Too Easy to Ignore?
KidsPeace serves adolescent and pre-adolescent children with behavioral and mental-health needs. “Anything from schizophrenia, 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 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. Its 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 KidsPeace’s challenges and tried-and-true methods for getting to know donors.
FundRaising Success: What are some challenges KidsPeace faces in terms of fundraising?
Leah McKernan: I think we face the same kinds of challenges that a lot of charities face. We face situational challenges. 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 this year’s natural disasters.
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. ... There’s a lot of educating we have to do with the public about mental-health issues and really the deserving nature of our children. They’re wonderful, warm children who had some really terrible experiences. But there’s 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 can motivate you as much. And, I think it’s really important to know your donor and 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 gift. Really understand what motivates your donors so you can help them make meaningful gifts that are important and valuable to them, and are important and valuable to your organization.
FS: How do you maintain donor relationships?
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. 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 visit them, to send them personal correspondence ... it’s so important that our donors know their contributions make a real difference in the children’s lives.