Are You Ready for Grassroots Fundraising?
In a nation of nearly 1.6 million registered 501(c) nonprofits, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, there are multiple differences. Some of these differences are moot when it comes to fundraising; after all, people are still people, even if they support the biggest nonprofit or a small startup. They expect to be asked for a gift, thanked for that gift and receive assurance that their investment is making a difference.
However, some distinctions make a big difference for fundraising and fundraisers. One of the significant ones is whether the nonprofit is grassroots or working with a broader constituency. There are differences, and failure to consider them can result in your failure as a fundraiser and even lead to the nonprofit's eventual demise.
Who you know is at least as important as what you know
Grassroots organizations are generally the creation of a community and somewhat spontaneous in their origins. The founders are more worried about addressing a need than writing bylaws. Knowing the players in the community and being greeted by name as you walk down the streets of town are critical "skills" for successful grassroots fundraising. A trained fundraiser may be less valuable to a grassroots nonprofit than a person who has a history with nearly everyone in town. While being able to write motivational copy, create a gift table and identify appropriate vehicles for a planned gift matter, if you don't have the respect of the community, you'll be talking to yourself much of the time.
Who they know may be more important than what your organization does
Even more than in national nonprofits, donors feel a connection to the "face" of the grassroots organization. That "face" varies by person, but it could be the executive director or a fundraising staff person, the leader of a branch of the work, a board member, or a volunteer. The challenge is if that person leaves — voluntarily or not — his or her supporters may leave, as well, if their loyalty is to that person more than to the cause. As a leader of a grassroots organization, you need to make sure every donor is connected to more than one person. You, of course, can't replicate the relationship a donor has with her nephew, for example, but your goal should always be to make sure the donor is connecting with the mission, not just with a person.