ProFile: Christine Carroll
Fundraising has seen many changes over the past 15 years, and nonprofit veteran Christine Carroll has been around for them all. From the launch of the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University to the advent of social media, the profession certainly has evolved.
Recently named vice president for development of the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit working to revitalize the federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and transforming the way government works, Carroll spoke recently with FundRaising Success about her background in the fundraising sector, how it's changed and her philosophies on achieving the goals of the organizations she's worked with.
FundRaising Success: How have you seen the field of fundraising evolve over time?
Christine Carroll: One of the main changes I've seen is that it's become more of a professional field. When I started fundraising right out of college, there were really no college and university degrees in philanthropy or fundraising. The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University was just getting started. Now there are specific programs at a number of universities in fundraising and nonprofit management. That's been really good for fundraising and good for the nonprofit sector overall, sort of professionalizing it more.
Also, technology obviously has been the greatest change, even in just the last three to five years. Organizations that have the resources [to] invest in technology and the consulting and professional services needed to support that technology have really done a tremendous job of unlocking the potential in individual fundraising.
FS: What's different/more difficult/easier now than when you began your career?
CC: The competition has increased. It seems like there's a new nonprofit popping up every day. That makes it harder because there are more organizations competing for the same dollar; so in some ways it's become more competitive to raise money. Technology has made it easier in some ways, because once the investment is made and the technology's in place, it does a lot of work for you. But it's very difficult to know where to make those strategic investments. A number of nonprofits have invested poorly in technology to support their fundraising.
The key is you need to get in front of donors and to connect with whatever it was that motivated them to give the first time. It's just become more important because donors are most likely to give to those organizations that touch them the most often, but not just touching them most often but with the best message. [We've all been] victims of the direct-mail fundraiser who sends you the same appeal five times in two months, and that doesn't seem to be effective.
FS: You've had tremendous success in helping to increase revenues at the organizations you've worked for — for instance, increasing the private-sector revenue at the National Center for Missing ?& Exploited Children from $1.6 million to more than ?$8 million annually. What ?tactics and techniques have you employed to do that?
CC: Especially looking at the Center for Missing & Exploited Children as one of the ones where I worked a lot on growth, to be able to define and place value on an organization's assets is probably the starting point of building a really good fundraising plan. In the case of the center, they didn't have a long-term corporate fundraising strategy; they had not been very consistent with how they had priced sponsorships of their different programs and events in the past.
They had some really valuable data about where the issues they worked on ranked in the minds of certain demographics like moms and grandparents, women vs. men, ages and income levels, and it ranked very high in certain demographics.
And then they also had done a different study to see what the name recognition and the feelings that were evoked around the organization's brand were, and it came back very positive, that people found it to be a very credible brand.
[That information] … made it possible for us to really value the organization's assets and programs in a way that we could go to corporations that focused on that same demographic and build basically cause-marketing sponsorship relationships [where] we could actually ask for a substantial amount of money based on what we already knew about what the company would be getting back in terms of value.
We also hired somebody. We knew that corporate support was the best avenue for expansion at the time when I got there, so we actually hired somebody who worked full time on corporate prospecting. So even while we were working on maturing the existing relationships and building those to be more financially viable, we had somebody who was spending all of her time building a pipeline of corporate prospects so that we were constantly feeding that pool of prospects. Those things all working together helped us move the corporate support needle forward.
FS: What are the biggest challenges you face today as a fundraiser? How do you overcome them?
CC: The biggest challenge that I face — and a lot of nonprofits face — is something that's been said for a long time, which is the need to diversify your funding base. We've all seen a number of nonprofits that have really struggled or even had to dissolve as a result of only having one or two major funders or they got the bulk of their support from one type of funder and that sector has suffered and either pulled back, scaled back or eliminated funding for an organization, really causing some major problems. So balancing that need for diversifying the funding base with going after the opportunities that are at hand can be a challenge.
For example, I could probably spend 100 percent of my time here on corporate fundraising, but I know that that's not going to serve the organization for the long haul. So I have to make time for foundation fundraising and major gifts as well. I even go as far as scheduling days where I focus on different types of funding so that I make sure that I'm giving each area of funding the attention that it needs.
One of the ways that I've overcome this [is leveraging] other people at the organization to help. Everybody here acts as an honorary member of the development team, and so the program staff manage a lot of the foundation relationships and even the corporate relationships, which allows me to focus on several instead of all of them.