Editors’ note: This article, first published in print during Jan/Feb 2006, has been republished for Nonprofit Quarterly with minor updates.
This year we debuted a new feature, short descriptions of organizations that have succeeded in raising money in creative and thoughtful ways under somewhat difficult circumstances. People often ask us for real-life examples of successful grassroots strategies, especially from organizations working in low-income communities, or in rural communities, or in developing countries, or working to challenge the status quo, or all of the above. We hope you find these as inspiring as we did, and that you will let us know of other examples we can include as we go forward — including stories from your own organization!
The Kianda Foundation was founded in 1961 to provide quality educational programs for women based on the philosophy that women are the key to social development. Prior to Kenyan’s independence from Britain in 1963, women had few opportunities for formal education. Since then, the Foundation has established a number of educational programs: a secretarial school, a college, and youth enrichment programs. In 1992, the Foundation started a project called Kimlea to work with girls between 14 and 20 years old who had dropped out of school. Most of the students are children of tea and coffee pickers in Kiambu District, who derive their only income from payment per kilo of the crop they pick in the large coffee and tea estates. The maximum a worker can earn on any one day is one Kenyan dollar. Most children, especially girls, drop out of school to pick with their parents and so boost the family income.
Kimlea provides training for income-generating skills,Not only to the young girls, but also to their mothers after work. There are also courses on adult literacy, nutrition, child care, AIDS awareness, and more. In addition, Kimlea runs two daycare centers in the tea plantations for the children of the workers and a mobile clinic that looks after the families of the tea plantation workers and people of the surrounding area.
The Kianda Foundation has raised money using a variety of grassroots strategies, including selling jewelry through relationships with individuals and organizations in Europe as well as producing local events such as tea parties, dinner dances and cooking classes (they also run a hotel and catering training program). Because these events take a lot of time and effort, they state that “when we are short of money we go to individuals with specific targets.” They also meet with overseas supporters to ask for scholarships for students as well as help with other program costs.
In 2004, they launched an endowment fund, with the goal to raise $2.5 million (US). Their strategy is to identify couples to contribute $5.50 (US) per month for a year. First, they recruit a “couple coordinator” who is willing to find nine other couples to form a group of ten. Each group of ten couples will ultimately give a total of $660 in one year. So far, they have raised $68,500 for their endowment.
BECAUSE THESE EVENTS TAKE A LOT OF TIME AND EFFORT, THEY STATE THAT “WHEN WE ARE SHORT OF MONEY WE GO TO INDIVIDUALS WITH SPECIFIC TARGETS.
Drs. Regi and Lalitha George became concerned about the fate of the indigenous tribes in their homeland in Southern India and founded the Tribal Health Initiative. Today it has a 25-bed hospital and outpatient facility serving Tamil-speaking people in a remote forest area in the Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu. In June 2001, Dr. Regi sent a request for support to 50 friends and acquaintances: “Help tribals cure themselves. We need support. Please visit us.” That September, he launched a website — www.tribalhealth.org — and posted all the gifts he had received and stated how the money was being spent. Subsequently, a journalist from the Indian Edition of Reader’s Digest heard about the work of Dr. Regi George, visited him, and wrote an article about Tribal Health Initiative. Local media reproduced the article, and $2,000 came in contributions from people who read about the organization.
In September, 2002, wanting to tell his donors as much as possible about his work, Dr. Regi George published a simple annual report aimed at the general public. He sent the report to his donors and friends, again asking people to visit him or give something for his work. This appeal raised $4,500. Three years after the first letter, Tribal Health Initiative has a database of 800 donors who provide 20 percent of the organization’s income. This support from Indian individuals has also meant that Tribal Health Initiative has found it easier to get more support from Indian funds and charitable organizations. This has resulted in less dependence on foreign donors.
SUPPORT FROM INDIAN INDIVIDUALS HAS ALSO MEANT THAT TRIBAL HEALTH INITIATIVE HAS FOUND IT EASIER TO GET MORE SUPPORT FROM INDIAN FUNDS AND CHARITABLE ORGANIZATIONS.
Semillas, Mexico’s only women’s fund, decided in 2000 that it wanted to break away from the dependence on foreign donors that had characterized their fundraising since the 1990s. To carry out its mission to empower and strengthen women in their human rights, the fund supports projects dealing with reproductive rights, and health and sexual rights, among others. Semillas decided to focus its fundraising on women in the business community and has invested in education and consciousness-raising aimed at maintaining these donors in the long term. They have avoided the fundraising methods familiar in Mexico, such as telemarketing and direct mail, and have chosen, among other things, the model of a women’s network, which they call Red de Mujeres Invirtiendo en Mujeres (Women Investing in Women). Semillas organizes special events or “living room meetings” at which women meet one another, and representatives of Semillas show the personal and actual results of their work. One real innovation in this local fundraising is a catalogue in which the donors can specifically see the results of the work.
This year Semillas launched their first annual fundraising campaign with a goal of raising one million pesos (approximately US $100,000) in 120 days. The campaign began November 9, 2005 and will end March 8, 2006, to celebrate International Women’s Day.
Emillienne de Leon Aulina, the director of Semillas, decided to ask “for the personal dedication of the board members.” She reports, “Obviously it was tense, they could have thrown me onto the street, but I am convinced that an organization like Semillas needs board members who invest time in the organization, open up networks of new donors and also give to our work themselves.” It worked and Semillas has a deeply involved board.
Semillas now raises 50 percent of its grantmaking budget from Mexican donors, both individuals and corporations.
Georgia FERRETS is a small organization a few miles outside of Atlanta. Their primary purpose is to take care of ferrets that are waiting to be adopted and to encourage people to adopt ferrets as pets.
Georgia FERRETS has had some good success selling high-quality cheesecake to create earned income. They purchase the cheesecakes from a company that specializes in making baked goods for sale by nonprofits in Georgia and Florida, and resell them at a slight profit. They have found this strategy to be a simple, straightforward, low-risk and predictable income stream, able to weather the vagaries of the economy, the war, and competition with other organizations. Their main marketing strategy has been word of mouth — at churches, pet stores, veterinarian offices, and through coworkers, family, and friends.
The organization earns $5.50 for each cake they sell. In the first year of this strategy, they earned $7,200. They invested in two 27-cubic-foot freezers to store the cakes when they come in, but since the cakes are pre-ordered by customers, there is no waste and no loss of money. The profit is immediately available. Word-of-mouth is good advertising and promotes the business. Once a carrot cake was so well spoken of that it generated orders for 95 more!
The American River Conservancy (ARC) is a 16-year old land trust nestled against the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California. Coloma and the surrounding area are a community in transition from logging and ranching to tourism and encroaching housing development sprawl. The American River draws thousands of people who raft, hike, fish, pan for gold, and spend tourist dollars during the spring and summer.
Two fundraising strategies described here are among several ways ARC generates income from their community
Tourism and recreation are businesses that have a vested interest in the Conservancy’s mission to preserve and protect the river and watershed, so every spring ARC solicits spring rafting trip donations from about a dozen local rafting trip outfitters. ARC usually sells spaces in the trips at a bit below the going rate. It gives priority access to its members through its print and e-newsletters, then to everyone via its website and flyers. ARC takes the registrations and payment, then makes the reservations with the rafting companies.
ARC reserves at least one or two of the trips for major donors and prospects. Each raft has a land trust staff or board member aboard who acts as naturalist and ambassador. The invitations are personal, the event is free, and the donors have lunch on a beautiful beach that has been protected in perpetuity by the organization.
THEY HAVE AVOIDED THE FUNDRAISING METHODS FAMILIAR IN MEXICO, SUCH AS TELEMARKETING AND DIRECT MAIL, AND HAVE CHOSEN, AMONG OTHER THINGS, THE MODEL OF A WOMEN’S NETWORK.
In addition to raising money, these trips help increase awareness of the importance of preserving riparian habitat and the success of ARC’s land trust among local and visiting rafters and guides and provides an opportunity to cultivate new donors and recognize existing ones.
The program, managed by paid staff, costs less than net income of about $4,000.
The Conservancy hosts at least six to eight programs each month year round, including at least one nature hike, two to three workshops (gourd making, basket making, working with raku clay firing, herbal remedies), one or two lectures (mercury contamination, birds of Belize, Native American history), and other miscellaneous programs. They publicize these programs through the event calendars of local and regional media, flyers (posted by volunteers), and through their newsletter and e-newsletter to members and supporters.
The financial goal is to raise about $4,000. Other goals are to draw new audiences and supporters to the organization, increase memberships through personal solicitation by trip leaders or staff, increase involvement and sense of community among members, and provide the public service of education to the rural community. All programs are managed by paid staff but provided mostly by volunteer program leaders; the cost is about $15,000, net income about $11,000.
A very creative use of the pledge event has been used to raise money for pro-lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender causes. It was inspired as a way to challenge Fred Phelps, the infamous anti-gay pastor of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, who organizes pickets around the country to assert that God hates gay people. Phelps’s group uses provocative tactics, such as protesting at the funerals of gay people. He hit the national spotlight when his group protested the funeral of Matthew Sheperd, the twenty-one-year-old gay man tortured and killed in Wyoming in 1998.
IN ADDITION TO RAISING MONEY, THESE TRIPS HELP INCREASE AWARENESS OF THE IMPORTANCE OF PRESERVING RIPARIAN HABITAT AND THE SUCCESS OF ARC’S LAND TRUST AMONG LOCAL AND VISITING RAFTERS AND GUIDES.
An Ann Arbor Michigan businessman, Keith Orr, co-owner of the Aütbar, has been credited with coming up with a way to use Phelps’s antics to raise money for gay causes. He urged people to make pledges based on the length of time the Westboro protestors stayed outside his business in 2001. “We had some pledge a dollar a minute, and others pledge only a nickel a minute, but it all added up,” he said. In his first attempt, he made $8,000 for a local gay-rights organization. In Huntington, West Virginia, in a similar response to a Phelps local protest, groups or individuals pledged donations for each minute of Phelps’ rally or for each time his protesters said selected words. Flat fee pledges were also accepted. The money collected went to the local human relations commission to support diversity education.