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Building up to a capital campaign: Soliciting donors isn't enough--find out what it takes to kick fundraising efforts into high gear.

Developing a large donor base to support an extensive special-event and fundraising program sounds like a daunting task for any nonprofit organization. The Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland, a local, independent organization with a staff of 20, has been able to do just that with measurable results across the past two decades. The steps we took to build and broaden our donor base can be used by any organization regardless of size. Serving as the executive director and now president and CEO for the past 19 years has provided a unique perspective as I look back and see how we are now positioned to launch our first major capacity-building campaign. The key ingredients include a devoted and hard-working board of directors, dedicated volunteers, and a professional staff.

Soliciting donors isn't enough--find out what it takes to kick fundraising efforts into high gear. (Capital Campaign)

We have worked to build community relationships, resulting in local companies returning year after year to sponsor and support our special events. Our development staff is highly qualified and has been with us for many years, so there is consistency and an expected return on partnering with this organization. There is also a staff position dedicated to planned giving and endowment. That combination has enabled us to get to where we are today.

Laying the foundation

The Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland was established in 1954 to serve the many people affected by diabetes in the northeast Ohio area. Our mission is to serve the community as an advocate in the management, prevention, and cure of diabetes. We are a multiservice organization, providing programs for professionals in the field and for those affected by diabetes and their families, and many free services to a community at risk for diabetes. Education is the cornerstone of this organization. We have health professionals on staff to provide hands-on support to our community. Our budget ($1.9 million, which is built on special events, United Way contributions, grants, and sponsorships) has increased threefold during the past 20 years, as has our staff.

The board of directors--45 members who represent physicians, allied health professionals, researchers, and educators, among other groups--focuses primarily on policies and procedures of the organization and has a solid understanding of what its role is as it relates to management and resource development. A large number of board members agreed to go out into the community to solicit funds. A committee of 15 members monitors this process. We are driven by strategic planning and have a revolving plan that is reviewed and revised every three years. Our operational plan is formulated with goals and objectives that focus on meeting our mission.

That is not to say that we have not had challenges along the way and that we have not seen major changes in our fundraising capabilities in the past 15 years. Some of the challenges in raising funds are particular to our geographic area, and specific to Cleveland. Through growth, decline, and renaissance, this Midwest industrial city has withstood changes in or the loss of major corporate headquarters and a marked drop in federated giving. Hence, an increased number of local, regional, and national area organizations are competing for both special-event and foundation dollars. And like many other nonprofit organizations, we have been challenged by the events of September 11. However, a solid reserve base has kept the organization stable during the economic recession and allowed us to take the necessary risks to pursue new ventures. We strive to maintain in reserve two and a half times our annual budget. The leadership campaign will build our capacity to serve the community and to expand our infrastructure.

Assessing need and resources

The United States is facing a diabetes epidemic. More people than ever need our help. While the incidence of diabetes has increased 33 percent nationwide during the past decade, diabetes in Ohio has increased 42 percent. The baby boomer population is now being affected by diabetes. Taking into account all of these issues, it is an appropriate time for us to launch this campaign.

While we did not begin to develop our donor base or to expand our fundraising efforts with the intent of doing a larger campaign, we began to recognize the need for it--and reached a point in time when we felt everything was in sync. We have the right leadership and committed volunteer leaders. We have experienced staff. We have commitment and passion from the campaign chairs to complete the campaign. We are ready to go.

Expanding our efforts

Our history of fundraising includes extremely successful events, particularly one that has been identified by many as one of the best special events in the city. We have held a citywide swim annually for 15 years, which provides a niche for our organization--others do walks, runs, or galas, but the swim is unique. Since anyone can participate, more than 80 community pools are needed for the three-day event. We chose an event that incorporates physical activity to reaffirm how important exercise is to good health, particularly for those affected by diabetes. There are many other opportunities to have black-tie galas and big parties, but this event attracts more than 3,000 volunteer participants and is a major fundraiser for our organization, and one that also heightens our visibility in the community.

In addition to press releases, public service announcements, and calendar and benefit listings to promote the event, local print media often donate ads announcing the swim. Other promotion tools include banners, bus cards, bookmarks, t-shirts, bags, swimmer packets, and 95,000 printed brochures. Staff preparation for this event requires a full year and culminates in an awards ceremony. We aspire to grow 5-10 percent each year, and met last year's goal of $355,000.

Taking it up a notch

As in all organizations, there are always more programs and services that can be provided to meet the mission of the organization, and this is where we found ourselves three and a half years ago. In discussions with leadership at that time, we felt that it was imperative that we look to build capacity, and questions began to arise--for what purpose and how were we going to use the money? We hired an outside consultant to do a needs assessment of our community, which included surveys, focus groups, and telephone interviews. The result was a thorough report presented to our board, which prompted the board to make a commitment to develop strategic initiatives to meet these needs. For 18 months, a committee of board members met quarterly to develop the next step, at which time we evaluated what we needed and whether to move forward. The board unanimously decided to continue the process. We then hired another outside consultant to do a feasibility study of our board to see if we were guaranteed of their support an d the approximate amount of money that would be available from that particular resource. The board again voted to go ahead with the campaign and a $7 million goal was set.

We then began to assess our resources. Most critical to this launch is evaluation of the donor bases and identification of sponsors and community leaders--how you have developed that and what methodologies you used to keep people engaged and involved with your organization. Good communication, in addition to acknowledgment and recognition of their support of your organization, is essential. With today's database systems, information about donors' level of participation can be easily catalogued irrespective of size of the organization and serves as an invaluable tool.

In defining our donor base, we identified potential donors within our membership. Our lay members, professionals, and contributors to various events and annual campaign are the foundation of this campaign.

Here are some of the activities that we feel will be effective in engaging donors.

* Develop personalized solicitations of each one of our current donors and users.

* Follow up with personal phone calls and meetings set up with either the volunteers and/or staff.

* Contact current list of major benefactors individually and set up meetings with that group as well.

* Catalog and call upon corporations that have been continually supportive of our programs, whether it is a special event or an education program.

* Don't overlook people who are always invited to our annual meeting and recognized throughout the years--our past officers, board members, and retired staff.

* Recognize that suppliers--those people who provide the services you need such as insurance, accounting, and cleaning services--are key to a campaign such as this and invaluable in helping us to identify future leaders for the organization. They, too, are part of our donor base and will be contacted to support what we do.

* Include the public at large in the campaign. Don't minimize the importance of reaching out beyond your already existing donor base as part of any program or campaign.

We are also discussing the ways that our Web site can enhance the campaign by providing updates, personal interest stories about the participants, and volunteer highlights, as well as offer a secure area to allow people to donate online.

Getting to the goal

As an organization that continues to increase its services to the community, expand its programming, and support diabetes research in northeast Ohio as a major player in the research community, we are positioned to move forward on this campaign. We recognize that good communication; staying focused on our mission; realizing the needs of our community, organization, or profession; and getting that message across to our donor base--the key people who we think could and should support our cause--will enable us to be successful. We have set a goal, which we have reviewed carefully with our leadership and with outside community leaders, who have assured us that it is an optimistic but doable goal.

We debated at great length last fall whether to proceed due to the circumstances at that time. Since this is a two to-three-year campaign with pledges to be realized at the end of that campaign, we felt that it was necessary to continue. With epidemic numbers of people being affected by diabetes, the need for additional funds to serve our community is clear. The reward for contributors to the campaign goes beyond the recognition that they get--it's the assurance that their money will be spent on helping to relieve a growing problem in their own backyard.

RELATED ARTICLE: Recognition Counts

It's not enough simply to solicit donors--you have to take the time to show your appreciation and find an appropriate way to say thank you. The Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland's annual report recognizes all of our sponsors, and we have a newsletter dedicated solely to our annual swim event fundraiser. Here are some of the methods that we use to recognize potential donors.

* Send personalized thank-you letters and tell donors how their money will be spent.

* Create campaign wall plaques or a banquet wall.

* Dedicate special events to particular people.

* Choose a title sponsor for a program.

* Spread the word through news releases to community publications and thank-you ads in business and nonprofit publications.

* Know city and community media and make use of that outlet for publicity.

* Create awards such as volunteer of the year, professional of the year, and others to honor individuals.

* Display posters, post bulletin board information, and show PowerPoint presentations at events that recognize supportive people and companies.

* Give tokens of appreciation such as corporate event plaques or other event giveaways.

Harriet L. Fader, CAE, is president and CEO of the Diabetes Association of Greater Cleveland. E-mail:
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Author:Fader, Harriet L.
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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