Sometimes in fundraising, you have to step outside of your comfort zone, dive in and learn something new.
It can be challenging—there’s no question about it. But in the end, it’s all worth it.
In our second season of Accidental Fundraiser, you’ve heard stories from extraordinary individuals who have been challenged, learned how to keep going, and experienced success and failure along the way.
To celebrate the closing of this season, we’re revisiting some key moments from these conversations and pausing to reflect on the wisdom our awesome guests shared. Listen in to hear some themes we noticed, like how clear purpose creates a strong, inspiring culture; why you should trust the process; and how authenticity is a key driver of success.
- You can choose to turn your pain into action. Don’t let opposition or tragedy stop you. Make the choice to bring good out of grief.
- Stories foster connection, whether it’s helping someone understand the work that you do or making a very high-level concept concrete for others. Communicating with a story is powerful, and it works.
- Nonprofit work takes a team. Keep an open mind as you build your team. When you build your donor base, you may be surprised by the ways diversity will strengthen your efforts.
Season 2 Finale Transcript
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. After many powerful conversations with inspiring accidental fundraisers, we’re wrapping up season two of the show and to celebrate, we’re going to revisit some key moments from our conversations and we’re going to pause to reflect on the wisdom that our awesome guests shared. Let’s dive in, starting with Lori Alhadeff, founder of Make Our School Safe. She kicked off the season by sharing how the tragic loss of her daughter inspired the creation of a nonprofit that fights for school safety.
On February 14th, 2018, it was Valentine’s Day and I brought my daughter Alyssa to school at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. And later that afternoon I got a text message saying, “Shots fired at Stoneman Douglas High School, kids running and jumping the fence.” And I immediately had this sense of loss that came over my body. I knew something was drastically wrong and I raced to the school and it was basically a day of just tragic, the most horrific day of my life. To later find out at two o’clock in the morning from the FBI that my daughter Alyssa was shot eight times in her English classroom. There was a gunman that came in and shot 17 people and killed them and also injured 17 people. So from that horrific day, my husband and I decided that we wanted to turn our pain and grief into action and we started the nonprofit organization called Make Our School Safe.
Camille Nitschky, executive director of Children’s Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay region discussed how her creative fundraising ideas led to the center’s best year yet. She shared how she’s learned how to trust the process with a clear focus on her mission.
Sounds crazy, but I have constantly been given signs along the way that we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to do. I push people and we take risks and we don’t have anything to lose as long as our intention and as our heart is there for our mission and for our kids who are grieving and they’re the most important thing, no matter what it is, then it all works out. And I’ve always said trust the process. We wrote it on the wall in our first office. I almost had it tattooed on my wrist because it’s the journey and you might not end out where you thought you were going to be, but if you are mindful and your heart is in the right place, you can trust that where you end up is where you’re supposed to be.
The pandemic forced all of us to adapt the way that we operate. Elizabeth Schedl, executive director at the Hudson Pride Center in New Jersey shared the silver lining that she experienced as a result of the shift to virtual events. It broadened their reach and ultimately more people have been served.
One thing we learned when trying to do some of our social support groups or our events and doing them in the virtual world, we were able to tap into a larger population of people, 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 that magnitude of people tapping into these queer services. And what was so great about is when we asked about that feedback, just the level of satisfaction of being able to come to something like this in a safe virtual way and otherwise not being able to. And us being able to provide that was beautiful.
Getting your nonprofit off the ground, whoa, it can be really difficult. Ayanna Nahmias, founder of the Zimbabwe Farm Project talked about the turning point for her organization and how she learned to develop a healthy detachment from the project as it grew.
People want to see where their money goes, especially it’s far away. When we started doing the professional photos and professional videos, that’s when I felt a change. I noticed that immediately when I started having the women tell their stories versus me telling their story. After a certain number of years, projects have to grow and mature and separate, and that’s what I’ve been in the process of doing also by bringing more people on board, is separating myself from the project. Like a baby, it has to start walking on its own. It’s not an extension of me, I’m the founder, but it’s not the extension of me. And I feel that because that’s happening and people are seeing that’s happen, they don’t feel like they’re supporting me, but they’re supporting the project, the mission and the women.
One of the biggest challenges in fundraising is getting donors to understand what you do. Christina McGovern, director of development and marketing at the Youth Service Bureau of St. Joseph County in Indiana shared how she learned this the hard way.
You just can’t stop. I think that’s the biggest thing. You can’t get complacent. You can’t assume people are going to always do this and you can’t assume that they understand everything that you do as well. I think as fundraisers, people who work in the nonprofit world, just assume that people know what you do and they truly don’t. You have to break it down into bite size pieces and keep it focused on something that they can connect with.
Defining your purpose doesn’t just lead to more effective operations. Erin Mulligan Nelson, Bonterra CEO, shared how clear purpose creates a strong inspiring culture.
Erin Mulligan Nelson:
Purpose to me also dovetails straight into culture because purpose is the reason that you do what you do and culture is how you get that done. Having a strong, thriving culture that’s really inspired and aligned around its purpose is incredibly valuable. Culture doesn’t happen by accident. Culture happens because there are choices you make around what you celebrate, what you recognize, how you engage, how you articulate. Those combination of two things, purpose and culture. Strong leaders can do anything.
As accidental fundraisers we care a lot about making a real impact. Grant makers Donna Waites and Meredith Matthews from the Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina joined the show to give their advice on applying for the funds that you need to keep your mission thriving. Donna shared the importance of trust and relationships and how it can move the needle.
Everything that happened in 2020 and with the pandemic, with the murders of George Floyd and others, and then the social unrest that followed. We were in a place where we had already started to do some serious hard work where we knew internally that we trusted each other and that we trusted our partners and that we could respond in a way that was based not on talk, not on show, not just putting out tweets and Facebook messages or statements, but that it was founded and it meets our mission.
And Meredith gave us the inside scoop on how grant makers make decisions.
Part of how we do grant making is really based on trust, meaning trusting our partners to tell us what they need. Tell me what you need and for capacity building and put it in your application and we’ll figure out a way to make it happen. That we do what we say we’re going to do, I think that’s been great for our relationship with our partners. And letting them know that we do trust them. They know what they need, they know what their capacity building needs are, and our role isn’t to tell them what they need. Our role is to fund it.
Nonprofit work is a two way street. Of course the mission is what drives us, but it really can’t happen without a team of supporters behind us, Tracy Bailey, executive director of Freedom Readers shared why she takes care of volunteers and donors as well as the people that she serves.
We focus on low income communities and we know that a lot of those communities, for historical reasons, people of color live there, so a lot of the people that we work with are people of color. Having come from one of those communities myself, I absolutely understand the importance of continuing the work and helping everybody who might volunteer at our organization to realize that in an instant you could be on the receiving end of someone else’s help. So what we try to do is make sure that there’s always a street.
Fundraising takes a village. Morgan Martell, Vice President of Engagement and Inclusion at Bonterra, shared her advice for building a team and leveraging everyone’s unique strengths.
Step up to the plate. You have to prove yourself. But my wish for other people that are seeing younger individuals come onto their team, maybe not as seasoned fundraising professionals or advancement professionals, just know that you were once in their shoes and regardless of their expertise, they’re there because they’re willing to learn. And how are they going to be willing to learn if you don’t give them at least any opportunity to show their strengths in their own ways?
As an accidental fundraiser, sometimes you have to be your own cheerleader. Mark Davis, founder and director of Abundance International, shares his secret to staying energized and on fire for his mission.
The first and foremost thing of any of us running a non-profit thing is to encourage ourselves daily. That’s more important than the organizational work, the work you’re doing for your recipients. Anything else is keeping your fire lit. And I wake up every morning with a motivational video. I keep my body in shape and I get reminded about what I’m doing. And the need part is that when you’re doing something that’s life changing and anybody you talk to, I worked other jobs where you introduce yourself, tell them what they do, they go, “That’s nice.” I tell them now I’m over there making a difference and saving lives [inaudible 00:10:40] for these orphans in Ukraine.
As we bring this season to a close, I hope you remember these three takeaways. First, you can choose to turn your pain into action. Don’t let opposition or tragedy stop you. Take the step to bring good out of grief. Two, stories foster connection. Whether it’s helping someone understand the work that you do or making a very high level concept concrete for others. Communicating with a story is powerful and it works. Three, nonprofit work takes a team. Keep an open mind as you build your team and as you build your donor base, because you may be surprised at the ways diversity will strengthen your efforts. I’m Kimberly. See you next time on Accidental Fundraiser, and be sure to follow along wherever you get your audio.