Fundraising can take place at several levels, from million-dollar campaigns to home-spun spaghetti dinners. However, no matter how large or small, a successful event begins with a solid plan.
"There are four elements that contribute to a successful campaign," said Charles Bentz chairman of the Bentz Group, a national fundraising company based in Warren. "The first is the product. Is it going to be used for a meaningful endeavor? In a campaign, you are the steward of the donors' money. This responsibility cannot be taken lightly. The answers to these two questions are the foundation for the case statement, which is basically a prospectus explaining the project's history, where it is at the present and where the institution wants to go.
"The second element is a well-educated board of directors or trustees. They are the key players. Often being well-intentioned and charitable in giving their time and energy, they may not know the fundraising process, so they need to be enlightened, educated in the fundraising process as it were."
Bentz said that the third component and probably the most important is leadership.
"Who leads the campaign? Who takes the front line in communicating the campaign to the public? Getting the right leadership is critical to a successful campaign," he said.
And fourth, according to Bentz, are volunteers.
"Fund Raising Insights" magazine offers these hints for a successful local fundraiser:
1. Fundraising is a big job, so don't try to do everything yourself. Delegate as many tasks as you can to other volunteers. And remember, the actual raising of funds should never rest on the shoulders of just one or two people.
2. Don't select a fundraising project just because a lot of members said it sounded like a good idea. Do some research. Get the data and see what the results were.
3. Avoid risk. Fundraisers that require your organization to buy a large quantity of products ahead of time can be dangerous, unless you're absolutely sure you can sell everything. Find out what your up-front expenses are, and how quickly and easily you can earn them back.
4. Be creative. Don't settle on a relative handful of fundraising techniques over and over again. You may find that if you look at some creative options, you'll make more money, and everyone involved will have a lot more fun in the process.
5. Take good care of your volunteers. Don't ask too much of them, because it's very easy to get burned out.
6. Reward your volunteers. They're not getting a paycheck, but it is nice to get some recognition and a pat on the back every now and then.
7. Keep your group social. People may be participating in your group because they believe in the cause, but they also want to have a social experience.
8. Don't let things get bogged down in committee. Keep your committees small, with only a small representative sampling of the larger group. Larger committees will be inefficient.
9. Keep scrupulous records. Bookkeeping and record-keeping may be one of the more boring parts of being a fundraising coordinator, but it's nonetheless essential.
10. Always make yourself available whenever possible. Volunteers may need to contact you with a question or problem, so make sure your personal contact information is available to everyone involved.
"Volunteers make up the fundamental cornerstone of the campaign," he said. "For the most part, fundraising is volunteer-driven for both large and small campaigns."
Bentz said that as a national fundraising firm, the Bentz Group provides full-service counsel to not-for-profit institutions throughout the United States and specializes in the management of capital and endowment campaigns. Currently, the firm is engaged in a campaign with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society's new facility, the Mahoning Valley History Center. A goal of $6 million has been targeted, which includes $4 million in capital and $2 million in endowment funding.
For large fundraising campaigns, Bentz said the focus needs to be on four areas: individual giving, corporate giving, foundations and the government.
"America is very unique. Americans are the most generous people in the world," Bentz said regarding the world's philanthropic marketplace. "They give and give and give."
He pointed out that in 2007, benevolent giving was $306 billion in funds. "No other country leads in volunteerism. Interestingly, 80 percent of funds raised came from individuals."
With the current downturn in the economy, nonprofits are somewhat less optimistic about the present and future fundraising climates than they were six months and one year ago, according to the Philanthropic Giving Index, released recently by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. In the latest survey, all three of the main indexes (overall PGI, Present Situation Index and Expectations Index) fell from their previous levels.
"The percentage of fundraisers reporting a negative impact of the economy on giving has grown significantly," said Patrick M. Rooney, director of research at the Center on Philanthropy.
"Just over 83 percent of fundraisers reflect that view now, as opposed to 48 percent six months ago. For some corporations and donors with lower or fixed incomes, philanthropy may be seen as a kind of luxury good. Nonprofits could be recognizing that dynamic and are seeing reduced fundraising success in the short-term."
Bentz said no matter the size of the effort, planning is the key. He explained that for a campaign with a goal of $1 million, the "quiet phase" is the initial planning and requires six to 12 months.
Yet the same principles apply to campaigns with smaller goals. This past summer, St. Stephen School in Niles held its fourth annual Father John Gubser Memorial Golf Outing, which raised approximately $4,000.
Principal Paula Ekis said that the school tries to do only four large fundraisers a year. The school, which has a strict policy that students do not sell any products or solicit funds, believes that children "need to put their emphasis on education, not raising money."
Fundraising is left to the parents and adults of the parish.
Golf Outing Chairman Nick Salapata explained that he relies on a group of about 20 volunteers. Each year, the planning process starts in April and culminates with the outing in early August.
"During the initial planning stages of April through June, the committee meets once every three weeks. In July, we meet once a week," Salapata said. "Not only are we planning the day of the golf outing, but we are also discussing goals, donations, menus, hole sponsorships and other contributions. The one thing we are careful in doing is not to tap the same sponsors as the school's Luck of the Irish fundraiser, which is usually held in March."
Salapata said that in addition to a round of golf, the fundraiser also features a hole-in-one contest, with the grand prize of a new car; a closest-to-the-pin contest and a 50/50 raffle, which are all coordinated by the volunteers.
After the event, Salapata said, the committee meets to critique the fundraiser and then sets goals for the next year.
"The committee does it all-from the initial planning stages, the setup at the golf course, the publicity, prizes and food. The volunteers make it possible," he said.