Broadening the Appeal
Organization: The Children’s Aid Society, New York City, founded in 1853 to serve needy children and families through a broad network of services, including education, health, counseling, adoption, foster care, arts, recreation and emergency assistance.
Financial snapshot: FYE 6/2003 revenue: $74,767,691; FYE 6/2003 assets: $258,163,829; FYE 6/2003 fundraising expenses: $1,552,695.
New fundraising initiatives: “What we’ve been doing in the last year or so is mailing to the same lists,” shares Patricia Grayson, assistant executive director for development. “Many of our donors are expressing to us that they’re tired of getting so much direct mail. In the near future we will continue to do acquisition, but we’ll look at scaling back and focusing more on some of the other areas to target donors.”
Among new initiatives, CAS has started hosting informational roundtables of 15 to 25 major donors and prospects, having board members call donors to thank them for their gifts, partnering more with local corporations and diversifying its individual-donor base.
“We long have suspected that our typical donor is a little old lady who loves kids and doesn’t have much to do,” Grayson says. “That was an image that was just too simplistic. We have sharpened our focus and tried to get as much information as possible about our donors.”
One of the areas CAS has invested deeply in is the Web. “Our online donations, just in the last year, have increased by 54 percent,” she says. The organization, in an effort to cultivate its 1,000+ page Web site, expressly hired a staff member to find out more about major donors who give online.
“In the last month we received three unsolicited gifts through the Web: two for $10,000 and one for $16,000,” Grayson says. “We’re going to incorporate a very specific, personalized strategy to follow up with these [donors].”
Individual contributors: Numbering 13,830 (direct mail): 55 to 60 years old, two-thirds women, one-third men, arepresent joint households, attuned to issues of domestic violence, child abuse and education.
“Increasingly, as we reach out, we are attracting more 30- to 40-year-olds who are single. They are different from our average donor in that they look to find out more about [CAS], if we belong to the Better Business Bureau, for example. They do their research and are skeptical of direct mail.”
In FY 2003, CAS received an average gift of $60 through acquisition mail, with an overall average gift — not including new acquires and major donors — of $90. In FY 2004 thus far, acquisition has pulled in an average gift of $70; overall, $100.
“Historically, we’ve received second gifts from roughly 35 percent of new individual donors,” Grayson says. “So far this year it’s down to 20 percent. The interesting thing, however, is that we are still up. Each year we lose about 30 percent of our donor base and must replenish it with new acquires. In spite of that trend, our average gift has increased significantly to $336 [all individual donors], up 33 percent from last year. The number of gifts, however, is down 32 percent. We’ve seen this trend since Sept. 11, 2001: fewer donors and larger gifts.”
Additional insights: “In the last three years, the New York metropolitan area has seen a lot of high-profile cases involving child abuse, [child] homelessness and the shrinking foster-care system. The media have been instrumental in bringing some of these problems to the public. As a result, a number of corporations have started giving more to children’s programs instead of, or in addition to, the culture and arts programs that they normally fund.”