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Supplementing Major Gifts: Other Ways Leadership Can Make A Difference (or: How We Raised $170,000 While ‘Waiting’)

All contributed support to non-profit organizations, including major gifts, has one common factor. It doesn’t magically appear just because Nonprofit XYZ needs money RIGHT NOW!

While you’ve got a very large major gift “spinning” on your plate (and isn’t that what it feels like until the gifts actually arrive?), there may be other activities that your development team can consider — activities that can result in additional major support.

These require the participation of the board and, depending on the size and talent of staff and volunteers, may be appropriate opportunities to pursue while your donors-to-be and major gifts are percolating.

Who knows? The hoopla that surrounds these “supplemental” activities may hasten the major gift that you’re eagerly awaiting. They may even help to encourage additional major gifts from other donors and prospects!

Here are few examples that the Utica Symphony’s “Gang of 10,” and its Executive Director, set in motion while “awaiting” the results of other major gift efforts:

-The Board President of the Symphony is passionate about classical music — a passion that is contagious.

He convinced his college graduate daughter to get involved — and it didn’t take any arm-twisting !!

She had three weeks available before going off to graduate school, and she was looking for a way to stay busy. She agreed to make calls on current, past and potential new advertisers for the symphony’s 2002-03 season program book (given to all concert-goers at every performance). The E.D. provided lists of previous advertisers as well as a “cold call” list.

“Daughter” proved to be an incredible salesperson. She contacted more than 100 potential advertisers and, in three weeks, she closed on $30,000 worth of advertising.

Many of the advertisers she attracted had lapsed in their support for the symphony. Some were renewing donors. And more than a few were new contributors.

All but $25,000 of the ad revenue qualifies as unrestricted support for the symphony and its general fund. I should also add that the printing of the program book was received as a partial gift in kind and that it is fair market value is in excess of $10,000. Not too shabby for four weeks’ work….

-We received an amazing and unexpected offer from the Oneida Indian Nation, a very large and diverse enterprise in Central NY State.

Although the Symphony has received contributions from the Nation on previous occasions, they have always been modest, outright annual gifts. This was different.

The Nation invited the symphony to participate in the grand opening for it’s new, elegant golf clubhouse. As their partner, the symphony would provide music for the evening; coordinate the RSVP process; encourage symphony subscribers and members to attend the event; provide volunteers to assist during the event; and, apply for the necessary permits for the evening’s fund raising — two major auctions of fine wines, vacation packages, artwork, jewelry and sports memorabilia.

The symphony would be the beneficiary of all event proceeds. The Nation handled the hospitality, printed and mailed the invitations and offered the new clubhouse at no charge. The elegant event was held on June 15.

Funds raised totaled $15,000 (net), the Nation’s in-kind support totaled another $40,000, and 200-plus people had a fantastic time.

The symphony could not have produced an event of this kind without the generosity and creativity of the Oneida Indian Nation. We strengthened an already positive relationship with the Oneida Nation, met new people who had never heard the symphony perform, and delighted old friends with a new kind of event.

-The symphony recently learned that a consortium of car dealers wished to do something big for the orchestra — and get some public recognition for their community spirit.

They have given — yes, given — a 2003 Sebring Convertible to the symphony for a raffle.

Board and volunteers have mobilized and developed plans to sell 1,500 tickets at $50 each. The board president (who happens to be part-owner of the local NBC affiliate) has donated TV advertising that will promote the raffle and the dealerships. Additional notice of the raffle will occur through the symphony’s newsletter and in flyers inserted in the symphony’s playbill at each concert this fall.

The car will be on display (and tickets available) at the local shopping mall every Saturday from August-November and will make “appearances” wherever the symphony performs during the first half of the season.

The winning ticket for the car will be drawn during a live broadcast of the NBC affiliate’s 6 p.m. news. Assuming all 1,500 tickets are sold, that will mean $75,000 for the symphony’s general fund.

And, along with the above activities came enhanced relationships with the Oneida Nation, with our constituents, with advertisers, local businesses and the media. You just can’t beat it!!

It’s likely that your organization can create opportunities that are capable of generating significant support, even as you await the results of more traditional major gift fund raising.

Though it means additional work on the part of board, staff and key volunteers, these activities can supplement your major gift program. They may even enhance the efforts already in progress. And, they’ll keep you occupied and in a great frame of mind to accept that major donor support when it finally happens.

About the Contributor: Susan D. Smith

Susan D. Smith is a consultant in philanthropy, providing consulting and training for nonprofit organizations and for-profit businesses including, strategic planning, board development, leadership training/coaching; and writing (business writing, technical report writing). She is a member of the adjunct faculty at Mohawk Valley Community College.

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