How to thrive at fundraising: Nonprofit leader offers her recommendations

According to Helen LeFrois, Morristown-based Jersey Battered Women’s Service operates on a budget of nearly $4.6 million annually with just two full-time and two part-time staff members.

LeFrois, vice president of development for the nonprofit agency charged with helping prevent and respond to domestic violence in the greater Morris County area, said it is therefore imperative she make good fundraising great.

“How?” she asked of the more than 200 people who attended Sobel & Co.’s 14th annual Nonprofit and Social Services Breakfast Symposium on Wednesday at the APA Hotel in Woodbridge. “With purposeful and data-driven actions that aim to achieve specific goals from a diversified group of sources set forth by a development and fundraising team that is carefully integrated into all operations of the organization.”

Still, learning best practices from others, LeFrois said, may not always come naturally.

“When I first got into fundraising, it used to be that we only were going to talk about how we operated internally, because otherwise someone might steal our ideas,” she said. “We wondered, for example, if we should list all of our donors’ names in our annual report because we worried about others poaching donors.

“But it is truly not about that. It actually has become critically important to network with consultants and people in other organizations similar to yours, because more and more grant applications these days are asking whether you collaborate with other for-profit or nonprofit partners.

“Everybody today wants to see more done with less.”

According to LeFrois, there are six buckets of fundraising:

  • Individual giving;
  • Government- and foundation-funded grants;
  • Corporate giving;
  • Special events;
  • Planned giving; and
  • Fee-for-service and alternative revenue streams.

LeFrois had recommendations for every single one. Here’s what she had to say:

  • On individual giving … Develop an ongoing communications process to get to know your prospects and understand their giving interests and disinterests, what motivates them and what their philanthropic goals are; and always create an e-version of every newsletter, annual report, event invitation and more, because you need to meet donors where they’re at and with how they want to communicate.
  • On government- and foundation-funded grants … Take care to accurately answer all of the questions on each individual grant application; only apply if you know you can be competitive and deliver the outcomes desired by funders; create funder profiles to share with your board to introduce them to who you will be applying to in the next couple of months — they very well may know decision-makers who they can call on the organization’s behalf; and do not chase money or create programs to go after a specific grant. You may find, after all, that the program is not core to your mission, nor is it cost-effective.
  • On corporate giving … Create advocates by conducting tours and bringing people into your programs to see the work that is being done; think outside of the box to create multifaceted relationships and partnerships which are mutually beneficial; practice good business acumen when speaking with corporations — speak their language and talk about profits; and meet the needs of their employees, as employee engagement is very important.
  • On special events … Let your sponsors know who is in the room and help make connections for them. Be strategic about filling the seats with the right people to make sure their investment in your special event is worth the dollars spent; make sure to incorporate the mission and branding into all of your special events, including always having a client speaker and a call to action; and know when to sunset a fatigued or saturated event and how to sunset it properly.
  • On planned giving … Make sure you are providing adequate and appropriate acknowledgement and recognition for your donors!
  • Fee-for-service and alternative revenue streams … As for-profit firms have vendors and strategic partners, you, too, must work with external consultants to help you accomplish tasks. If you are trying to grow your fundraising base as well as the services and programs you provide, you will need to make such strategic investments.

Lastly, LeFrois stressed the importance of sharing an organization’s strategic plan — and a shared sense of ownership — with everyone within to get ahead.

“You need to train everyone in your organization, from your board to your volunteers, to become an educated advocate for your mission and your agency, because, as you raise awareness about a particular issue, you never know if they are going to speak with someone who may need your services or whether they may meet the person who is to become your next donor,” she said.

Read more from ROI-NJ on the symposium: