While some local charities continue to successfully raise money by hosting high-ticket annual galas or auctioning off exotic vacation homes, many nonprofits have turned to more practical fundraising tactics to tap and broaden their donor base during the economic downturn.
As the income gap continues to widen between the very rich and the rest of us, smaller charities that rely upon a steady stream of modest donations from average-income individuals and small businesses have been forced to scale back their expectations and adopt innovative fundraising strategies to leverage their donors’ diminishing resources.
Local fundraising committee chairs have increasingly turned to vehicles like eScrip where people’s grocery store club cards (the ones you swipe to get your discount at the checkstand) are linked to a designated charity.
Each time a purchase is made a small percentage of it goes to the shopper’s charity of choice at no cost to the shopper. (eScrip also features an online mall where people can shop with major retailers and a percentage of their online purchases can be earmarked for their favorite non-profit.). One Cause offers a similar program.
Schools and youth groups have begun selling more practical products and services outright too. There are fewer soliciations to purchase home décor trinkets and more to purchase meat and other products used everyday.
Coupon books, such as the Chinook Book and the Entertainment Book are being sold by local charities and provide coupon savings for those purchasing them. Most people say they recoup the cost of the book rather quickly by using the coupons on things they would normally purchase.
Selling “gift cards” that can be used at retail stores is another means of bringing in revenue for charities. Many local organizations sell these cards and make a small profit from their sale. Again, this costs the purchaser nothing. These gift cards can be used to buy groceries, gasoline, and other necessities.Some charities collect unused or partially used gift cards from their supporters and sell them to an outside firm to make money.
One growing trend is to “re-purpose” items supporters have around the house. Rummage sales have long been a staple of many nonprofit fundraising operations. But some groups are soliciting donations of used goods from their supporters and selling them on Craigslist or e-Bay, with the profit going to the charity.
Other organizations assemble theme gift baskets with donated like-new items from their members and raffle them off. One nonprofit held a gold/silver/brass buy-up day. It invited its members (and the general public) to bring their unwanted jewelry and silver and brass items to be appraised. A scrap metal dealer paid them for their items and the charity was given a portion of the proceeds for hosting the event.
Consignment shops are also another means by which nonprofits are earning funds. Some local consignment shops, such as allow nonprofits to establish a group account. The charity can then ask its supporters to bring saleable used household items to the store to be sold under that account. The charity receives a percentage of each sale.
Children’s clothing swaps, such as the successful ones held at Temple Israel of Alameda are a means of helping people recycle their goods while making a small profit for an organization at the same time. For a $5 entry fee, parents swap a bag of their child’s used clothing for clothing in a larger size.
At the same time charities are trying new ways to garner funds, some are encountering a backlash if they try too hard. Donors say they want their contributions to fully benefit the charity and not spent to purchase T-shirts, tote bags and other “goodies” to entice them to give.
Said one local donor, “My contribution at this point is so small due to the lackluster economy, I do not want them to waste one cent of what I can donate on sending me address labels or other such marketing gimmicks.” Another noted whenever he receives an unsolicited “free gift” from a charity to which he’s donated, he crosses them off his giving list.
Not only are individual donors hurting, but some local small businesses are as well. Even those that want to be generous to local nonprofits say they have had to cut back or curtail their contributions. Said one local fundraising volunteer, “It used to be easy to just walk into a local business with a solicitation letter from your charity and receive a gift-certificate for a restaurant meal for two or a donation of a nice product we could auction off at our events. Today, however, many of those same businesses are only able to give small discount coupons or offer us a portion of proceeds if we drive traffic into their establishment.”
As fewer donations from the business community can be obtained to raffle or sell at auction, local nonprofits are returning to once mainstay fundraisers such as bake sales, car washes, spaghetti feeds and other affordable events to bring in revenue.
Of course, there remain exceptions. Some larger and long-established charities have successfully partnered with the local business community to put on major fundraising events and giving campaigns in the recent past. But, to do so often requires a good deal of volunteer power and initial seed money to pull off — something some smaller organizations may lack.
What innovative fundraising approach has your school, house of worship or nonprofit organization tried during the recession? We’d like to hear about it.