name entertainment for your gala. They can take a big bite out of your proceeds.

18.Figure out what pushes donors’ emotional buttons, and base your appeal around them. The current wave of patriotism is a good example. Americans are grateful for this country; tap into that.

19. Use your board members and volunteers to get inside corporations where they work. More and more, corporations follow the lead of their employees and give to charities their employees support.

20. Stay in touch with your best donors. Find out what motivates them.

Kenton Kuhn of Blacktie-Denver.com urged representatives of the 225 nonprofits in attendance to broaden their donor bases. “Instead of one $10,000 donor, you may have to look for ten $1,000 donors,” he said.

Mr. Kuhn also predicted that for nonprofits to stay competitive, they must take advantage of Internet efficiencies to communicate. Postage and paper costs will only increase, he said. And as nonprofits broaden their bases, they will be working with Internet-savvy donors. Embrace the Internet, Mr. Kuhn advised. “Don’t be analog in a digital world!”

Tucker Hart Adams, chief economist for US Bank, started the program off with grim pronouncement that Colorado is squarely in the throes of a downturn. And it won’t be short. “I think we’re in for several difficult months,’’ possibly as many as 18, she said.

Dr. Adams predicted the U.S. jobless rate may hit 7 percent. That, coupled with “consumer debt at the highest level it’s ever been in this country,” are major obstacles for a turnaround.

She said Colorado “will be fortunate if holiday sales match last year’s,” and added that another terrorist attack or expanded war in the oil-producing Middle East would only deepen the recession.

“What Sept. 11 introduced into the economy was uncertainty,” she said.

Walt Imhoff told the audience the corporate-gifts outlook is not pretty. “Colorado corporations lost $7 billion in the first six months of this year,” he said. Last year, they were up $2 billion. “If that doesn’t affect corporate giving, I don’t know what will.”

Nonprofits should not expect airlines to donate as many airline tickets for silent auctions, he added, because the industry projects a $6.8 billion loss this year.

Tighten your belts, he told the nonprofits, and never forget that nothing can replace hard-working, well-respected, personable board members. “Choose your boards carefully,” he said. “In the end, people relate to people.”

There are pockets of money, even in these tough times, Mr. Imhoff added. His wife Georgia was able to procure a $25,000 gift for the Kempe Foundation recently because she had the courage to ask. “They’d never been asked before,” he said of the donors.

Mike Shaw told the audience to run their nonprofits like businesses. He said there are no silver bullets – only persistence and hard work. When times are tough, you have to “come earlier, stay later, work harder and execute better.” “Cut your expenses.”

His best advice was to “find 50 rainmakers (among your donors), bring them into your office, one at a time, thank them, get their opinions and advice…..and say, ‘we need your help more than ever.’”

Gary A. Wright, who owns and operates a direct mail company, made several points about donors: find out what motivates them and capitalize on it, time your requests according to the life phase they are in (Are their children well out of college? Have they recently settled an estate?), and don’t forget to cultivate young donors. “It’s all about relationship building,” he said.

Mr. Wright also emphasized the importance of thanking your donors regularly and sincerely. “Don’t treat them like money machines.”

Joni Baird, director of community relations for US Bank, receives hundreds of requests for grants. Her interest was piqued when she noticed how many nonprofit capital campaigns were underway in Colorado, and she did an unofficial survey of them. She found that 83 organizations are seeking $1.7 billion in funding.

Those projects will only increase the competition for donor funds, she said.

“If you plan a capital campaign, make sure you have a real need, and know who your donors are,” she said. “Your case statement is absolutely critical,” she added. “It must be laser sharp.” Sally Rippey, executive director of the Adolph Coors Foundation, urged nonprofits to “make sure to communicate that what you do is vital, not just important.”

“The coming year is not going to be easier,” she said.

But the good news is that the well is deep. “We’ve only scratched the surface of available donors in the United States,” she said. “People will give if you give them the opportunity to validate their values.”

Americans at this point are hungry to help, Mrs. Rippey said. “If we could (channel) patriotism into volunteerism, we’d have it made.”

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