An audience hushes as the lights dim. Suddenly footlights blaze and a musical blooms like a brilliant flower onstage.
Across town, weary but pleased volunteers survey the day’s efforts as an ecstatic family anticipates moving into their very own home.
Meanwhile, the latest imaging technology shows a doctor at a non-profit hospital exactly where a child’s bone is broken from a bicycle fall.
None of these scenarios plays out without financial support from fund raising, and that calls for clear goals and careful planning, say non-profits and corporate donors.
Leigh Morris, past president and CEO of IU Health La Porte Hospital for 21 years and their current consultant, says people need to know why they’re donating. “Not creating a solid case statement is a huge mistake. It’s more than a mission statement — it’s why you’re worthy of philanthropic support.”
Getting to know you
At Theater at the Center in Munster, Ind., marketing director Patty Bird says fund raising never stops, from fall subscription campaigns to special events to grant proposals.
And relationships count. Morris, who was also mayor of La Porte from 2004-2008, said it’s important to develop a personal relationship with individuals and corporations, “by making personal contacts, giving them information, and making them feel like members of the hospital family. Invite them to special events, not necessarily to ask them for money, but letting them know they’re important to the hospital, and that their needs are important to us.”
Those who benefit from fund raising can also further those relationships, said Dan Klein, executive director for Habitat for Humanity Northwest Indiana. “An individual who had received one of our homes made personal calls to donors, letting them know that because of them, she had received a home — an important way to encourage people to continue to donate.”
Bird said a Friends of the Theatre campaign is in October so donors’ names can appear in the first playbill of the season. Special events needn’t be tied to the non-profit’s mission, though. Bird said the annual Casino Night Gala is popular (details at theatreatthecenter.com), and Klein says his Habitat for Humanity affiliate will have a third annual 5k walk/run Oct. 12; a new event will be a dinner/theater show with a silent auction (details at nwyhabitat.org).
Morris advises, “Have a good database, in which you incorporate as much information as possible (about past and future donors)."
Going for the grant
Grants can be a major source of revenue. Bird said Valparaiso University has a philanthropic hub that allows people in the community to access a huge database of grant opportunities. She partners with the theater’s business manager and uses an all-inclusive template for grants. “We’re also fortunate to have grant writing support from the Indiana Community Foundation.”
Morris said it’s very important to have a grant writer, to research and make the proposals, and that in fact, “There are grants out there that go unspoken for.”
Klein has seen some grants become fewer and harder to get. Whirlpool Foundation’s website informs that no applications are presently being accepted for new grant funding, though it is trying to keep going with organizations with which they already have a relationship.
“We have seen many new organizations reach out to us as other funders may no longer have the ability to provide grants to certain non-profits,” said Rick Calinski, public affairs manager for NIPSCO. But Calinski, whose territory includes Lake and Porter counties and Pine Village area in Indiana, adds “I don't think the economy has affected NIPSCO's ability to accept grant applications. However, we really look at organizations that don't only rely on our funds and have a strong history of positively impacting their community.”
Establishing a foundation and an endowment are ways to build reputation and enhance financial stability. “One of the first things I did here was to see to the creation of the hospital foundation,” said Morris. “And we were disciplined from the beginning that a portion of every donation be set aside in an endowment fund. That fund is now at $10 million, and can provide donors with an arrangement that can sometimes increase their current income.”
More important tips
- Make it easy to donate: Theatre at the Center has a “donate” button on its Web home page.
- Seek donations other than money: Klein said ReStore’s donated housing materials help cover the cost of a Habitat for Humanity home. Other building materials are donated by big box stores. Whirlpool donates a refrigerator and stove to every Habitat for Humanity home in the U.S.
- Build your volunteer base. Klein said, “One of the challenges is having the capacity to fund raise properly. All non-for profits need to have both staff and boards to fund raise every day for their organization.” Consider church and corporate volunteers. “Our employees actively volunteer in projects such as Rebuilding Together, the United Way Day of Caring, and countless other community endeavors," said Calinski.
- Don’t assume because you received a grant one year, that you will get it the next. “That is definitely not the case,” said Calinski. “Sometimes we have to say no and cannot support everyone as NIPSCO tries to touch different segments of our customers on a yearly basis.”
- Know the deadlines for grant proposals. Some decisions are made once a year. For NIPSCO, “A good rule of thumb is a minimum of 2 months. Sending a grant application in a week or two before the funds are needed sometimes sends a red flag about potential management of the funds."
- Ask volunteers if they wish to donate money, too.
- Klein and Morris said they make it clear 100 percent of their boards donate.
- Do your homework, said Morris: Don’t insult a potential donor by asking for too small a contribution.
Finally, “I think sometimes people think of fund development as a burden, but it can be a joy,” said Morris. “You’re making things happen that couldn’t happen otherwise.”