Live Your Impact, Become a Better Fundraiser
I recently participated as a volunteer for the Indiana division of the Salvation Army for the 30th annual Coats for Kids program. The day-long coat distribution day culminates a several-month-long effort to acquire the resources that will enable several thousand needy children to acquire a new or gently used jacket. I love the fact that my wife also volunteers for this effort. Having been a teacher for many years, no one loves children more than she does. Even today, children now 30 years older will recognize her in a store like she is a celebrity. All teachers impact these precious lives and students never forget these individuals.
Like every special event of this kind, this one requires resources. These resources come in the form of manpower. Several hundred volunteers are needed to escort parents and children through a makeshift store so they can obtain a new coat, hat and gloves. You need funding to buy new jackets of various sizes. You need volunteers for a variety of associated tasks, plus security. Salvation Army officers dedicated to servant leadership at its finest lead us in this effort. The point is, it takes a caring community to help a community in need. As a fundraising professional like you, my main goal is to raise funds in advance of the event.
Once the event begins, roles change. When you work for a great organization like The Salvation Army, you do whatever it takes to serve those in need. On this day, I welcomed parents and children, served as a shopper for children, played a security role, helped keep the shopping floor clean, made several pizza runs so volunteers could eat, played a public relations role in working with various media types, and so on. The most important and impactful role I had was my first assignment. I had to continually stand by the exit and let parents and children out of the facility.
In this wonderful role, I stood for several hours and let children and parents go to the parking lot with their new coats, hats and gloves. The happiness and pride these children felt made me cry with joy. I could see the relief in the eyes of parents that their son and daughter had something to wear during the winter months. Have you ever looked into a beautiful child’s face when they say "thank you" over and over again for their gift? All they want to do is hug you. The experience made their day and mine.
At that moment in time, I wished so much that I had millions of dollars and directed a foundation for the poor. I privately prayed for the generosity of many supporters that gave money and coats. I so wished my board members, volunteers and donors could have realized what I experienced just for an hour. The emotional feeling I had was of kindness, gratitude and thanks that I worked in a profession—and for an organization—that makes a difference in the lives of others. I saw the impact of philanthropy firsthand.
Thousands of nonprofit professionals ask for funds at the beginning of the fundraising process for a cause, knowing on paper that there is an end result. Many professionals create a case statement without personally diving in and witnessing the case firsthand. Many board members and volunteers attend meetings, and learn about countless activities that happen without them actually being there. All of this is fine in process, but misses the point. By working the exit at Coats for Kids, I witnessed the completion of the fundraising process. When the next Coats for Kids comes around, no one is better emotionally prepared to ask for program resources than I am. I needed the feeling I received.
The point is, if you reverse the fundraising process and see what your results can bring at the end of it, you will have a clearer perspective of why you are asking for funds. If you look into a child's eyes and see his or her smile and connect on an emotional level, your dedication and willingness to raise funds deepens.
If you don’t believe me, try it sometime. You will understand what I mean!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.