Too Easy to Ignore?
KidsPeace is an organization that serves adolescent and pre-adolescent children with behavioral and mental-health needs. “Anything from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder to post traumatic stress disorder as a result of abuse or neglect,” explains Leah McKernan, vice president of fundraising for the organization.
KidsPeace raises funds to support its vast array of services, which include a patient psychiatric hospital for children in serious crisis, residential programs in several states, a foster care and adoption program, and community-based programming such as after-school or day-school programs, as well as public education about mental illnesses and their prevention. It main development channels include major gifts, capital campaigns, direct mail, planned giving, special events, grants, and lobbying federal and state governments for support.
Here, McKernan talks about the organization’s challenges and tried-and-true methods for getting to know donors.
FundRaising Success: What are some challenges your organization faces in terms of fundraising?
Leah McKernan: Well, I think we face the same kinds of challenges that a lot of charities face. We face situational challenges. For example, after 9/11, we saw a significant decrease in philanthropy to the organization in the same way that we’ve seen some level of drop off after Katrina and the natural disasters of this year.
We also face the issue of helping kids who are viewed by some folks as throw-away kids. Our children are very, very ill in some cases. They’ve been through horrible circumstances. They’ve been abused and neglected. They’re really the silent victims of society, and sometimes they’re not always as sympathetic as maybe [kids with] other kinds of childhood illnesses. And so we deal with that kind of an issue, so there’s a lot of educating that we have to do with the public about mental-health issues and really the deserving nature of our children. They’re really wonderful, warm children who had some really terrible experiences. But there is a stigma still in our society associated with mental-health illness.
FS: What are some fundraising best practices you can share?
LM: I think it’s incredibly important for the executive fundraising person who maybe sits in an office all day to really stay close to the people you’re serving because nothing else, I think, can motivate you as much. And secondly, I think it’s really important to know your donor and to know what kind of a person has a personal connection with the work you do and to make them know how important their individual gifts are, whether it’s a $10 gift or a $1 million dollar gift. Really understand what motivates your donors so that you can help them make meaningful gifts that are important and valuable to them, and are important and valuable to your organization.
FS: How does your organization maintain relationships with donors?
LM: We work very closely with our donors because they’re really a member of our family. They make it possible to do the work we do to help kids. So we make special efforts to know them, to remember them on their birthdays and at holidays, to know what’s important to them, to be respectful of their wishes, to always, to the letter, honor their requests for their gifts … If we have donors who’ve made two or three or four gifts over the course of the year we make a strong effort to call them, to go and visit them, to send them personal correspondence, because it’s just so important to us that our donors know that the contributions they’re making are making a real difference in the lives of the children.