How they do it on a dime
Illustrations: Sergio Ramirez
Paddles aloft, Blaine County folks keep charities afloat with their pledges and donations. In 2005, of the 4,975 itemized tax returns filed, 4,087 reported contributions totaling $27,762, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
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Less than 22,000 people call Blaine County home, yet an impressive number—at least 150—of nonprofit organizations are alive and well in the Wood River Valley.
How is that possible, especially in tough economic climates?
“There are a lot of generous people in this Valley; we’re very fortunate,” says Robyn Watson, major gifts officer with the Wood River Land Trust.
Teresa Beahen Lipman, CEO/Executive Director of the Wood River Community YMCA, emphatically agrees.
“This community never ceases to amaze me,” she says. “We have people with the willingness and capacity to give.”
And it doesn’t hurt that the Valley’s population includes many affluent people with philanthropic principles, says Sally Boettger, Director of Development for the Sun Valley Center for the Arts.
“There are many, proportionate to the size of our population,”
But it’s not just deep pockets that get the job done; it’s passion and the spirit of the community—and a high level of fundraising know-how.
That mix makes the Valley’s level of nonprofit activity more likened to mid-to-large cities, Beahen Lipman notes.
Interestingly, she says despite the perception of overall wealth, the Wood River Valley is a working population, with 75 earning less than $75,000 annually, and about half of those earning $30,000 or less.
So it follows that in the organization’s recent capital campaign to build a facility to house most of its programs, the number of donations at the top level was impressive, but the amount of donations at the lowest level was huge.
“The Y couldn’t open their doors without them,” she says of the smaller donors. “It takes all those gifts to make it happen.”
Making the pitch
Deep pockets, community spirit and generosity aside, the money for any cause doesn’t just come rolling in. Whether contributions come through membership, an auction, a gala event, or a campaign, there’s an art and a science to fundraising—and topping the list is passion on the part of volunteers and the development professionals they work with, the three say.
“You have to believe in your cause and feel it deeply,” Watson explains. “It has to be something you would volunteer to do and can portray that to a donor. Make them feel your passion and, pretty soon, they’ll get into it, too.”
It’s all about giving people an opportunity to participate, she adds.
“It can be infectious,” she says.
Beahen Lipman agrees, saying, “You have to be passionate about your organization, and you have to have the right people involved.”
Those right people are board members and volunteers who are winners, who are going to be successful, who will be invested with contributions, energy and time.
“Shoot to have those type of people in leadership roles,” she advises.
Boettger says while success starts with the fundraiser’s passion, it’s sealed with the donor’s passion and long-term participation. So it is important to know the prospective donor’s interests, motivation and expectations.
Unless you know what they care about, you’re not going to be successful, she adds.
“Take the time with somebody that by the time you’ve left, they say, ‘I get it. I know what you do. I want to be a part of it.’”
For example, she says, “Celebrities might be on everybody’s list, but they’re just like anyone else. You need to get to know them and understand their goals as they relate to philanthropy. Only then is it appropriate to ask for their support.”
Watson said with so many nonprofits in the Valley, donors want to know what the organization is about and its mission.
“People are supporting their top three to five in a big way, then help others in a small way,” she explains.
But you have to give them the opportunity to know more about your organization or cause and an opportunity to become involved.
“People make small donations as they get to know the organization, and as their interest grows, so does the gift,” she says.
That’s where special events, tours, private parties, one-on-one conversations, and volunteers come in.
“It takes a lot of perseverance,” Beahen Lipman says. “You have to keep cultivating your donors.”
You have to continue to educate them and get them to know you and your organization, she explains.
“Our model is peer to peer,” she says. “It’s really important that anyone working on a campaign contribute at a meaningful level and invite someone to join them . . . a coworker, a friend. People who are in touch with the community, can make a case for support, are respected.”
And they, too, have to know or find out what a prospective donor cares about.
“You want to find a match for the programs. You have to match their desires and inclinations,” she says. “You have to have volunteers on your campaign sitting down with a prospective list of donors. Someone on the team will know something about them.”
Beahen Lipman says the right atmosphere for success is people being excited about the cause and having fun raising support for it.
“Everyone has, inherently, a little fear about talking to someone about money. The people in your campaign have to feel comfortable,” she says. “It’s a mindset; you’re not asking for money—you’re asking to help people and the community.”
It’s also important to get those volunteers together to coach them, keep them informed, share stories, congratulate them and, most of all “celebrate, celebrate, celebrate,” she says.
“Getting together and celebrating is a motivator, especially when you hear testimony” from a beneficiary,” she adds. >>>