Case Studies: Using Printed Materials to Raise Funds in an Uncertain Economy
In the economic downturn and slow recovery, nonprofits of all sizes are especially hard-pressed as they pursue essential funding with fewer donors and fewer dollars to go around.
Many nonprofits find themselves struggling with severe cuts and even closure, as donations are scarce and competition for donors is fierce. At smaller nonprofits in particular, staffs are being charged with selecting and running efforts that must generate significant amounts of money with no room for error. Even successful fundraisers that generated income in the past are now expected to generate more this time around.
One of the most lucrative methods of fundraising that nonprofits can turn to in these circumstances is printing items such as donor-recognition pieces, calendars, booklets, posters and greeting cards. With minimal investment, these items can generate thousands in fundraising revenue, with the added benefit of active community involvement and lasting good will. But they have to be done right. As in many fields, proactive nonprofits are at the forefront of innovative fundraising and awareness.
Developing talent and donors in New York
When the Art Students League of New York, a 135-year-old independent nonprofit art school with campuses in Manhattan and Rockland County, N.Y., sought to raise funds and support its brand, it wanted a printed piece that reflected its goals, successes and traditions.
Established by artists for artists in 1875, the Art Students League (ASL) has been instrumental in shaping America’s legacy in the fine arts. ASL offers affordable tuition for studio art classes, immersing students in the practices of drawing, painting, sculpture, printmaking and assemblage. It also offers an artist-in-residence program.
“We wanted to showcase the success stories of some of our students, members and programs while recognizing the donors and foundations who make this possible,” says Ken Park, ASL’s director of communications and institutional fundraising.
Park worked with an online print specialist to put together a four-color "Special Donor Recognition Issue" of ASL's newsletter. This included about a dozen pieces of art, along with the success stories and images of various emerging artists at the Art Students League.
The special donor-recognition issue tells the story of students like figurative painter Clarissa Payne Uvegi, who overcame some self-doubt to return to painting and get one of her large self-portraits displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.
Learning from the best
“If we don’t fundraise, we can’t function,” says Leslie Raynes, founder of Pet Paw-see Inc., a small nonprofit in Great Falls, Mont., that finds loving homes for animals and provides needed veterinary care, which costs the organization about $3,000 a month.
“For us, customizing an annual pet-themed calendar has been a great platform to publicize and fundraise,” Raynes said. “It’s personal for members and the public when they see their own animals in it; they get involved and excited. The first year we made about $4,000, and it’s looking even better our second year.”
Fundraising decision makers like Raynes need to know what the best revenue generators are and how to increase return and offset material costs. They also need to maximize advertising revenue, donations, community interest and even media coverage. One of the best ways they can guarantee success is by learning from other nonprofits that have done it best.
Raynes was able to achieve a major revenue boost from a themed custom calendar that’s become one of Pet Paw-see’s main annual fundraisers.
The first year Pet Paw-See put together a pet-themed calendar, a local photographer volunteered her services. The layout for the calendar was created from an online template that was available free from the organizaton's printing partner, Printing Center USA.
To generate interest and revenue, Pet Paw-see featured 12 animal lovers' pets as “pets of the month.” It held an auction to determine which pets would be featured. Each pet appeared in a full-page, color photo for a particular calendar month if its owner won the auction, with a minimum opening bid of $50. Owners could also submit their pets’ photos to become a “pet of the day” on any given day of the year for $10. Owners e-mailed their photos or had them scanned.
“The first year we sold about 400 calendars at $6 each and made about $4,000 total,” says Raynes. “The second year things have really taken off. Auction bids for the 'pets of the month' added up to $2,600, and we’ve made about $2,000 from 'pets of the day.'”
As word-of-mouth builds, an initial print run of 500 calendars has been ordered and will sell at $8 each.
“Our pet-themed calendar is growing as an annual fundraising platform,” says Raynes. “Its personalization keeps it fresh and exciting, while the theme gets our message out.”
Keeping history and nonprofits alive
On April 9, 2009, an F-3 tornado ripped through the town of Mena, Ark. Three people lost their lives the night of the storm. Thanks to one local historian, the memory will never be forgotten.
With an inexpensive digital camera, Shirley Manning documented the Mena tornado and created a booklet. She calls the little book “In Memory of Those Who Were Lost.” Flip through the booklet and you can experience the devastation that was caused by the tornado.
Manning decided to print a keepsake booklet to sell around town to help raise money for the cleanup effort at the Mena library, where she has volunteered for decades.
“Unlike electronic images, which get lost in e-mails or when computers crash, I wanted something lasting that people could hold in their hands,” she says.
Manning sold most of the 1,000 booklets she had printed within a few months at $15 each. Some of the proceeds from the sale of the booklet also went to keeping history alive in the nearby town of Norman, where Manning and the nonprofit Norman Historic Preservation Program Inc. are renovating the old Norman High School building into a museum to serve as an educational cultural center for the area.
The renovation is almost complete, and Manning plans to publish another fundraising booklet highlighting before and after differences of the building within the next couple of months.
“Other nonprofits can easily create commemorative fundraising booklets for their own projects,” Manning says. “Anyone can do it. … It’d work for anniversaries, graduations, weddings or other moments of note as well. All it takes is some imagination and a willingness to try.”
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, Calif.
Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, California. He writes about health, business, technology, and educational issues, and has an M.A. in English from C.S.U. Dominguez Hills.