A Driving Force
The Maryland School for the Blind is a private, nonprofit school located in Baltimore that serves children from infancy to age 21 who are blind, visually impaired and multiply disabled. It also provides support services such as Braille textbooks, low-vision magnifiers, specialized computer adapters and other aids to blind children throughout Maryland who attend school in their local school districts.
MSB Development Director Mark B. Althoff spoke with FS about the school’s fundraising successes and challenges, and the importance of educating constituents about its mission and services.
FundRaising Success: What is your major source of fundraising?
Mark Althoff: Our vehicle-donation program has consistently grown and become one of our largest revenue streams. Planned giving and direct mail are also staples to our program.
FS: What do you think are the keys to the success of the vehicle-donation program and what has contributed to its growth?
MA: I believe there are two keys to the success of the vehicle-donation program. The first is a high-quality program with people being the cornerstone. [Program coordinator] Casey Joyce’s friendly and responsive approach has resulted in repeat donors and word of mouth being our largest source of referrals for current donors. In addition, we have always communicated honestly to people that their donation’s only value is through resale and that their donation’s value will be less than what they expected due to new tax laws.
The second key has been advertising. Taking risks by expanding our advertising — first to radio, then to television — has benefitted MSB both through educating the community [and attracting] significantly more vehicle donations.
FS: What are some challenges that you face in terms of fundraising?
MA: Having the community at large understand who we serve and how we do it. The perception is that we only serve students with visual impairment and that we do it exclusively on our Baltimore campus. In fact, we do serve many students throughout the state in their community who are just visually impaired. However, many of our students on our campus, as well as many that we serve in the community, have many more challenges including deafness, autism, developmental disabilities and cerebral palsy, many of whom use wheelchairs for mobility. The common characteristic of the over 800 students we serve is a visual impairment.
FS: How have you tried to meet those challenges?
MA: By getting the word out however possible. Some of the ways are through our vehicle-donation program advertisements, increasing tours and increasing the number of presentations we do to groups.
FS: What advice can you offer to other organizations that face similar challenges?
MA: Donors cannot support (in a big way) that which they do not know. Educate, market, communicate, collaborate and partner with everyone possible. We have a 100 percent success rate of securing a donation from individuals and the corporations/foundations they represent when they see our hard-working, heart-warming children and creative, passionate staff.