Donors in Training
Founded in 1949, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is the world’s largest voluntary health organization dedicated to curing leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and to improving the quality of life of patients and their families. One of the organization’s main objectives is funding blood cancer research, into which it’s invested more than $424 million.
LLS’ research programs rely heavily on donor funding. To meet the challenge, the organization’s fundraising approach is comprised of three revenue sources: 1) direct fundraising, e.g., direct mail; 2) donor development, e.g., major and planned gifts; and 3) chapter-based special events, e.g., Team in Training, an endurance sports training program that saw 35,000 participants take part in more than 60 events around the country in 2005. According to LLS’ 2005 annual report, participants for these two events alone raised nearly $125 million for the organization.
Greg Elfers, senior vice president of revenue development at LLS, spoke with FS about the challenges of special-event fundraising and the organization’s donor-development goals, and offered advice on donor and event-participant relationship management.
FundRaising Success: What are the challenges of running
such an expansive special-events program? How do you face them?
Greg Elfers: Like many of our counterparts, we are top heavy in special-event fundraising with our special-event campaigns. These campaigns all require a fairly high level of staff involvement, and a
significant portion of any nonprofit’s expenses is staffing. [We’re trying] to identify areas of revenue that are less staff intensive and result in a better net return. We’re in the process of developing our strategic long-range plan, and one of our long-term goals over the next three to five years is to have more of our revenue coming through non-campaign sources, like donor development, which have a low cost and high return.
FS: What is most challenging for LLS in terms of fundraising?
GE: I think that the most challenging area for us is donor development simply because we’re relatively new to that arena of fundraising. In the special-event campaign area, while there are significant challenges, we have a level of institutional knowledge and a level of prior success that provides a higher comfort level for staff and volunteers.
FS: What advice can you share in regards to maximizing the relationship with event participants?
GE: Understand and appreciate the true value of the participants and try to create a long-term relationship with those people. The real value of anyone to an organization is not in that first gift or the first time they participate. The real value is the lifetime value of that person to the organization.
Focus on the development, nurturing, recognition and appreciation of participants and donors so that they become committed to the organization for an extended period of time. The competition for participants and donors is very stiff, and it is extremely important to keep and upgrade these individuals once they take that first step. There are a lot of organizations with great missions and great events, and people have to make choices. View your participants and donors not as a one-time gift or as a one-time participant but as someone that you want to develop a relationship with over time. This is what we’re trying to ingrain in our culture at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.