Last Look: An Interview With Kristin Valentine, Director of Development, Bread for the City
Bread for the City began as a volunteer-run free health clinic in 1974. Shortly thereafter, it began distributing food and clothing to the poor of Washington, D.C. Over the years, the organization's programs grew to include a legal clinic, social services program and, most recently, an advocacy program. In 2002, Bread for the City opened its second full-service center in Southeast D.C., and currently is undergoing an $8.25 million capital campaign to expand its Northwest Center by 11,000 square feet. The goal is to break ground for this new project in fall 2009, with a projected move-in date of fall 2010.
Here, we talk with Director of Development Kristin Valentine about the organization and its fundraising strategies and challenges.
FundRaising Success: How do you fund your mission?
Kristin Valentine: Combination of foundation and government grants, direct mail and online solicitations, and special events.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
KV: Like many nonprofits, we are seeing a decrease in our average gift size. At the same time, more clients are coming through our doors in need of help. Bread for the City has had to respond by temporarily cutting staff salaries and limiting program hours. Our main drive to overcome these challenges is a renewed effort to reach out to potential supporters through our current supporters — hands down, that is still the most successful way to reach new, high-dollar donors.
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way you reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
KV: Over the past three years we have changed how we fundraise in a few ways. We launched a new Web site with membership capabilities, as well as a Facebook page, blog and Twitter feed. All areas have experienced different levels of success. We now solicit gifts through e-mail campaigns and have the capacity to sell event tickets online. We still hold our big gala every year but now have several small, free or inexpensive events (five to 50 people) throughout the year for current and prospective donors. We have also changed the length and format of our print newsletter and direct-mail pieces, including the response device.
FS: How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?
KV: People have an inherent desire to help others but rarely get asked to do so. By asking them to support your cause, you are giving them an opportunity to make a difference. They want this opportunity, so get off your bum and ask them to help.
FS: How do you reach out to supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising? Are you engaged with social-media sites — MySpace, Facebook, etc. — and online social networking?
KV: Bread for the City has only recently entered the social-networking arena. We started our blog about a year ago and have posted nearly every day since. Our Twitter feed is still fairly new but has also helped spark many new and interesting relationships.
FS: Can you describe a recent successful fundraising effort?
KV: We had a community picnic that cost BFC about $500. Clients, neighbors, volunteers, staff and donors came out to hear a report on our last fiscal year and had the opportunity to ask questions. This is our second year to hold the event, and it has become a great opportunity to meet with donors and solicit larger-dollar gifts.
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you've faced along the way? Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
KV: I've had some pretty bad ideas that I thought were good ones at the time. Thankfully, I have a board and executive director who are OK with me trying new things and forgive me when I fail. I still need to be more efficient with my time and resources. I think that will be an ongoing challenge. It's not always easy to tell what person or group will yield the greatest return.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours, in size and annual operating budget?
KV: If you don't have a communications person, hire one. When I started in 2006, Bread for the City had one staff person for special events and marketing. Communications is too important to be a side duty; events will always suck up all of a staff person's time. The end result is that your organization ends up doing amazing things, but no one ever hears about it.
FS: Additional thoughts?
KV: 1.Hire really smart people, and let them manage their own projects. 2. Only fundraise for a cause you believe in. 3. Give generously to your organization. Is your major-donor level at $500? $1,000? Give at that level. Lead by example.