As mentioned in earlier blog posts, I tried my own hand this year at fundraising for an organization I support. From creating my first fundraising campaign, to doing a little extra donor outreach with FundRaiser to reach our campaign goal, I enjoyed the experience and look forward to more.
One of the very satisfying things was not just reaching the fundraising goal, but also an additional and important side benefit that I had not foreseen: Based in part on the work our fundraising committee did, we had a wonderful turn out for the event in spite of some challenges that hit just before the event took place. Here's what happened...
Our fundraising success was mostly the result of the good work done in previous years by volunteers to maintain good ties with our donors. Loyal repeat donors gave nearly all of of the money that we received. It required very little from us except to send out a letter and email asking for a donation. However, when we went out into the community looking for new donors, we discovered that although people were interested in supporting us, they weren't ready to make a commitment until they had actually attended the event themselves. We decided to use our energies to increase attendance at the event in part to increase our donor base for next year.
We took simple actions
- providing inexpensive flyers to local stores who agreed to put them into shoppers' bags
- placing posters in the windows of local businesses and at libraries
- sharing the event on facebook to pages read by people that might have an interest in attending
Although we wouldn't know until the event itself how successful our outreach had been, we were hopeful. That's when the challenges started to hit, and from an entirely unexpected direction.
Just two weeks before the event, one of the volunteers made a walk-through of the venue. At that time, he was reluctantly told by the caretaker that they had just treated the cabins for a known infestation of bedbugs! Although the treatment had been state-of-the-art, the caretaker could not guarantee 100% that the bedbugs were gone. This was devastating news! Our event includes 2 nights when participants can choose to use the cabins or to camp out. To make matters just a little worse, suddenly the weather forecast turned miserable-- expected cold and rain. Not a good forecast for camping out. We felt that we had to inform potential attendees of the cabin situation. We expected the news to have a dire impact on turnout.
We made some initial phone calls, and were met with very mild response. Many participants told us that they already planned to camp out; one or two others asked to borrow some camping gear. However, we knew that there were many people who planned to attend that we couldn't reach by phone. We carefully crafted a message and sent the message out. We expected to be met with a great outcry... but from all of our effort (website posting, email, and facebook posting) we got only one very mild response.
Expecting the worst-- that many people might show up not knowing about the cabin treatment and be very upset to learn of it-- we asked some of our volunteers to be ready to give extra support at the registration desk.
When the day dawned (with beautiful weather) and registration opened, we were happily surprised by the high registration and the very mild concern that people showed. The camping area filled up, the cabins filled up, and the event rolled on-- with the highest turn out we've had in years. It speaks well for our committed participant base. I'm also glad, now that we did extra outreach... in spite of the very cold feet I'd experienced when I first learned the news about the bedbug treatment!
I have no idea what our turnout would have been without the extra effort on the part of our current fundraising committee, yet I can't help but think it had a positive overall impact. It is true that much of our success on all fronts rests on the excellent work done in the past by other people who were responsible for fundraising and communications. That solid foundation has created a great place to build towards even greater success, using FundRaiser to support fundraising efforts. The data we record in FundRaiser now will help us understand our donors and participants even better and create an even more resilient organization.
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