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1) far too many people at the organization were simply afraid to ask for money, and 2) much of its early momentum had been replaced by complacency, fueled in part (and rather ironically) by the success of its direct-marketing efforts.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.
“We had created kind of a welfare state within the organization,” Heard explains. “Some chapters sat back and waited for their checks to come in.
“I realized early on, within the first six months, that if we were going to improve our financial picture, we had to change our culture,” he adds. “There were so many people within the organization that viewed fundraising as a negative, as a bad thing that we had to do. No one wanted to ask for money. We had volunteers who would say, ‘I didn’t come here to raise money.’”
Heard made it his goal to meet with the leaders of his regional affiliates around the country to remind them that without money, the mission they are so passionately committed to could cease to exist. MADD’s new mantras became “Fundraising is everybody’s business” and “More money means more mission.”
Then he met with the development directors of other far-reaching organizations, including the American Heart Association, March of Dimes, Planned Parenthood and St. Jude’s Hospital for Children, to share ideas about fundraising strategies. Heard used information culled from those tete-a-tetes to piece together a five-point plan to “identify new opportunities for fundraising that we historically had not focused on.”
“It was really wonderful how these people were willing to open their doors and talk about their strategies. I was very lucky because I had tapped into some great minds,” Heard explains. “Development isn’t rocket science. You find the things that work and put them into place in your organization.”
MADD’s national board of directors adopted the plan in 2003. In its simplest form, the strategy emphasizes:
- Building the capacity of local affiliates to raise unrestricted dollars;
- Launching a national signature special event;
- Establishing a national memorial giving program;
- Actively marketing a bequests program; and
- Establishing a major-gifts outreach effort to cultivate those donors that are identified through direct marketing as having the capacity to make larger gifts.
Part one: Empowerment
In order to empower MADD’s affiliates, the national leadership held weeklong “fundraising institutes” to introduce volunteers and staff members to the initiative and followed those up with monthly phone conferences on various fundraising topics, monthly coaching calls and one-on-one calls.
“We became very intensive in terms of the time we’re spending with our field,” Heard says, reiterating that there was a major emphasis on helping staff and volunteers overcome their discomfort in asking for money.
“The saying, ‘If you don’t ask, they won’t give’ is so true,” he adds. “Many people [within the organization] have been so intimidated about asking for money that they just weren’t asking.”
MADD refocused its efforts by going back to the basics and reminding its affiliates about the importance of its mission so that staff and volunteers could then pass that enthusiasm on to potential donors. Part of the strategy was to hold regional MADD in Motion events where the community could learn about the organization and leaders could emerge to help host an “ask event.”
Those events, titled MADD Matters, are supercharged affairs that highlight affiliates’ newfound passion for the mission — and for fundraising. And as good an idea as it seems, Heard says it wasn’t always easy to get the affiliates motivated. But successes like those at MADD Matters events in Hawaii ($96,000) and Houston ($198,000) make it an easier sell.
“With the volunteers and staff in Hawaii, there was a lot of skepticism. We spent months trying to convince them, train them and sell them on some of this stuff,” Heard says. “Finally, we said ‘just do it.’ And when they did, one woman there was literally screaming because it felt so good. In El Paso, one woman had a one-on-one personal ask visit, her first one, and got a $10,000 gift. She said it was the greatest high of her life. That’s the great thing about this.”
Heard adds that MADD also has implemented Raising More Money, a program that “focuses on connecting individuals to MADD’s mission and asking them to give over a five-year period.”
Implemented in five locations, Raising More Money raised more than $350,000 in unrestricted cash and pledges that will be distributed to those affiliates over the next five years.
In addition to upping its donated dollars, MADD has discovered other benefits to its revitalization plan, especially when it comes to refining its mission and its case for giving.
In its 25 years, MADD’s commitment to changing laws and attitudes about drunken driving, underage drinking and victim/survivor services has saved 300,000 lives. Until recently, however, it’s done a less than stellar job communicating to the public what it does with its donations.
The organization recently better defined its “units of service,” breaking down its good work by price points to give donors a better idea of how far their donations can go. For example, a $1,000 gift will pay for a victims advocate to sit with a family through a harrowing court proceeding.
“What’s been so beautiful is that this really has refocused our field back on the mission work,” Heard says. “It’s allowing us to tell the community about what we’re doing and what we want to do.”
Part two: Special events
While large nonprofits everywhere have established big-money, crowd-pleasing events such as runs and walkathons, MADD didn’t enter the world of special-events fundraising until 2004, when it introduced its first Strides for Change Walk in six cities, with plans to expand to 23 in 2005.
The first go-round, Heard says, was more successful than anyone could have guessed, with each of the original six walks making money — an average net of about $40,000 each.
“It’s basically a pledge-based walk targeting corporations,” he explains. “We just looked at other charities and adopted their best practices.”
In its second season, the non-competitive 5K walk signed on Nissan as its national presenting sponsor. The Dallas event in April, the first of the new season, drew 2,500 people and grossed $130,000, which meant a net profit of $75,000. In St. Louis and West Palm Beach, Fla., MADD is testing a new event, the Get in Gear Road Rally, in cooperation with the Sports Car Club of America.
Part three: Memorial giving
“Believe it or not, MADD is about remembering and honoring loved ones, but we’ve been terrible about asking people to give in memory of a loved one,” Heard says, noting that the irony didn’t escape him. To change that, MADD partnered with the National Association of Funeral Home Directors to launch an aggressive memorial-giving program.
Part four: Major gifts
Direct marketing had built MADD a base of about a million donors, but those names didn’t come cheap. And to make matters worse, there was no strategy for segmenting donors and personalizing relationships.
“Every single one was treated in the same way,” Heard says. “They were all in the same donor stream, which means you got 12 mail appeals a year no matter how much you gave, how many times you gave or how many years you’ve been giving.”
To offset its history of cookie-cutter donor relations, MADD hired a director of donor relations and now pays special attention to long-time donors and those who give more than a thousand dollars — basically “providing more care and love for the people who have supported us in big ways,” Heard says.
Part five: Planned giving
One of the surprising things Heard discovered as he evaluated MADD’s development plan was that the organization had never done an age overlay on its file. When it did, it uncovered 241,000 active donors age 71 and older.
“These supporters should know about MADD’s planned-giving opportunities, and we took steps to ensure that occurs,” Heard says.
MADD’s new quarterly direct-mail appeal for bequests, which mailed 25,000 to 30,000 pieces in its first year (2004), has done “remarkably well,” he says, and flagged hundreds of people who want information about putting MADD in their wills and about a hundred others who already had done just that.
The program already has yielded a $750,000 bequest on the national level, and state affiliates have brought in $800,000 and $500,000 gifts, among others.
Heard is quick to point out that even with a new emphasis on major and planned gifts, MADD won’t forget the approach that got it to where it is.
“Direct marketing is still our workhorse, and we’ve got to keep it strong because it feeds memorial giving, bequests and major gifts. But we’re working now to 1) make sure we’re doing all we can with our direct-marketing program; and 2) testing, testing, testing and re-testing. In addition to working with our direct-mail vendor, we still recruit and bring in other vendors to test against them.”
The ultimate goal of the five-point strategy is to nudge MADD into a $75 million charity by the year 2010. The 2010 Plan is the organization’s focus on long-range planning that is an outgrowth of the principles of the five-point plan. MADD now is looking at what kind of planning and investments of time and money it’ll have to make to get there. Among them is the expansion of its online-fundraising efforts.
“Building on the five-point plan to grow our revenues, the marketing and development team developed a more comprehensive five-year strategic plan with the goal to grow our revenues to $75 million by 2010,” according to Heard. “We have adopted this as MADD’s 2010 plan. This plan is built on the same foundation as the five-point plan but details the costs and projected revenue for each activity in each market and the specific markets where we must annually grow our fundraising to achieve our goal.”
In addition to revitalizing MADD’s fundraising, the five-point strategy and 2010 Plan have helped the organization refocus on the basics, and that in itself has created quite a stir.
“We’re going back to the beginning,” Heard says, describing the reaction of a past director of victims services at MADD who returned to attend a MADD Matters breakfast in Dallas last year.
“She wrote the greatest testament, which made us feel so good,” he explains. “She said she was so moved by being in that room because it reminded her of the early days. The focus and the passion were back, and the event so clearly articulated to donors why we need their money. It made her beam with pride.
“It’s really been fun and exciting to see how this really is transforming our organization,” he adds.