Article In Brief:
- The Problem: Fundraising can sometimes be seen as a competition with nonprofits all going their own way, repeating the same playbook, duplicating effort. Our author wonders if there is a better way to tap into the inherent collaborative impulses of the sector.
- The Context: Social causes are bigger than just one organization. No one nonprofit can or should try to stake out a monopoly. By working together, even with overlapping missions, nonprofits can achieve so much more.
- The Solution: From 30 years of serving as a nonprofit CEO, our author presents tangible benefits from collaborative fundraising and shares five simple steps to ensure your collaboration goes as well as possible.
This is the season for… another fundraising event!
We all sigh (silently) when the board chair reminds us of the annual gala, golf tournament, or whatever all else has been done for years.
Forget the fact that fundraising models have changed (enter the tech world of QR codes, for example), that volunteers have dropped off, or that staffing is short. We still need to raise dollars and add new prospects to the fold.
It seems to me like there are more nonprofits than ever after the pandemic, which is additional competition for dollars. Maybe even a few of these have missions similar to ours.
While the pandemic has led to increased levels of volunteerism and charitable giving, which may in turn lead to the creation of new nonprofits, there is insufficient data to make a determination. According to a report by the Nonprofit Finance Fund, 41% of nonprofits reported an increase in volunteer support during the pandemic, and 64% reported an increase in donations.
But what if we reframed the conversation? That is, we might instead look at the growth of our sector not as increased competition for always-too-limited funding but as potential partners.
It might not be the worst thing if several nonprofits have similar missions to yours. They’re not edging in on your turf; they’re also probably trying to address a problem that is much bigger than one organization. In fact, we might think about the ways that all social causes are bigger than just one organization. No one nonprofit should or even can try to stake out a monopoly.
But before you start looking at me like I’ve got seven heads, think about it this way: wouldn’t you like to expose your agency to an audience of new donors, potential volunteers, and possibly even board and committee members?
Benefits of a Collaborative Event
The first benefit might be relatively intuitive for those of us who often wear many hats in our own organizations. That is, collaboration almost always allows for some fresh faces and ideas brought to the table. Many times, nonprofits can get stuck in the rut of how things have always been done. Collaboration can be a great way to shake up new potential solutions to ongoing and systemic issues.
Another benefit was previously alluded to: the sharing of event attendee and donor lists. Yes, yes, I know we usually hoard our donors, and covet those of our neighbors, like gold, but maybe this only plays into the nonprofit starvation cycle. And maybe their donors just don’t know about what you do—or how well you do it. I once had a donor of a partner organization who was so blown away by our agency that she hosted a dinner at her home so I could tell our story first-hand to several of her friends. Why not provide an opportunity to share the wealth?
Another benefit tangentially related to donors also has to do with sponsors. That is, not only does collaboration provide the possibility of new sponsors, but it also ensures that sponsor dollars have broader community impact. Through collaboration, sponsor dollars can reach more websites (as well as social media platforms) and more audiences. This is not only a benefit for the organizations involved; this is also a benefit that you can bring to potential sponsors to show why they should work with your organization(s). Through collaboration, sponsors might also be more inclined to sponsor at a larger level for one event as opposed to a smaller amount for two events. Remember, sponsors want to know that they are getting their money’s worth and sponsoring two organizations in one event just might be the way to tip those scales in your favor, so to speak.
Alongside potentially new sponsors and/or donors, you also have those who might not donate funds but will donate time. And again, unlike trying to steal volunteers from neighboring organizations, collaborating will help your volunteers understand the alignment of organizational missions and opportunities.
Neither last nor least, collaboration also allows for a new pool of potential board members. Of course, board members are or should be term-limited. However, we all know that they have valuable experience and connections, so exposing them to another organization might provide both advancement in their nonprofit experience as well as an experienced board member for your partner nonprofit. Searching for board members can be a time-intensive, especially if you’re in a small community. Wouldn’t it be nice to already know people who support your organization’s mission?
How to Begin Collaboration
Hopefully at this point, you might be on board with the idea of collaboration. If this is the case, you might consider following these five simple steps to make sure your collab-portunity goes as well as possible:
1. Check out the local nonprofits
Is there one with a compatible mission? Similar event? United Ways, local executive roundtables, and chambers of commerce can provide information. Brainstorm with your staff and key board members to crowdsource ideas — and create some paradigm shifts!
2. Decide on an event that could be collaborative.
Perhaps one already in the pipeline or something brand new? How can the old be tweaked to help both organizations? Examples might include a wine and food tasting to benefit both an animal and domestic violence shelter, or a golf tournament to benefit a senior center and a children’s welfare organization.
3. Approach the organization you have targeted with a proposal outlining the benefits of collaboration.
Maybe ticket sales are split 50/50, or you get the proceeds of the silent auction, or each receives the sponsorship dollars they recruit? List the ways this event could be beneficial for their organization. Perhaps it targets a new audience to hear their story or raises community awareness through shared media and marketing. The possibilities are endless. Just make sure the sharing is decided on BEFORE you continue to plan. I hate more paperwork but write it down and then ensure both parties sign so that there is no issue afterwards. A memorandum of understanding might be too formal and can be more time-consuming than the event itself. However, you do want to be clear on what you are sharing so that one organization doesn’t do all of the work and/or get all of the money. In addition, you will want to determine if one of you is providing insurance for the event for whether you are both indemnifying each other.
4. Have volunteers from both organizations plan the event.
Here, Zoom meetings work well, allowing flexibility of time and place. Of course, you still need a committee to take care of all the details associated with your event.It’s a good idea to require (and name) a key person: someone to create phrases to be used in all the media and event paperwork. They might say something to the effect of: “Just one evening and 2 great organizations impacting hundreds will benefit.” Local TV anchors love coverage on these things, so make sure you let your local stations (including public access) know.Now your event has 2 boards of directors garnering sponsorships, 2 mailing lists, 2 social media accounts promoting, etc.—you get the idea. A word to the wise: make sure you coordinate campaigns for your event between both mailing and sponsorship lists. You don’t want duplicate mailings or two different board members asking the same company for sponsorship, but you also want to make sure both parties reap the benefits.
5. Plan your follow-up and do it
Plan your follow-up BEFORE the event, then both take some time at the event to share your organization and its needs—not just dollars, but also volunteers, board members, auxiliary members, whoever you are seeking. This is the time to gather names of interested persons to follow up with AFTER the event. And DO follow up! A quick phone call to say thank you, ask what they enjoyed about the event, what they might change, and then how they can get involved where you need them and they want to be. However, you should also follow up with your partner, asking them many of the same questions you ask of volunteers and donors (among others). What did your partner think worked well? What did they think might be improved or streamlined? Here, feedback is critical, not only for your future with this partner but for building future relationships with other partners as well.
Collaboration is Mutually Beneficial
Every board of directors is different, but their support is critical, so YOU decide how best to plant the seeds of collab-portunity. You might remind them that more and more granting foundations are asking nonprofits to collaborate on services. Here’s a chance to show them that we can collaborate across the board, including raising money.
After all, what we’re really looking for is a kind of paradigm shift in how nonprofits operate. We know that one organization can’t meet every need, and so it is imperative that this collaboration pave the way for future collaborations as well.
Camille Levee has more than 30 years of experience as a nonprofit CEO with organizations as large Girl Scout Councils and also smaller CBOs. She has been successful in developing local coalitions to achieve much-needed results.
Articles on Blue Avocado do not provide legal representation or legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for advice or legal counsel. Blue Avocado provides space for the nonprofit sector to express new ideas. Views represented in Blue Avocado do not necessarily express the opinion of the publication or its publisher.
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