Getting Creative with Donors

Donor writing a check on volunteer screening blogAs non profits climb out of the deep hole created by the recession, volunteer managers and fundraisers are more than a little weary. But some have used the recession to get creative when asking donors for help.

In Virginia, an art museum asked its top donors to give even more so it could eliminate its entry fee and open the museum to everyone, regardless of ability to pay. Believing that the economic situation was exactly the time when folks needed access to art, four donors gave $150,000—and the fee was eliminated.

But free admission created another issue: how to appease the members whose annual fees give them the important perk of unlimited entry? The museum approached the problem with a creative solution: they changed their marketing message to help members understand all the other benefits they receive, such as invitations to special exhibits and events, and to point out that it is their membership fees that are helping others enjoy the museum.  The museum also instituted an entry fee for four special exhibitions per year, which members could still attend for free.

How is it working? The first week of September, when free admission began, saw three times the usual attendance and double the voluntary donations at the museum’s door.

Other non profit organizations are polishing up their donor and volunteer relationships. The head of a youth services foundation in Washington decided that the economic slump was not the time to do just an annual report or stage the same tired annual fundraising event. Personal cards and more frequent updates kept the charity’s name top of mind throughout the year. And when it was time for the annual fundraising event, she took a bold step by ramping it up into an elegant affair—a big change from the simple thank-you dinner of years past.

Instead of charging nothing to attend and hoping for donations at the event, the organization hired an exclusive caterer and held the function in the nicest ballroom in town. They charged $75 per ticket, and quickly sold out. Additional fundraisers at the event brought in even more cash. And, she had more volunteers than ever before, because the event was more fun than ever before!

The lesson as we come through the end (hopefully) of the recession is to be bold, come up with new ideas, and go big! Put your non profit ahead by giving people something to talk about.

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