Download a free Financing Not Fundraising e-book when you sign up for email updates from Social Velocity.
I was speaking to a group of nonprofit leaders recently about how to Move from Fundraising to Financing, and when I came to the part about events, the room went predictably quiet.
My argument in that room (and always, always) is that the nonprofit sector’s belief that events are a legitimate way to raise money is misguided. For the most part, when you factor in the direct (food, venue, invites, entertainment) and indirect (staff, board and volunteer time) costs of an event, you either break even (best case) or lose money (worst case). Because it was a group of nonprofit leaders, they remained polite despite their disbelief (God love them!). The argument is that since staff salaries are a fixed expense and board (and other volunteer) time costs nothing, you shouldn’t include these items as event expenses. Foundation Communities is a nonprofit in Austin, Texas that provides affordable housing and support services to low income families and individuals. Instead, when we walked into the common area of the housing complex there were box lunches waiting for us. After that interesting and compelling introduction to the organization I started giving an annual gift. When I gave my annual contribution again this year at Christmastime, I received a very nice voice mail from their Development Director thanking me for the gift and inviting me to call her back if I wanted to learn more about the program or had questions. I continue to give year after year to Foundation Communities because I am impressed by the organization, the results they are achieving, and the organization’s leadership. Instead of assuming that I want their paper newsletter every month (which I do not), they could ask me via email, phone or letter how and when to best communicate their results with me (email, phone call, social media, etc).
Because I have a giving history with the organization, they could attempt (via email, phone, social media) to get to know me and my interests in order to 1) understand how to find more donors like me and 2) to explore whether they can increase my giving level. Since I have given to them over time, and I am active with social media they might explore whether I would be willing to tap into my networks to find others interested in supporting their organization.
If you are new to our Financing Not Fundraising blog series, the series is about how nonprofits must break out of the narrow view that traditional FUNDRAISING (individual donor appeals, events, foundation grants) will completely fund all of their activities.  Instead, they must create a broader, more strategic approach to securing the overall FINANCING necessary to create social change. If you want to learn more about how to apply the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series. If you want help jump starting your board, download the “10 Traits of a Groundbreaking Board” e-book.
If you want to learn more about applying the concepts of Financing Not Fundraising to your nonprofit, check out our Financing Not Fundraising Webinar Series, or download the 27-page Financing Not Fundraising e-book. In part four of our ongoing Financing Not Fundraising blog series, we are focusing on the most untapped, greatest sustainable funding opportunity facing the nonprofit sector.
Download a free FinancingNot Fundraising e-book when you sign up for emailupdates from Social Velocity. Towed from Philadelphia Naval Shipyard,20 March 1963 to Alabama Dry Dock & Shipbuilding Company, Mobile, AL. Converted to a Communications Major Relay Ship AGMR from 1963 to 1966 at Alabama Dry Dock and Shipbuilding Co., Mobile, AL. Recommissioned USS Arlington (AGMR-2), 27 August 1966 at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, VA., CAPT. Struck from the Naval Register, 15 August 1975, at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, CA. Final Disposition, sold for scrapping, 1 June 1976, to Nicolai Joffe, of Beverly Hills acting as agent for NASSCO. USS Arlington (AGMR-2) under way, date and location unknown.US Navy photo from the collections of the US Navy Memorial. USS Arlington (AGMR-2) underway at sea, circa 1968, with her crew manning the rail and two SH-3 helicopters flying in the right distance. USS Arlington (AGMR-2) under way date and location unknown.US Navy photo from the 1968-69 edition of "Jane's Fighting Ships".
Ex-USS Arlington (AGMR-2) moored alongside ex-USS Kearsage (CV-33) at Mare Island Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, date unknown.
An organization that I donated to a few times refused to leave me alone after 11 years of ignored solicitations.

About 4 years ago a friend invited me to a lunch at a Foundation Communities housing complex. The executive director and a couple of board members gave us a 5-minute description of what Foundation Communities is and does and why they are passionate about it.
On the tour, the board member explained how Foundation Communities uses an innovative financing model to acquire ineffective housing, renovate it and make it livable and affordable, while providing much needed after-school care, financial services and other help to the residents there. We were also asked if we could recommend a friend who might like to come to a future lunch. They were always very prompt with both an email thank you (since I made my donation online) and a paper thank you explaining how my gift would be used and all of the great work Foundation Communities is doing. I also received my usual email and paper thank yous, but this time with a special handwritten note from the executive director on the paper thank you. Other nonprofits could learn from their example about how to consistently and effectively build a donor base. Once your board is excited about the strategic plan and the future direction of the organization, get them to invest. The tendency in the sector is to treat a board as the organization’s most important donors and from which you hide the truths about your organization. Individual donor dollars make up 80% of the private money entering the nonprofit sector each year, compared to 5% from corporate dollars and 12% from foundation dollars. While direct mail used to be the only way to find individuals willing to support your cause, there are now many additional channels you must explore to stay relevant (email, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc).
Many nonprofit organizations would love to have major individual gifts coming in the door, but don’t know how to find and solicit those donors. To effectively raise money from individual donors, especially major donors, you have to move away from the pity donation and toward the investment opportunity. Even your smallest donor can be made to understand the broader impact of the organization’s work, how important their dollar is, and what the return on investment can be. If nonprofits more effectively seized opportunities to engage and invest individuals, the sector could become more sustainable and better able to create change. Fit is unisex standard (size up in doubt)Graphic tee designs are professionally printed, your unique design will look great. Please take a moment to let us know so that we can correct any problems and make your visit as enjoyable and as informative as possible. Events are so ubiquitous in the nonprofit sector, how could I possibly say they have little financial value?
I know this is blasphemy, but it simply doesn’t matter what people who are not in your target audience(s) think about your organization.
Today I want to flip it and talk about a nonprofit that has done a great job at fundraising. Then we watched a 10-minute video of the program in action and interviews with their some of their clients.
Every once in awhile I would get an email about another specific campaign for which they needed my help.
But I’d also love to see Foundation Communities build on their great work to secure even more support. As a general (and probably optimistic) rule, nonprofit boards of directors are not very helpful at bringing money in the door. It is unconscionable to me that there are still nonprofit board members who don’t make a financial contribution to their organization. Stop asking board members to be involved in any and all aspects of fundraising (event planning, direct mail letter creation, grant writing). Boards often have limited financial management conversations, skimpy or non-existent finance committees, and a general preference for discussing mission over money.
But you need to move beyond that and start helping the board to understand the harsh realities of your work.
Yet many nonprofit organizations don’t know how to effectively embrace the full opportunity of that market. Beth Kanter and Allison Fine’s new book The Networked Nonprofit makes a fundamental argument about how nonprofit organizations can use social media to leverage people outside of the organization (donors, volunteers, supporters) to build momentum (resources, funds, mind-share, advocacy, etc) for their cause.

When you ask a board member to spend 20 hours volunteering to put on and attend an event, that is 20 hours of their time you can’t use in other (more profitable) ways. Instead of trying to raise awareness, create a real strategy for getting in front of and encouraging action from your target funders. For example, right before school started one year they asked me to contribute the cost of a back pack and supplies for one of the children in their program.
If you don’t currently have a strategic plan, put one together, but make sure to get the board involved in the whole process. Make it abundantly clear that a contribution (at a level significant to them) is a requirement of service. Instead have them focus on tapping into their networks to bring people to the organization. By getting your board to be strategic, focused, invested, integrated and aware they can start helping to finance your work. If nonprofits more effectively used social media to build their networks, individual donor fundraising could be revolutionized. Instead of using them for these low ROI activities, give them one fundraising job and one job only: to help move major donors through the cycle outlined above. So segment the market, figure out your target audiences, and then find cheaper, more specific ways to get them to act. But ONLY if you follow up with attendees on a one-on-one basis to further invest them in the organization and eventually ask them to contribute or renew their contributions. But I believe it is up to the executive director to get tough and strategic about getting her board to take action. It is absolutely critical that money be fully integrated into any conversation the board has. Better yet, ask (or allow) supporters to create their own ways to accelerate the work of the organization (like tapping into their own networks to help). Even if board members don’t have networks of wealthy friends, there is still much they can do to help raise major donor dollars. When asked which services should be universally provided, 82% or rural and 78% of urban respondents mentioned broadband. As a nonprofit leader you want to make sure you are putting each resource to its highest and best use. And ONLY if you don’t charge them to attend so that you can ask them for a bigger, and more meaningful gift down the road. If you already have a strategic plan, make sure that you are updating the board, and more importantly, asking for their help on implementing it at every board meeting. They must understand what the financial model of the organization is and be continually monitoring the ability of that model to deliver on mission. Once board, friends, supporters are involved in a well-defined process, major donors are sure to follow. Board members can help identify major donor prospects, uncover information about potential prospects, invite prospects to a cultivation event, go on a major donor call, send thank you notes or make phone calls. But 56% of rural people did not feel the Government was doing enough to ensure the service was provided in their area. It’s not enough to create a strategic plan, you must keep the board engaged in making it come to fruition. Ask each board member to come up with 5 people in their network that they think have the capacity to give at your major donor level.
The board is a key part of your organization’s network, put them to their highest and best use.

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