April 01, 2009

How Charities Can Find Donations Even in Tough Times

Despite the soft economy, nonprofit groups can do many things to put themselves in the “ready position” to take advantage of some of the fund-raising opportunities still out there, Dee Vandeventer, president of ME&V, a marketing and fund-raising company, told participants at a session of the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference.

One is to focus on the organizations’ image. Think of Morton Salt, she told the group. Though other brands might be cheaper Ms. Vandeventer says, she always buys Morton’s because it’s a familiar and trusted brand.

“It’s the same salt my mother cooked with and the same salt my grandmother cooked with,” she said. “If you can get your organization to that level of emotional branding, you’ll be head and shoulders above everyone else.”

A strong brand, she said, is one that communicates a clear consistent message to all kinds of people. To assess the strength of a nonprofit group’s image, she suggested that participants consider: “If you put all your marketing materials out on a table, would you be able to know that that’s your organization?”

Nonprofit groups should also be using this time to strengthen board members’ connection and commitment to the organization, said Ms. Vandeventer.

While serving as a volunteer on a symphony board, she asked board members to identify three key phrases to describe the mission of the organization and an explanation of why they sit on its board which they then wrote on index cards to use in a six-second “elevator speech” whenever they met likely new donors.

To remind them of the importance of acting as ambassadors for the organization, board members were asked at every board meeting whether they had yet used their elevator pitch.

She also suggested fund raisers look for niche groups that might still be able to give. Because data show that women receive 70 percent of all bequests, and are expected to hold half the wealth in the United States by 2010, she urged fund raisers to think carefully about whether they are doing anything specific to appeal to female donors. She pointed to the example of one local United Way chapter that had recently started a women’s philanthropy group.