As a lifelong animal lover and longtime advocate, I knew I liked the sound of a nonprofit called “Friends of Oakland Animal Services”—after all, I live in Oakland and I love animals! Sold, right? But while I figured this was an organization I’d likely want to get behind, I had some basic questions—ones I now encounter on a regular basis as program and fundraising director for the organization. For starters, “Who the heck are you guys?” and “Do you know I can’t hear that Sarah McLachlan song without picturing puppies in cages and crying?”
And while I can’t help with maudlin earworms (way above my pay grade)—it’s my job to explain what exactly our “Friends of” organization is all about and convey our mission to donors and supporters of our municipal shelter. Along the way, I’ve learned that paying close attention to aligning your mission, branding, and communications with your affinity organization will help ensure that when it comes to fundraising, you make the most of your “Friends of” status.
Man’s Best “Friend”
Like any nonprofit, Friends groups are tasked with explaining why you exist to donors—and why their checks should be made out to you, rather than other worthy causes. First and foremost, this means you need to have a clear mission statement that your team members are in alignment with, and that resonates in donor communications.
For Friends organizations, it’s important that this mission statement and your broader donor communications also speak to your relationship to the agency or entity that you are fundraising for. At FOAS, we fundraise to support our municipal shelter, Oakland Animal Services, which is a city agency primarily funded through the city budget. Because it is woefully underfunded even by municipal shelter standards, FOAS exists as the most direct way for community members to make charitable gifts to their city’s shelter—the only open-door shelter in Oakland. Our donors are most moved to support us when they understand a bit of the nuts and bolts of our budgeting.
Birds of a Feather
What do your donors need to know about the distinction between your “Friends of” organization and the one you fundraise for? Maybe not so much. In the end, you share the goal of supporting the mission of your affinity organization. Keeping your branding closely aligned with your affinity organization can create a more seamless experience for your donors.
At Friends of Oakland Animal Services, we share our dog, cat, and bunny logo with the city shelter, with our “Friends of” name added on. Aligning your branding will require the buy-in of your affinity organization’s communications team. As a Friends organization, one way to facilitate that connection, especially when budgets are small, is to offer to provide the funding for your affinity organization’s logo and branded collateral designs.
The same goes for your online presence. If feasible, can you share a web presence with the entity you support? For smaller organizations, that can be limited to the donate page of your website, or to a few related pages. Avoid search engine competition with the organization you aim to support by consolidating your online presence if possible. Let people search for the library, college sports team, or park they wish to support—and then make their way to your Friends organization via the parent website.
Cat Got Your Tongue?
As any professional fundraiser knows, maintaining clear, open lines of communication with your organization’s program staff can be challenging. It’s crucial for your fundraising team to stay up to date on your beneficiary’s latest initiatives and to make sure that your messaging is consistent.
Friends organizations also face the additional internal communications challenge of fundraising for a separate operational entity. The key to success is to nurture relationships and open communication with the staff of your affinity organization—the people who are best poised to tell the story of the needs you seek to meet.
Personally, I am in regular contact with OAS’ executive director, veterinary staff, volunteer coordinator, and other shelter workers. This regular contact helps identify needs so you can effectively solicit donations. Recently, these included Jellybean, a black pit bull who needs knee surgery, and Baby Elliott, a wee rabbit who went punk rock when the wound cleaner used by the shelter vet team turned his fluffy fur an adorable shade of blue.
With strong relationships in place, you can engage your parent organization in your development efforts. In particular, look for chances to:
- Facilitate introductions between their leadership and major donors;
- Contribute fundraising collateral and messaging to their social media and volunteer management teams; and
- Provide resources that make it easy for staff to direct would-be donors to you.
At Friends of Oakland Animal Services, my relationships with OAS enable me set up potential donors with a tour of our state-of-the-art shelter facility, or work with the volunteer manager to recruit support for an upcoming dog- and cat-themed film festival whose proceeds will support our nonprofit.
Get Your Tail in Gear
Your donors want to support your mission—they are moved by the wildlife soaring above your national park, the knowledge housed at your local historical society, or the peace and shade provided by the trees and flowers of your botanical garden. Work your advantages as a “Friend of,” and your fundraising efforts will have you feeling like the cat’s pajamas!
Lisa Franzetta has worked and volunteered in the nonprofit sector for twenty years, primarily at animal protection organizations. Prior to joining Friends of Oakland Animal Services as its program and fundraising director, she ran the international anti-fur campaign at PETA and directed marketing and communications teams at the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the University of San Francisco. A Brown University alumna, Lisa is also currently a graduate student at Berkeley’s Acupuncture & Integrative Medicine College. She is the mother of exceptionally beautiful rescue cats, and her idol is Jane Goodall. She lives in Oakland.