Cashing in on a Promising Fundraising Year

Cashing in on a Promising Fundraising Year

July 28, 2015

When fundraising staff members at the Brooklyn Community Foundation look at the development that’s come to the borough in recent years—new residents, businesses, tech startups—they see dollar signs.

“Increasingly, affluent people are choosing to live here. … We see that as an opportunity for ourselves,” said Sarah Shannon, director of philanthropy and donor services for the nonprofit. “Brooklyn has become a global brand which brings a lot of attention to what’s going on here.”

Shannon and her colleagues—who cited a healthier economic outlook and strong financial markets as the main reasons for their optimism—are not alone in thinking this year’s outlook is better than last year’s. According to an annual survey conducted for Crain’s New York Business by the New York chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, about 57 percent of New York-area fundraisers agree.

Several development professionals who spoke with New York Nonprofit Media said keeping donors involved and engaged with the mission of their organization is the best way to keep funds flowing.

Message and mission

The Brooklyn Community Foundation—which receives 80 percent of its donations from individuals—said one way to keep donors engaged is by hosting frequent dinners and meetings where they talk about their three main initiatives: investing in youth, community building and strengthening neighborhoods. The organization says part of its mission is to harness the resources of the community in order to provide assistance to smaller organizations.

“That’s been something we’ve found donors are very interested in—being involved in how (we’re) making decisions,” Shannon said.

At Housing Works, an advocate organization for people living with HIV and AIDS, Sarah Morrow, director of major gifts, said staff members take every opportunity to connect with donors. This year, all donors were invited to march along with the Housing Works team in the New York City Pride Parade.

“Anyone who gives to an organization wants to feel good about it,” Morrow said. “They want to be in the loop.”

The organization, which is headquartered in Brooklyn and has offices in Albany, Washington, D.C., and Haiti, was founded in 1990, opened its first thrift shop in 1995 and has expanded to 13 New York City stores featuring books, clothing and furniture. But its identity has remained the same over the last 25 years. 

Many nonprofits say social media, crowdfunding and direct mail campaigns have been successful, but fundraising events that bring people together continue to be a major source of income.

Every November, Housing Works hosts its Fashion for Action fundraiser, “essentially a fabulous sample sale,” Morrow said, and in April the organization hosts another fundraiser called Design on a Dime. “These big events are our huge moneymakers," she added, raising a combined $1.7 million in 2014.

To take advantage of this year’s positive fundraising outlook, the Children’s Museum of Manhattan is hosting two fundraisers rather than the one fundraiser they hold most years. In addition to the spring gala the organization regularly hosts for its major individual donors, it plans to host a family-oriented Sunday Funday targeting corporate donors.

“We certainly are very optimistic,” said Callie Siegel, director of development for the museum. “For us, it’s also about segmenting our donor base.”

Reaching out online

Anita Fee Willis, chief development officer at America Needs You, an education nonprofit that helps further the career goals of low-income students who are the first in their families to attend college, said fundraising prospects look good as the organization gears up for its annual gala in October.

“Education is a fast-growing sector,” Willis said. “Over these past few years there’s been an increase in giving.”

For the first time this year, the organization, decided to tap into its alumni base across the country through an online campaign on the crowdfunding site CrowdRise.

“That was a way to engage our younger donors in peer-to-peer competition,” Willis said. The campaign raised $8,425.

Siegel said the Children Museum of Manhattan’s recent crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo named “America to Zanzibar: Muslim Cultures Near & Far” has been an interesting pilot project. The campaign aimed to raise money for an exhibition about the diversity of Muslim cultures.

“How can you motivate people around a specific cause to give at any level?” Siegel said.

The campaign was 76 percent funded as of July 20.

But online fundraising doesn’t work all the time.

Housing Works’ Morrow said she has found social media works well in engaging an audience around an event, but it isn’t easy to convince people to click on a link and donate.

She said social media fundraising does work for organizations that are raising money for an immediate need such as a disaster, or a trending campaign like last year’s viral ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. But “for us, it’s not the same,” she said.

Overcoming challenges

MJHS, a provider of hospice and palliative care, as well as rehabilitation and nursing care, has historically been able to rely on income from insurance reimbursements, said its chief development officer, Linda Schur Scalettar. But as the reimbursement structure shifted due to changes in health care, with payment rates decreasing as demand for patient care rises, she said “the need for our fundraising has grown.” 

Scalettar, who has been with the nonprofit for about 10 months, said it’s hard to predict how this year will turn out, but she is working as hard as she can to build the organization’s donor base. Part of the difficulty is motivating people to donate for hospice and end-of-life care.

“A lot of donors shy away from it,” she said. Another challenge is turning first-time donors who give in memory of a loved one into regular donors. 

Scalettar has a lot of fundraising ideas, including reaching out to families of the organization’s patients, reaching out to younger generations and reaching out to caregivers. She is looking at innovative ways to connect with potential donors through the memory of their loved one. 

“I think, for us, there is great potential that hasn’t been tapped,” she said.


Alice Popovici