On a beautiful Sunday morning in mid-October, I completed an incredible journey nearly ten months in the making. After a lot of late nights and far too many 5:30am wake up calls for “Long Run Saturday,” I competed in and finished the Chicago Marathon.
Part of my training included the Tri Indy in early August. Near the end of the third leg of the event, I was running past the NCAA Hall of Champions. Across the way, near the finish line, I spotted my wife and daughter and was instantly reminded that endurance events are not individual sports. True, only one person receives the medal, but crossing the finish line isn’t possible without the support of friends, volunteers, and most importantly, family. Just as an endurance athlete can’t cross the finish line by him or herself, nonprofits can’t cross their finish lines (removing barriers to education for girls and women, in this case) without similar support. Making that connection turned out to be the beginning of a life changing experience, as I decided on that very day that becoming a “Brother for Sisters” would be an integral part of the remainder of my training journey for the Chicago Marathon. Here are five fund raising fundamentals I learned along the way…
Lesson #1 – Identify an organization you and those around you are extraordinarily passionate about…
My journey included Circle of Sisterhood and The V Foundation. Why? Because both organizations are doing life-changing, sometimes life saving, work…globally. Their reach is far, their impact significant. More specifically, I chose CofS because my character has been largely shaped by the strong, educated women I’ve either been raised by or surrounded by my entire life. To honor that and to help others have that same opportunity is extremely important to me. Secondly the Foundation has become, in many ways, a rallying point for our family; with Sue serving on the Board and Avery initiating her own fund raising projects within our neighborhood. Connecting your own personal experiences with the organization’s mission makes for a compelling story people will WANT to support. In addition, it simply makes it easier for your passion to shine through. Authenticity is key when speaking with a potential donor. If you’re working to support an organization you’re truly passionate about, your fire for the mission and vision makes it easier to ask for support and more compelling for a potential donor to say yes.
Lesson #2 – Ask lots of questions…
I don’t know anything about fundraising. I’ve never worked for a foundation, never been to fund raising school. My experience has been limited to selling donuts in high school and helping our daughter organize a Circle of Sisterhood lemonade stand in our front yard. Needless to say, I needed a lot of help. Fortunately, I’m surrounded by friends who DO have that knowledge base and skill set, so my first step was to share my mission and ask them, “How do I make this happen?”
Once you’ve identified your cause, reach out to friends and family members in the field and ask questions such as…
1) What’s a realistic goal given my event date?
2) How do I communicate my mission with family, friends, and the public?
3) How do I create a contact database to track asks, gifts, thank yous, etc.?
4) What are effective ways to ask friends and family for support?
5) How do I collect gifts and make sure they are appropriately accounted for, recognized, and delivered?
6) Are there (free) websites available to people like me who don’t have the experience or infrastructure to manage a campaign?
7) What’s fair game in terms of social media? How do I effectively use Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite, and/or email?
Starting here will only spur more conversation and thus more questions. In a nutshell, identify your resources and quickly ask for help. People in the profession are generally in it because they want to help people and specific communities. They’ll want to help you as well.
Lesson #3 – Create a Plan
After you’ve determined your cause and asked your contacts the right questions, create a plan. Identify benchmarks and set deadlines for each step in your process. If step one is to organize a list of potential donors, determine the steps necessary to assemble that list in a trackable, organized fashion. If step two is communicating your objective, determine how you’ll do that. Is that a soft launch via Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn or is it a very specific email campaign to select contacts you know will contribute and, thus, create out “of the gates” momentum with immediate gifts. (FYI – Asking someone to give when there’s a goose egg on the scoreboard can be a little difficult. Call in some favors to create early momentum.) Having an effective plan in place prior to launch is critical to the success of your project and will maximize effectiveness and impact.
Lesson #4 – Organize and Multiply…
As gifts begin to land, organize your thank you process and ask your contributors to be part of the team. It takes a village to raise a child…and money. If your cause is noble and your story compelling, people will want to be more than a donor, they’ll want to join the “team”…but you have to ask. In your thank you notes, be sure to encourage the donor to share the project/campaign with others in his/her circle via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc. You’ll be amazed at the results when others begin to “own” the process. Between 10 and 15% of the money raised in the See Scott Run campaign came from people I do not know or do not know well. (Yes, complete strangers supported the campaign.) If my friends and family don’t extend my reach, we don’t reach our goals or maximize our impact.
Lesson #5 – Celebrate…Early and Often…and Loudly
Celebrate and share successes frequently, publicly, and vociferously to generate and sustain momentum. Every threshold we surpassed was made known to the world via social media. Every time someone asked, “How’s your training going?” I shared the good news from the campaign. I even did an hour long interview on a very local, very small town AM radio talk show knowing I would find a way to sneak in a minute or two about the See Scott Run campaign and Circle of Sisterhood specifically. Simply put, take every opportunity possible to share your story and your successes. This creates interest, builds momentum, and makes it really easy for people to say “YES!” when you reach out to them directly.
These are just five of the lessons learned during the See Scott Run for Circle of Sisterhood campaign. There are others to be certain. Perhaps the best takeaway from my experience is that people are good. People simply want to help people who are doing good work. And in this age of Facebook, Twitter, and Crowdrise, our reach can indeed be global. My suggestion? Seize the opportunity to do something good. Take the leap. Find an organization such as CofS and work to support their life changing efforts. Who knows, one of the lives being changed could turn out to be yours.
This blog was contributed by Scott Fussell, a proud supporter of the Circle of Sisterhood Foundation. He lives in Fishers, Indiana, with his wife Sue and daughter Avery who are both involved with the Foundation.