Today I’d like to talk to you about the little guys. I don’t mean little in terms of impact or ambitions, quite the opposite. Those small organisations who with little to no time nor money need to raise more funds to realise their potential and most importantly, the needs of the community they seek to help.
I’m lucky enough to work with some incredible organisations that fit into this category and so the purpose of this article is to share some practical tips for those facing a similar predicament, through the lens of one of these organisations – Save the Bilby Fund.
To save you reading a War & Peace sized novel, I’m going to focus on individual giving. That’s not to say that trusts and foundations, corporate partnerships, events and the like have don’t have their role to play – but that’s a story for another day.
The other thing to mention at the outset is how important it is to get board buy in and investment from the very beginning. This is key to success and keeping your hair from turning grey!
So, if this is you, then you most likely spend your days being pulled in one hundred different directions. One minute you’re speaking at a local Rotary Club, next you’re on the phone to someone who wants to run a marathon on your behalf before trying to find the creativity for an interesting social media post.
Truth is that if this is your reality, then being strategic in how and where you spend your time is critical. You can’t do everything so you’ve got to play to your strengths.
Tip 1 – Be channel agnostic
If you don’t already have a direct mail responsive audience, then it’s probably not a good idea to go out and try to find one. If you’re lucky enough to get to attend a fundraising conference – it seems so easy doesn’t it? All the big guys are doing direct mail and the money just flows in so DM must be the answer to all your prayers? Not so I’m afraid. Direct mail is expensive and takes ongoing commitment and investment.
Save the Bilby Fund had a few thousand email addresses from a multitude of sources sitting in Excel spreadsheets that had been gathered over the years but no mailing addresses. We made the decision to communicate with these people digitally by creating an email based appeal, the first of its kind for the organisation, to see if we could uncover any potential. Plus, with one part time staff member and a very limited budget, direct mail wasn’t exactly a feasible alternative.
A series of four emails were developed with the very clear and singularly focused message of asking people for a gift so their bilby breeding facilities in Charleville could be upgraded.
This work desperately needed to be done as the first step to saving the bilby from the brink of extinction. $60k was raised in five weeks from these emails along with a matched giving component of $40k which I’ll talk about next. We’ve gone on to support Save the Bilby on their Christmas and most recent Tax appeals with a similar approach and have achieved similar success proving it wasn’t a one hit wonder.
The moral of the story is that it’s not a one size fits all approach. Do what works for you. Direct mail is the lifeblood of many organisations but it’s not for everyone so consider your personal set of circumstances before jumping on the bandwagon.
Tip 2 – Think about who you’ve already got in your arsenal
Even if you only have a relatively small number of donors, are there one or two of these amazing people who have the propensity and are committed enough to invest in you with a gift to underpin an appeal? Be that in a matching gift capacity or to help pay for set up costs. Could you talk to them, ideally in person or on the phone about supporting you in this way with the purpose of finding other incredible people just like them?
This is what Kev Bradley, CEO of Save the Bilby Fund was able to do with great success with their Tax Appeal last year. He met with two of their most committed donors, explained the need and asked them both for $20k to encourage others to give. And blow me over – yes and yes! That gave us a $40k matching gift platform which was a great impetus for people to give, particularly for a first-time appeal with an untested audience.
Tip 3 – Tell your stories
You may be small but in being so, you’re most probably closer to the beneficiaries of your work than most. Tell these stories. Be authentic. Don’t get caught up in logos or professional photos. Be candid and put good storytelling at the centre of all you do be that on social media, in appeals – everywhere!
Save the Bilby have taken their supporters on an incredible journey in the past 12+ months. They first asked them to make the upgrade to their breeding and creching facilities in Charleville possible with brilliant results as I mentioned earlier. Here’s a picture of the new facilities:
They then went back to supporters to ask them to take the next step with them towards bilby survival, to contribute to the transport costs to get the bilbies to these facilities as well as the cost of additional husbandry staff needed to make baby bilbies happen!
And most recently, they once again reached out to ask for help to cover some of the costs of the release and ongoing monitoring of the new population of bilbies including cameras and vehicle surveillance costs.
All of these calls for help were met with enthusiasm and generosity by their donor base which is remarkable considering that only 12 months prior, they had never asked supporters to donate in this way.
I put this success down to the genuine and authentic nature of the asks that assist the bilby in a tangible and practical way that’s easy to understand. Mind you, it hasn’t always been easy to make this happen, Kev the CEO is hugely busy and spends a large amount of his time in the depths of Currawinya National Park with limited satellite phone reception but we’ve got there.
I don’t think we’ve always done the best job keeping donors informed of how their money is making an impact but we’ve done our best when and where we can and this is certainly an area we can keep working on.
Tip 4 – Don’t put systems in front of fundraising
Need a database? Need a new website? These things are important but I’d suggest are not the first place to start. That’s because you can raise money without them and build momentum to the point that warrants investment without wasting precious time and money now.
Using tools like Give Easy for email and SMS allows you to give your donors a seamless donation experience and can be set up in a matter of hours.
Save the Bilby are now in a position where they need to move away from the joys of Excel spreadsheets but they’ve been able to build a strong case to their board for this investment based on the real fundraising success and potential they’ve been able to demonstrate. And they’re in a better position to make good decisions based on this experience.
The approach taken by Save the Bilby Fund is not going to be for everyone but, if you share all or some of their ingredients for success – some data, a strong and tangible ask, the ability to show progress and take your supporters on a journey with you, then it’s worth considering. When something as precious as the bilby hangs in the balance – you can’t afford not to!