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Pride Gone Global: How This LGBTQ Nonprofit’s Fundraising Surged During the Pandemic

The issues facing the LGBTQ community have improved. Yet, they still encounter uphill battles every day.

Elizabeth Schedl, executive director at the Hudson Pride Center in New Jersey, knows this first hand. She joins Accidental Fundraiser to share how they’ve expanded their donor base, organized creative events for their community, and streamlined their acquisition and retention strategies.

In This Episode You’ll Learn:

  • How Hudson Pride Center used a virtual strategy during the pandemic to expand their audience beyond local donors
  • How doubling down on fundraising gives nonprofits more flexibility than grants
  • Why feedback loops are critical to understanding how to improve your stewardship process, why donors gave in the first place, and more

Season 2 Episode 3 Transcript

Elizabeth Schedl: For a lot of queer folks, that’s what they’re missing is a safe community and folks that considering their gender identity and their sexuality and that are support. Affirm. That’s.

Kimberly: Sometimes in fundraising, you have to step outside of your comfort zone, dive in and learn something new. I’m Kimberly O’Donnell. And this is Accidental Fundraiser, the show from Network for Good and Bonterra that shares radically authentic stories from the trenches, the issues facing the LGBTQ plus community have improved yet.

They still encounter obstacles in their daily lives. Elizabeth Schedl, executive director at the Hudson Pride Center in New Jersey knows this firsthand. Having only worked for queer own businesses, she has a unique perspective on the struggles LGBTQ plus people face and how to support firm and provide relevant resources for them.

This pride month, we celebrate Elizabeth, the Hudson pride center, and everyone donating their time, money, and resources to such noble causes in our conversation. You’ll hear how Elizabeth and her team have adapted their outreach strategy to expand their donor base, have organized creative events for the LGBTQ plus community and have polished their donor acquisition and retention tactics.

Happy pride. Elizabeth. It’s so great to have you on accidental fundraiser today. I can’t wait to jump into our conversation. You are the executive director of the Hudson pride center, and you’ve been working there for a number of years. You have worked your way up. Tell us a little bit about your background.

Hi,

Elizabeth Schedl: Kimberly. I’m very excited to be here today. So thank you for having me on this podcast. I started out with Hudson pride in 2013, and it’s crazy to think that that is almost 10 years ago. But when I initially came to the organization, I was in a completely different role and like many folks in the nonprofit field.

I just worked my way up, fell in love with the organization and our mission and our goals. And I felt. A desire and an internal need to see it advance and expand. And that’s what made me stay. And I’ve had the honor and pleasure of being here for 10 years. And now I’m the executive director going on my second

Kimberly: year, two years in.

And you had to do it through COVID right through the pandemic. What have you learned? What advice would you give to others who are newly into that executive director

Elizabeth Schedl: role? The interesting thing about most small nonprofits is there is so much work to be done every day is completely different. So if you’re someone who enjoys multi-tasking on multiple projects, uh, constantly putting out fires, constantly thinking of new ideas and ways to connect with your community or advance it and keeping yourself on your toes.

Then I would say an executive director role. For small nonprofits would, would definitely suit you one major thing. I think I learned through COVID, which I believe most organizations probably whether nonprofit or not figured this out too, was that things work in the virtual world. And we are able to, for, for Hudson pride center, we were actually able to expand our services when we had to, or were forced to go completely virtual for a little bit of time.

And what I mean by that is Hudson pride center. Based out of Hudson county, New Jersey, and we’ve always been known to serve just Hudson county and when COVID hit, it forced us to go completely virtual. And while our center and our team, uh, believes in the connection and the care, our in person relationships, we were forced to do that.

And we were able to do that successfully, but. One thing. We learned one trying to do some of our social support groups or our events, um, and doing them in the virtual world, we were able to tap into a larger population of people, right. Because there was no barrier of getting to our location. So we started seeing people come to some of these virtual events and activities.

From all over the state of New Jersey from all over the country and even from outside the country, which was so wonderful to see, um, that, that magnitude of people tapping into these queer services. And what was so great about is when we asked about that feedback, just the. The level of satisfaction of being able to come to something like this in a safe, virtual way and otherwise not being able to right.

And us being able to provide that was beautiful. One thing we learned and we already knew is that there are not enough centers like us out here, right? Whether or not it’s in New Jersey alone or throughout the country or abroad. And so the need for our existence of these community centers is so strong and.

And that’s something I think I learned through COVID that we can set up a hybrid situation moving out of COVID that’s successful in still allowing those other needed community members to tap into our services. I’ve

Kimberly: talked to organizations as we’re now moving through a new stage of the pandemic, right.

People are trying to get back to some of the ways in which they operated before. And it sounds to me like you found a new niche for the organization. Is this something that you plan on continuing and, and how will that shape the work that you do?

Elizabeth Schedl: It’s both. Right? Like we obviously understand the importance of the in person connection, right?

Our community is based on creating safe, physical, and now virtual homes for our clients, building that level of connection, especially for our community. That feels disconnect when you’re talking about maybe their state greater society or within their family and, and peer group, that importance is still there.

We’ve just also found the value and ability to connect with folks and otherwise. Wouldn’t have been able to, to come to us. And so I think the, the conversation shifts to how do we offer the services in both platforms, right? How do we still provide a physical space, but then also a virtual one at the same time?

And so some of the things we. Rethinking about is for example, we do, uh, support groups weekly for our trans community, for our youth and for our senior programming. And so creating a space that works hybrid where you can have people come to a center physically in person, but then having a zoom line connected for those who need to tap in virtually.

Now

Kimberly: I imagine it takes a creative staff and a culture of openness to be able to test and learn these new types of hybrid approaches. How do you foster that type of culture among your team?

Elizabeth Schedl: I have the pleasure of having a completely beautiful and diverse team that honors and celebrates each other. We consider ourselves family and the most important thing about how we navigate those kind of changes and things that come up is we talk about it as a group and, and come together and think about what would work best.

So no one person’s opinion is ever more important than the others. We do believe in trial and error. We don’t know everything. So when we first had to start doing events on zoom, It was completely new to us. So there were a lot of hiccups and mistakes that would happen. And then, you know, you kind of get used to it and, and are able to master it after a while.

And so really just allowing space for mistakes and learning is something that we do.

Kimberly: Sounds like an amazing team. And I have to say that when you first started talking about them, your whole face lit up, you smiled, you said family feels like family. Let’s talk a little bit about the fundraising side of things.

How do you like fundraising?

Elizabeth Schedl: I actually enjoy it. I think that there’s a good mix of pressure and satisfaction and achievement. It’s something that I’m actually really tapping into in this year. I believe more, more so than ever. Just to give you a history, Hudson pride, center’s been around for almost 30 years.

We started out during the latter part of the aids epidemic and really. The center was created more so as a focus around HIV and aids time

we’ve

and ranging

toss and supportive services. As a whole. And so we’ve really brought in our scope of work and are considered the largest LGBTQ center for New Jersey. And I’m very proud of that. Primarily the funding has always been through grants, which are absolutely wonderful. However, they determine your programs and the budgets can be restrictive.

And so sometimes not all operational or agency funding. Is fit into those budgets. And so the ability to fundraise is so important to nonprofits like ours, the, the ability to diversify your funds and to decide how you want spend it, or what programs you might need it for, that you can’t find a grant for.

And then obviously just those operational costs that are so important to the agency. So fundraising. Always been seen as a need. However, our agency just really dived into it, I would say in the past couple of years. And I’m, I’m happy to head that part of our future.

Kimberly: And are you focused on individual gifts mostly or versus corporate grants or community and foundation

Elizabeth Schedl: grants?

I like to focus on all of it. I would say one big change that we made was coming aboard with network for good. And the reason being was because we did want to start building our individual donor base. And I say that to say, prior to coming on with network for good, we really didn’t have a platform for an individual donor base.

We didn’t have this ability to. Do pretty much anything that we do in network for good. Now I wanna say like set up monthly giving set up messages that would go out and e-blast that are connected and linked to that monthly giving or just project giving. Right. If we were talking about a specific program and we had an ask or a specific time of the year, and we haven’t ask and, and those things weren’t happening and when they did happen, they were separated.

So our website had, um, like a PayPal setup, right. And you could make a Don. But we weren’t running campaigns in the same way that linked that you could see who was donating to what or how effective those things were, were really being and, um, to have it all in one platform where you can watch it grow and see what you’re really raising based on a specific program a month, or that overall, uh, monthly donor base giving is really a game changer.

And, um, that’s made such a difference for us. And, and that was a focus of. Individual donor base is absolutely part one. I would say part two of that is using it as almost like a ticketing page for some fundraising events. Again, we’ve never done major fundraisers, but we did one, um, last weekend and it was the largest fundraiser we’ve ever done for Hudson pride.

And it was our version of a gala and we called it the prom LGBTQ folks likely. Of all generations, uh, didn’t feel comfortable going to their prom. Definitely didn’t go with the date of their choice or in the attire of their choice or as their authentic selves. And so this was an opportunity to create that safe, welcoming experience and kind of celebrate each other and ourselves.

And it was a major turnout and fundraising event for us. And I’m proud to say that we use network for good platform to do that. Wow.

Kimberly: That is awesome. It sounds like so much fun. Do you have a sense of how much you raised from that through

Elizabeth Schedl: sponsorship and ticketing sales during our costs? We’re looking at about 45,000.

Woo.

Kimberly: That’s amazing. What a great net return, right? Sounds like an absolutely fantastic and fitting event, so well tied to your mission and it also falls within pride month. Yeah. Our

Elizabeth Schedl: favorite time of the year.

Kimberly: what are some of the things that you do around pride month to fundraise? Are there certain special activities that you have?

We have a lot of listeners who are with different types of organizations that have those special months in which they’re celebrating or focusing attention on their cause.

Elizabeth Schedl: Pride month is very special for us. Obviously it’s also a time that I think folks like me as advocates, try to raise awareness about the issues that we’ve faced in this country and, and conversations about things that are still happening throughout each state here in the us and what we can do, um, as individuals, as queer people, as allies to promote.

LGBTQ rights and support each other for us. Obviously we celebrate pride during 65 days a year. This month just heightens that celebration for us. This was the largest fundraiser that we did for this month. And since it was so successful, I’m happy to say it will be an annual event for us. The majority of our events, I will say, as a nonprofit are, um, free and open to the public because we wanna create an opportunity for people to, to come to anything that we’re doing without the fear or barrier of cost.

For example, we are hosting our LGBTQ youth prom, and that is not a fundraiser. It is just a, uh, full sponsored event for LGBTQ youth to come to a safe, welcoming space and have that prom. That they might not be having at their own high school for the past two years. It has been virtual this year. It is back in person, really excited about that.

But outside of that, we do, um, flag raisings in each city, throughout Hudson county. We are on a lot of panels discussing LGBTQ issues, current events, and, um, educational aspects of our community. And then. As far as other fundraising, we really focus in on working with other partnering agencies or supportive businesses.

So a lot of businesses during the month of pride, really reach out to us and say, Hey, we are going to sell this product. And 10% is gonna go to Hudson pride and we’ve built those relationships over the years. And it’s something I’m really lucky that we have. And. Speaks to other communities recognizing the importance of the LGBTQ center and our people.

And so it’s a really special month for us in that way.

Kimberly: I love how you have organizations, companies, retailers that are coming to you, wanting to wanting to celebrate and to support. Have you ever had to say no to an organization? And do you have any advice for our listeners who might have to go through that themselves?

Elizabeth Schedl: I have been lucky enough not to have that happen to me. I really just keep my mind open to any opportunity and experience being with the organization for 10 years. I can tell you when, when I started businesses were not knocking on our doors, asking us to partner and to promote us and celebrate. The LGBTQ community or Hudson pride center and, um, sell something on our behalf to give us a donation 10 years ago, there wasn’t as much acknowledgement of the queer community.

There wasn’t as much support as there is. Now. There were times that I’ve been turned down asking for support and sponsorship and

Kimberly: donations, foster awareness, foster community foster love. So have you done much around planned gifts and legacy gifts?

Elizabeth Schedl: We have not, we are still newbies. It’s definitely something that I want to look into.

I think the way we’ve started our journey with network for good and our journey in fundraising has been the focus around different campaigns for different programs, awareness, like an end of year giving pride month. Our obviously our fundraising event and then slowly creating that consistent donor base for monthly giving.

So that will be the next journey, but we are not there yet.

Kimberly: Absolutely. You have to work your way up. And, um, you also have to make sure that you’re allocating the proper amount of time to do things well, as you grow your fundraising program, right. Particularly around individual giving, because you want to be responsive to your donors.

Donor retention is so important. It costs less to retain a donor than it does to acquire a new donor. How do you acquire new supporters? Is Hudson pride center, really active on social media? What channels are you using to bring more awareness to your organization? Yes,

Elizabeth Schedl: we love Instagram and Facebook. I would say we’re most active on those two platforms.

We really use those the most for reaching our community for like folks that are interested in receiving services from us. We’re interested in attending our events and connecting and like, Building a relationship, um, with other queer folks and meeting new people like, uh, that’s what I feel like we utilize it the most for that.

And raising awareness. We’re constantly on their posting about, uh, things that are happening in our community in Hudson county, throughout the state or the country, giving people a place to find information when otherwise they’re not watching the news anymore, or everything’s like washing over and messaging.

We’re hoping that they’re seeing. Posts and, um, stories that we’re creating it and learning something. I would say it’s, it’s also been great for the business connection’s cross that happens all the time, tagging each other, having a, showing their support to the. Some folks will go on their page and then learn about their business.

And so it creates this ability to promote each other’s agency at the same time while doing something together. And I think that’s been extremely helpful for us. I would say, as far as like corporate supporters and sponsors, it’s definitely not a social media, uh, thing for us. One relationship that I’m really proud of that I’ve built is a relationship with a corporate organization called Lord Abbott.

They have made a commitment to Hudson pride center as a major supporter, a major financial supporter of us. They made a donation during giving Tuesday to us. And it was a very generous donation when people do things like that, I tend to reach out and introduce myself and just wanna learn more about why they felt the need to donate to Hudson pride center.

That kinda connection and understanding one, um, helps build that relationship. But two. Helps me understand how to get more donors like this and what we’re doing right. Or what we could be doing better. And I reached out, had an amazing zoom conversation and basically just was very open with the head.

Abbo about. Our needs, what’s missing financially from Hudson pride center and what we do, what we would really need to get us to the next level. And they came back and said, come up with a proposal and a budget that one reaching out to ask for a follow up and a, you led to a further conversation about the agency and our true needs.

And that led to a beautiful partnership where we’re financially supported and feel much more secure. With, uh, donation funding in that platform of a corporate way. My advice there would just be, don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with folks that are supporting you or that you would wanna support you because there are people out there that are ready to financially give to small nonprofits or local nonprofits.

Kimberly: A hundred percent. I love that, that you had a giving Tuesday donation turn into a major gift or a major sponsorship from a corporation. And it’s all because you called and said, thank you. It doesn’t have to be a long call, right? It might be a voice message. It might be a video video acknowledgements are working so well right now where people just shoot a video and say, Hey, I just wanna thank you.

Takes 30 seconds of your time to do it, but it lets the donor know that you care. And because we live in a very transactional world today, That the speed of it is super important. And then if you do get that next opportunity to chat, the advice that we give is you talk 30% of the time and the donor speaks 70% of the time.

Just get to know them. You don’t have to go through every single piece of every single program that you have, just listen to them and listen where their interests lie and really find out why they’re passionate about your cause. And then once that starts to surface, and once your relationship starts to build, they’ll be opportunities to pepper in and talk about how there might be greater support for the.

Elizabeth Schedl: Yeah, I agree. A hundred percent focus on your elevator pitch, make sure it’s touching and to the point answer any questions they have, but the conversation really should just flow. That’s one of the best ways to retain. I, I believe bigger donors having them at things that you’re doing, offer them to come and volunteer, invite them to things that are happening and sharing with them.

Kimberly: So the LGBTQ. Community is an under-researched community in the fundraising world. It’s both among LGBTQ donors, as well as the organizations that often speak on their behalf and support their needs. So what has been your experience in, in fundraising? Do you feel like it’s challenging any more challenging than any other organization?

Elizabeth Schedl: I have been fortunate enough in my life to only work for queer owned businesses. And so to know the difference between a nonprofit that is LGBTQ and another organization that is not, and how their fundraising compares, wouldn’t be something I would have the best advice on for my experience. Fundraising around LGBTQ specific causes has really improved in the past five years.

Prior to that, it was very challenging. I think there’s been a, a big shift in that, um, in the last couple of years and people are more interested in supporting LGBTQ focused services and businesses than in past years. And so I could definitely see that challenge prior to this and, and I could still see it in some ways.

Now I see that more in the grant funding world. And one reason for that is there’s just not enough data. On on queer people. And when you think about how grants are funded and why programs are created over dollar amounts for funding, it’s around basically like the census, for example, collecting data on the needs out there and the population.

And when you don’t have data collection surveys that are gender diverse, how could you truly know, um, the community that needs to be served? The challenge for us, I believe is. Primarily not enough dollars around, um, LGBTQ focused grant funding beyond just when you’re think and prep, right? Like those are high level funded programs.

However, there’s so many other programs that need to be funded. Think about LGBTQ youth, mental health trans services. Just an array of different things. LGBTQ businesses are still new and coming into that world and just even knowing how to fundraise right, or who to go to or what that looks like and developing a plan or a program and sponsorship packets around that I think is still a challenge for, for some of us.

You

Kimberly: mentioned data. I’ve been curious about an organization or charity collecting data from their donors either at the time that the donation is made or through surveys, I’ve seen some organizations that have been begun to collect demographic data that will really help personalize. The communications.

What’s your thought on that? Having optional questions that ask for gender, their sexual orientation and other types of data?

Elizabeth Schedl: I could say if I was the donor, I would totally understand why they would want that seeing like, who is supporting their organization. I think as long as the questions were simple and.

Short and optional didn’t force anybody to answer it. Then it’s very useful for the company from a company standpoint. I love it. And just making sure that there’s a section that explains why I think that that’s really important to always have.

Kimberly: The key of course is to, to remind the donors that all of this data is confidential and that when you have your software, you’re able to set up different levels of admins.

And so the only the people that need to see that, see that data. I do see utility in it. I’ve been very curious about it recently because it can open up a whole new way in which organizations speak and engage with their supporters because they see them as they are. Instead of as a donor who might be a one time donor, a major gift donor, a micro donor annual fund donor, a planned giving donor.

But we see them as more than that. Love to dive into any advice that

you have for individuals working in this sector, who. May feel either some discrimination or their work environment may not feel as open as yours is. Do you have any advice for them on what they might be able to do to foster a broader sense of community and openness within their own organization that they’re passionate about working

Elizabeth Schedl: for?

For a lot of LGBTQ plus folks, definitely the job feels complicated. Being out at work for a lot of people, feels like a job in itself. If you’re not out at work, it’s challenging because you’re not bringing your whole self to work, right. You’re not sharing a big part of you. And that’s the unfortunate thing with a lot of companies is they don’t just do things that are very inclusive and supportive and show that kinda support.

Even just having a pride flag up at their office. During pride showing that this is an environment that fosters and celebrates diversity, um, and connection in that way. One thing I always talk about with agencies that are looking to improve in this way and in their allyship of their employees is having conversations using pronouns on the end of their emails.

When asking if somebody is married, asking about their partner, not their girlfriend or their boyfriend, or making that assumption, um, or asking about their pronouns, having gender neutral bathrooms at the workplace, having LGBTQ sensitivity and cultural competency trainings for their staff, making sure their healthcare has access for, for individuals who identify as trans.

And non-binary having a pride group donating to organizations like mine when it comes to that time. And you’re thinking about what organizations to highlight or. Board if, if they’re in that financial space and, and that’s what I always tell the companies as a good starter point for individuals who are out at work and feel safe and comfortable talking to their boss or the owner, I would say having that conversation, because they’re all seeing the flaws within their own company.

Maybe it’s something I just mentioned, or maybe it’s something different and finding that person that you feel safe and confident talking to asking if there’s small changes that can be made in the work. To make it feel more inclusive and safe for my folks who are unfortunately, not out at work or not comfortable.

That’s a very challenging thing because work is something we give a lot of ourselves to work is also my personal life. My identity is part of my job, but I would say if you’re comfortable, challenging yourself to at least introduce. Yourself to one other person and explain your identity and, and talk about it and make that connection.

I would start there. And if you’re not in, you’ve already noticed things that are inappropriate. I would consider leaving and finding a place that you can be your authentic self at.

Kimberly: We only have a few more minutes left and I do wanna get some words of wisdom or inspiration from you. Is there anything that we didn’t cover today that you wanted to

Elizabeth Schedl: touch on?

If you’re new to network for good take advantage of some of the courses that are offered, contact them to explain everything that you might not understand, because it was all new for us. There was so much, we didn’t know we could do within the platform. And there were templates that really helped us.

Right? How do we create this story? Do an end of year giving, how do we create a story around a program? How, how can we help highlight ourselves better than, than what we’ve done before I think is, is a great way to. That’s

Kimberly: awesome advice. And it’s really good advice for anytime. You’re trying to learn something new, right?

Like you’re not gonna get it. Right away, unless it’s super easy, but if it’s something like software, you almost have to do it bite size and we’re gonna do this. And then as we do it, we’re gonna try this new thing and try this new thing. If you don’t know it, then certainly call or email, hop on a training, go to those free and open office hours and get some help.

Do you have another amazing donor story that you wanna share?

Elizabeth Schedl: Last year, someone reached out to me, identifies as part of the trans community and wanted to give major gift to the agency. We sat and we talked for a while about different programs and services we offer and what’s funded by grants. And then things that really.

We do, but we don’t have any funding to do. And one of those things was support with name, change, and gender marker change. And financially for somebody that can be a heavy cost it’s upwards from two 50 bucks up to above in New Jersey. And so this donor reached out and said, you know, I’ve given a lot of thought and this is something I wanna fund and gave a, a large donation so that anyone who was coming to us who needed that we were able to cover the cost.

Kimberly: I love it. Happy pride month. And thank you and your team and your amazing volunteers and everybody who supports Hudson pride center. Your work is so important. Thank you for broadening your community and your services during COVID and beyond. We truly appreciate what you’re doing.

Elizabeth Schedl: Thank you so much. And thank you for having me here.

Happy pride.

Kimberly: Here’s some of the key takeaways, how Hudson pride center used virtual strategy during the pandemic to expand their audience beyond local donors and because of its success and the real purpose that it provided, they continue with a hybrid strategy to better serve their mission. How doubling down on fundraising, especially fundraising for individual gifts gives nonprofits more flexibility.

Then focusing solely on grants. And the last takeaway is why feedback loops are critical to understanding how to improve your stewardship process. Why donors given the first place and more, yes, you can. I’m Kimberly. See you next time on accidental fundraiser and be sure to follow along wherever you get your audio.

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