Is your organization’s fundraising strategy not performing as well as you’d like? Or perhaps you’re dipping your toe into the world of fundraising for the first time and unsure of where to start. Regardless of where you are on your fundraising journey, we have a workshop coming up that you’re not going to want to miss.
Business & Arts NL invites you to join professional fundraiser Jennifer O’Neill on May 31 for a free, online workshop covering the fundraising essentials you need to succeed, including how to develop a fundraising plan, where to seek funding, the difference between sponsorships and charitable gifts, and much more.
We caught up with Jennifer (who’s presented at fundraising conferences from Victoria to St. John’s, and in the U.S.) to talk about the value of planning and adaptability in fundraising, the importance of diversifying your funding streams, and how baby steps can help you reach your bigger goals.
Business & Arts NL: What, in your view, do the best fundraising strategies have in common?
Jennifer O’Neill: The thing that great fundraising strategies or the best fundraising strategies have in common is that they’re deliberate and planned – great fundraising doesn’t just happen – (and) they’re strategic and adaptable. A plan is only as powerful as its enactment, and so it also needs to be adaptable to changing circumstances of an organization.
There are different types of fundraising from annual, major giving (to) planned giving. I don’t think one size fits all. I think that needs to be customized based on your organization’s size, depth of donor pool and all the rest. So within that, there’s a lot of variability depending on the organization.
Business & Arts NL: What would you say has been one of the greatest challenges in fundraising since the pandemic, and do you have any tips for how organizations, especially those in the arts, can overcome this challenge?
Jennifer O’Neill: I don’t think there’s just one challenge. I think it varies, depending on the organization, again. But there’s some common themes.
Certainly one of the big things, if you’re a performing arts organization, is that up until relatively recently, there were several years where there weren’t live performances – or (they) were broadcast, which does add a layer of separation between the audience and performers. And…public spaces were closed. So I think there was a distance created that definitely impacted people. A lot of supporters, their economic circumstances might well have changed during the pandemic. And so those things combined would have an effect.
This is where a solid fundraising strategy can be very effective, because it needs to be adaptable…because it always worked in the past, you can’t assume it’s going to work again in the future the same way. It’s important that you’re looking at your fundraising strategy as an organization and saying, “Are there elements of it that still work? Are there elements that just aren’t working the way they used to work? What can we do differently?” It’s a matter of using that adaptability of a good strategy and trying to make some changes.
The pandemic affected a lot of organizations on a lot of different levels. Funding is just one element of that. But I think it also is an opportunity to build relationships in a different way (and) maybe build new donor audiences. It doesn’t mean you want to distance yourself from your old audience, but it may be a way to broaden it as we return to more and more in person things…and maybe looking at some of the lessons learned in terms of how you broaden scope with digital mediums…which can broaden an audience and in turn, attract more potential funders.
Business & Arts NL: If an organization is not seeing the results they want from their previous fundraising efforts, what sort of things should they be considering to improve outcomes?
Jennifer O’Neill: The first thing an organization needs to do is step back and take a cold hard look at their fundraising program, whatever that is currently. Organizations get in the trap of “Well, we always do it this way.” Because you’ve always done it, it does not mean it is the best way moving forward. It doesn’t mean it isn’t, but you need to really look at it in a detached way, and don’t just assume because it worked 10 years ago, it’s going to work today…always be honest as an organization about what’s working and what isn’t…you have to try things and figure out, what your constituency is interested in…they love you, they come to your performances or exhibitions, they’re supporting you. How do you translate that into funding to support your mission/what you do?
One of the things I think is really important for organizations to recognize is that hope isn’t a strategy for fundraising. So, presenting wonderful work, getting people excited by what you do isn’t enough – don’t assume they know you’re looking for funding…if you’re not overtly asking, people don’t always know you’re looking for support.
Same thing when you’re applying for sponsorships with an organization. Don’t be afraid to try and cultivate new partners in your sponsorships for different events. Being bold and being willing to call up a local company and saying, “We have this wonderful thing we’re doing in the community and we think there’s a lot of linkages to what you do, and we’d love to talk about partnership opportunities here,” you might get some no’s, and that’s okay. But you’ll never get what you don’t ask for.
Business & Arts NL: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the topic of fundraising or your upcoming workshop?
Jennifer O’Neill: This workshop isn’t going to be one size fits all. Whether your organization is just starting to think about this or has been doing it for a while and wants to refine their strategy, I’m hoping it’s a workshop where you’ll be able to take something away from it regardless of where your organization is.
Fundraising doesn’t have to be done all at once…If you’re a completely volunteer run organization with no paid staff, you don’t have to do all of it all at once to be successful. Take bite-sized pieces, stagger how you start things…Every step you take brings in more money than you had the year before.
And the other thing to remember is diversifying your funding streams is important in challenging economic times. If 100 per cent of your funding comes from a granting agency, or 100 per cent of your funding comes from one company, if something happens to that granting agency in terms of their funding, or a company has economic challenges, 100 per cent of your income stream is going to be affected. But if you have a multi-pronged fundraising strategy…the hits won’t be as hard.
Workshop: Fundraising 101
Date/Time: Wednesday, May 31 from 1-2pm NST
Location: Online via Zoom
Registration: Click here