The Post-Feasibility Study Reception:
A Capital Idea for Engaging Major Donors

Engaging Image

By Sharon Danosky

Capital campaigns – traditionally the holy grail of fundraising.  And for good reasons.  They allow you to raise significant sums of money in a relatively short period of time for a critical need.  While campaigns have evolved over the years – (they are not always for capital projects, for instance) – they still remain a relevant and critical source of philanthropic revenue.

The question of whether a feasibility study is a valuable part of the pre-campaign planning has been debated for a number of years now.  I subscribe to the school of thought that it is.  And while I am not debating the value of feasibility studies in this blog – I believe one of the primary benefits of the study is the opportunity  to ask your donors for their input on your initiative before you launch it and ask for their support.  And as a consultant who has had numerous conversations with donors over many years – I appreciate the candid and frank responses they giving knowing that their answers will remain anonymous.

Years ago, a donor make a comment during the interview that has stuck with me for years – and actually changed the way I approach doing feasibility studies.  He said to me, “You know, Sharon, I have participated is so many of these studies, and while I always enjoy it and feel they are valuable – I never hear the results of the study.  And I wonder why?”

I wondered why, as well.  So I started recommending that organizations hold a reception for those who participated in the study to be able to share the results.   I believe it provides a valuable opportunity for several reasons:

  1. It shares the results of a study in which they participated
  2. The organization can answer specific questions that were raised during the study
  3. It provides the opportunity to let the donor know you heard what they were saying
  4. If you made changes to the Case for Support as a result of the study – you can let donors know what their changes are
  5. And you can let them know of your decision to proceed (or not) with the campaign and even let them know the level of support from the Board

These receptions can be tailored to the organization and indeed, I have seen some very creative and effective ways my clients have used these forums.  Many even continue the forums as cultivation events with some tweaks and modifications.

Rabi Ari Rosenberg of Temple Sholom in New Milford found that holding these receptions lets his donors see that they’re not alone in supporting his organization. “Many of the opportunities I have to engage our donors are one-on-one. These receptions allow donors to see that they’re in good company with other like-minded people; they’re part of a larger cause.”

Beekley Community Library board member Laura Sunquist had a frank conversation with a donor at the reception following their feasibility study. “There was a major concern on the part of the donor related to a hot button issue. I was able to bring this back to the board for discussion; I never would have had an opportunity for this kind of conversation otherwise.”

The feasibility study is an excellent way of engaging your major donors.  The reception keeps the engagement going.  Both vital to a successful campaign.

I Can’t Believe They Didn’t Run It!
Five Steps to a Good Relationship with the Media

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I was speaking with someone new to the field recently, and they were perplexed that their press releases weren’t getting run in their local paper. So, I told him a story about the first press release I ever sent out. The short version is that when I followed up with the reporter — to complain — I got lambasted. The last thing the reporter said to me was, “Do you have ANY idea how many things I’m working on right now? THIRTY! So pardon the [bleep] out of me if I don’t have time to chase down a quote for your [bleeping, bleeping] BOARD ANNOUNCEMENT!!!” Click…

I learned the hard way that while I may think what I’m sending is top news of the day, others may have different thoughts. So following are five things that will not only increase your chances of getting something in the media, but might also make you some friends:

  1. Look at your relationship with the local press as a long-term one. Take the time to reach out and introduce yourself. Include some brief information about your organization and offer to be a resource. Reporters and editors are always on the lookout for fresh sources.
  2. Make a reporter’s job easy. Write the press release as a story; something you would like to see in the paper. Include quotes. Reporters are typically working on many other stories. So if they can just “plunk it in,” you’ve increased your odds and possibly made a friend for life.
  3. Don’t take things personally when you don’t get in the paper. Getting “bumped” is a common occurrence, especially when it comes to TV stations. You will ALWAYS get “We’ll try to be there, but no promises . . . and call us the day of to remind us.” They’re not kidding. Call.
  4. NEVER send your press release as a pdf. Reporters are always looking to copy & paste. So include all text of your press release in the body of your email (including contact info). You can attach a Word document if you want something that looks prettier. If you’re including photos, attach them and offer captions.
  5. If a reporter calls you, call them back IMMEDIATELY. Since they’re always on deadline, there’s a very good chance that they’re calling a bunch of different people for the same quote. Sometimes they’ll take the first one, and sometimes they’ll take the best. So call back right away, and be prepared.

BONUS TIP: Thank the reporter or editor if they run something of yours – a simple, “hey, thanks for running that story – appreciate it!”. They can surely be gruff with the pressures of reporting – but they’re human. They’ll remember a thank you and just might call you first the next time.

Case Study: Local Residents Vote for a Library and Affirm Their Roles as Shareholders

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It had been almost ten years since a community library in New York had received an increase to its operating budget from the town. Private funding and contributions helped, but the Library was facing a deficit that made it impossible to keep pace with the inflationary costs of salaries and healthcare. The library also feared that it would not be able to continue the quality of services the community had come to expect. In New York State, libraries can’t just request an increase from their town, though. It needs to go before a town-wide ballet and residents vote on whether or not the library should receive an increase (increasing their own taxes). The Library had never undertaken a public awareness campaign. Yet, without an increase in funding, the Library knew it would not be able to continue their level of service.

The Strategy

The Library reached out to Danosky & Associates to build a public awareness campaign that would ensure: 1) the library’s proposition for a budget increase would be included on the ballot in mid-term voting, and 2) the public would be well-informed on the fiscal and community value of the library’s services as they cast their votes. We launched a full engagement and outreach effort by doing the following:

  • Established a core constituency through analysis of library patronage vs. registered voters
  • Developed an online community survey to determine how the local community values its library
  • Used the community survey to prepare talking points and materials for library volunteers as they engaged the community to become the opinion leaders and supporters of the library
  • Implemented a strict timeline to rollout a series of structured marketing initiatives that would lead to an affirmative vote.

The Outcome

Following this eight-month long campaign, the proposition passed by a healthy margin. Not only did residents approve the increase in library funding provided by the town, many more residents learned about all the programs the library offers. And the library came away with information that can be used in future outreach, engagement, and a renewed vision of services.

Lessons Learned

  • The library gained valuable insight to the needs and expectations of its neighborhoods through a community assessment, engagement of key library stakeholders and volunteers, and recruitment of new members. It also learned how important it is to reach beyond its primary service area, as one area didn’t have as much support for the initiative because they weren’t included in the door-to-door outreach.
  • Boots on the Ground is not only effective in a campaign of this type, but it’s crucial to building trust. Library volunteers attended local civic meetings to present the campaign and answer questions; this put faces to the names associated with the library. Local businesses showed their support by agreeing to display window flyers which were branded for the library’s campaign and rotated on a monthly basis to inform the public on its programs and services.
  • When the public votes to tax themselves for a public library service, public libraries are generally better funded. This also allows residents to come away from an affirmative vote as not only a future patron, but a shareholder as well.

We want to hear from you! If there is any topic you would like us to explore, please send your inquiries to info@danosky.com! See more of our blogs to read more of what we’re passionate about!

When $1,000 is better than $1,000,000

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By Sharon Danosky

In a small town in Litchfield County, CT there is a fundraising festival called KentPresents which brings philanthropists together to learn about the local nonprofits and the work they do. They raise funds and give about $125,000 in grants to smaller, local organizations. Many of the grants are around $1,000. A relatively small amount, to be sure. But for many organizations – it can mean the difference between providing vital services or not. [Read more…]

Danosky & Associates Offers the Nuts & Bolts of Staying Afloat in Challenging Times

“I never served on a board and learned quite a bit about the purpose, the roles, the makeup, and the effectiveness. I plan to brief our organization on this and hopefully we can make some small improvements.”

“As a new organization, we can begin cultivating donors with a solid understanding of how to best retain them as supporters for years to come.”

These are the thoughts from attendees of the capacity building workshops facilitated recently by Danosky & Associates.

The work of nonprofits is more than important, it is crucial and life saving. But every day can be a struggle to maintain funding and quality services. Nonprofits need to stay on top of skills that will ensure not only their survival in these difficult times, but their growth as well.

IMG_8851Community foundations and experienced facilitators can provide useful, relevant tools through focused workshops — in this case, a series of capacity building workshops for smaller to mid-sized nonprofit organizations.

Danosky & Associates facilitated a series of these intensive workshops from April through October for Greater New Britain nonprofits, offering a top-to-bottom view on how to survive and thrive in challenging times. [Read more…]