Interview With Kenneth Grunke, Director of Individual and Major Giving, Pillars
Pillars is the new name representing the integration of two well-established Chicago-area mental health/social services providers: Community Care Options, established in 1928, and Pillars Community Services, established in 1968. It serves more than 10,000 individuals in 38 communities.
Here, FundRaising Success talks with Pillars director of individual and major giving, Kenneth Grunke.
FundRaising Success: How does Pillars fund its mission?
Kenneth Grunke: “[We fund our mission] through various local, school district, state, county and federal governmental agency contracts; contributions from individuals and organizations; special events; United Way agencies; and insurance/client fees.”
FS: What are the biggest challenges Pillars faces as far as fundraising is concerned?
KG: “One of the biggest challenges we are facing as an organization is effectively reaching out to new audiences. For quite some time, Pillars has been able to approach, very comfortably, a general donor base effectively. But now, as more baby boomers are aging and more of Generation Y becomes more socially active and philanthropic at an earlier age, we’ve had to redesign our strategies to realize that we are working with very different and distinct groups.
Interestingly enough, similar to the epidemic that we are facing with the disappearance of the middle-class system, we are realizing that there is no longer a one-size-fits-all model to fundraising that you can simply tweak. Instead, we are developing totally different strategies. We are combining an interesting hybrid of online cultivation with more face-to-face approaches. We are also listening to our donors more in terms of their preference in communication, receiving information and getting involved with our organization.”
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way you reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
KG: “Definitely! Aside from what I mentioned in the previous question, the other part of this is that I am seeing many grade- and middle-school students who are becoming more active, in fundraising as well as being asked to address societal social issues in the classroom. We’ve already seen younger students approaching us and asking to fundraise on our behalf or ask to donate a portion of their proceeds to our organization. They’re getting involved at such an early age, and we need to start recognizing that more and how to connect with them.
The other part of this is that our society has become very globalized, and that is also affecting our fundraising strategies. Donors, who were once committed to supporting our programs and services locally, now want their dollars to make an impact on a much more macro level. Specifically, we see this with the younger generation, where a lot of these global charities are becoming more effective with their internet outreach strategies.”
FS: How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?
KG: “We’ve adopted more of a ‘donor-centered’ fundraising approach. From cultivation to solicitation to stewardship, we look at each donor as unique in his or her relationship with our organization. Although that may seem overwhelming and impossible to many, given the large number of donors that we reach out to each year, our strategies become as detailed as possible to appropriately recognize each donor for their contributions. Nobody wants to be — [or] should be — a number, and when you are talking about an increase in the number of charities vying for the same donors’ support, you can’t afford not to integrate this in your work plan, within reason of course.”
FS: How do you reach out to supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising?
KG: “We actually have started an annual Thank-A-Thon, which, so far, has proven to be very successful. If anyone hasn’t considered this yet, my suggestion would be to somehow work it into your annual plan. This activity is a great opportunity to not only show how much the donors’ support matters, but also gives them an opportunity to provide any feedback about your annual strategies, update their records or provide some great historical information that could strengthen the organization’s relationship with them. You can also add a short survey component to the call and start working on your performance outcomes measurements. This is also a great way to get your board and other volunteers involved, since it doesn’t require asking for money. Most importantly, the goal of this activity is not to thank as many donors as you can, but to pay attention to the quality of the phone call — that’s what really makes the difference.”
FS: Are you engaged with social-media sites like MySpace, Facebook etc., and other online social networking?
KG: “We have recently looked at creating charity badges for several sites and are currently testing the market regarding online social networking. This is an area that we are still discovering how it would best benefit our agency, as well as our donors. My colleagues and I have become highly involved in blogging, which has proven very successful in marketing the agency’s name and mission.”
FS: Can you describe a recent successful fundraising effort?
KG: “We recently redefined our major-giving program, which had not been active for the past several years. Within just four months of developing the new program, we had 49 donors with a total giving summary of over $200,000. We immediately put together a cultivation/acknowledgement event, thanking them for their support and encouraging others to consider strengthening their support. We announced that normally, at these kinds of events, organizations look at giving out tchotchkes as thank-you tokens. However, we decided to give a gift that would be even more meaningful, as well as a return on their investments. We brought in two clients who wanted to share their success stories. Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. In addition, we received many interested prospects and new gifts.
I think the same way in which donors listen to a client’s testimony or story and say, ‘This is why I give,’ is the same approach we need to take with our donors. When I have the opportunity to meet with a donor face-to-face and find myself one step further to strengthening that connection, I often find myself saying, ‘This is why I fundraise.’”
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you’ve faced along the way? Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
KG: “We would definitely perform more test marketing on our pieces, which we are now currently in the process of doing. We simply aren’t doing it enough. We also need to receive more active feedback and input from our donors. We are currently identifying ways throughout our fiscal year in which we can elicit the input of our donors. Donors consistently want to be involved — and not just when they receive the annual appeal, survey or newsletter. It’s more about tapping into their talents. Many charities are vying for the same person’s support, and what is most important is the charity that develops the strongest relationship with that donor. It becomes a balancing act at times, but I believe it needs to happen.”
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours, in size and annual operating budget?
KG: “Don’t make your annual-fund plan too complicated. Simple is better. With the number of fundraising opportunities that arise, potential staff turnover or increase in staff and change in management decision-making, your plan will need to be flexible without causing too much stress on your day-to-day operations.
Also, consider sharing your fundraising successes and solicitations with the agency’s staff at large. You would be surprised at the number of employees outside of your department who are interested in providing information about prospective donors who they have a relationship with or offer to help you launch your fundraising efforts.
Lastly, consider devoting a fundraising staff member to developing a young professional’s board or junior board of some kind. Many for-profit, young professionals want to be involved in a social cause and give back to society outside of their profession. With committing time to this initiative, you may find that this opens many opportunities in terms of relationship building and potential board prospects.”
Additional thoughts: “As many would agree, fundraising is an ever-changing (and rapidly changing) environment. I would strongly encourage professionals to continue seeking educational and professional development opportunities whenever possible. Many of them are even available free of charge in local communities. Online webinars are also another great, low-cost (or free) option.”
333 N. La Grange Road, Suite 1
La Grange Park, IL 60526
Staff: More than 250, with four committed exclusively to fundraising
Annual Operating Budget: $17 million
Annual Contributed Income: $1.4 million or 9 percent, with most income coming from local, state and federal grants
Mission: Pillars supports life change, learning and recovery for families and individuals of all ages in diverse communities. We are one comprehensive organization, providing accessible, integrated and culturally competent behavioral health, educational and social services.
Melissa Busch is the associate senior editor at FundRaising Success . Reach her at email@example.com