Driving Home the Point
Sitting squarely in the upper echelon of effective and highly respected nonprofit organizations, the Texas-based Mothers Against Drunk Driving celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. For the past decade, the nationally acclaimed drunken-driving education organization has held steady as a $47 million charity fueled in large part by direct-mail fundraising.
An impressive number, by anyone’s standards. But MADD’s top dogs read “steady” to mean “static” and decided a few years ago that the organization needed a major kick in the fundraising pants. Enter Bobby Heard, who took over as national director of programs and development in 2002.
Heard, along with MADD’s CFO, analyzed the organization’s fundraising performance.
“The first thing we did was an analysis of our historical performance, and what we found concerned me. When we did the analysis of all of our 990s from the last decade, we realized that we had been basically flat. We had been hovering around a $47 million charity year in and year out for the past 10 years,” he explains.
“Well, you know the analogy of a flat line. We needed to think about fundraising in a different way,” he adds.
The problem, it seems, is that MADD historically has relied heavily on direct marketing — telemarketing in the early 1990s, then direct mail later in the decade. And while direct marketing is doubtless the workhorse of nonprofit fundraising, it’s expensive in terms of both time and investment and, as MADD discovered, can hide a multitude of shortcomings within an organization’s collective psyche.
In MADD’s case, Heard discovered that 1) far too many people at the organization were simply afraid to ask for money, and 2) much of its early momentum had been replaced by complacency, fueled in part (and rather ironically) by the success of its direct-marketing efforts.
Most of MADD’s money is raised nationally and then distributed regularly to its 600 affiliates around the country and in Guam, a cushy gig for the local affiliates who fell into some dangerously lackadaisical routines.