The Worlds Best Fundraisers

January 15, 2006       NPT Staff      

Sure, there’s competition. Yes, the economy is difficult and donors are fickle. Yup, it’s been one natural disaster after another elbowing into donors’ checkbooks.

The best fundraisers not only find the dollars, they do it consistently over time.

The editors of The NonProfit Times have selected the best of the best. The buzz words are benchmarking, results, long-term value. These people and organizations have done it all. Here are your benchmarks.

40 & Younger

Jennifer Bielat

Easter Seals’ solid year of testing in which it rolled out a number of new control packages and realized successful results spurred a $43 million growth in its direct mail fundraising. In the middle of that increase was Jennifer Bielat, assistant vice president, production and marketing services at the Chicago-based Easter Seals.

Bielat termed it “an outstanding fundraising year” where direct mail fundraising increased more than 10 percent. The spike follows two years where it was a difficult environment to be out fundraising, but the organization really rebounded and is proud of what it’s accomplished this past year, she added.

“We made a major move, and what we consider to be the foundation for a culture change here at Easter Seals, and converted our database,” Bielat explained. “We moved to a team approach this past year. It was a little over 7-month process that’s taken us from our former database, which was really a transactional marketing database, to now what is a relationship marketing database. For Easter Seals, that means the opportunity to move to a higher level and true appreciation for constituent relationship marketing.”

Easter Seals’ former database was purely a transactional database where the organization was only really able to capture a donor’s direct mail history. With the new database it maintains the ability for a holistic view of the donor, including the ability to not only track a person’s transactional history but also the various additional touch points that they might have with the organization. For instance, did they participate in any special events or are they being cultivated for a major gift?

The transition to the new database was no small task. The nonprofit used to archive its donors who were longer lapsed apart from its current active file. With this move it’s been able to bring the two databases — the active and the archived names — back together. The database now contains 10 million records compared to the 6 million prior to the switch.

Bielat’s next step is to equip the organization’s affiliates with the upgrade. She said that the goal within the next year is to pilot with a small group of affiliates and convert their databases into a larger marketing database so that the entire Easter Seals system can begin to look at the donor as a whole.

“We need the fabric of the affiliate databases to start to be able to see these different relationship touch points,” Bielat added. “Those conversions of the small pilot group won’t take place until the summer.”

The database has only been live since mid-November, so results as to how it has affected the organization’s fundraising are not yet available. Easter Seals understands, however, that there is a significant opportunity for it to push the fundraising needle up as a result of being able to understand how donors are interacting and utilize the ability to segment on those different relationship points, Bielat said.

During the year Bielat was solely responsible for another significant gain. She turned 39 — again. “I did turn 40, by the way, and I’m embracing that age. I guess I’m lucky I just made the cut.”

 

TrendSetter

Wristband Sales

Lance Armstrong Foundation

Lance Armstrong is accustomed to leading the pack. However, it is one thing being tailed by Jan Ullrich in the Tour de France and an entirely different game to put big business in your rear view mirror.

The Lance Armstrong Foundation ( LAF) did just that with its yellow silicone LIVESTRONG wristband. With the $1 wristbands tallying more than 58 million units sold, scores of other nonprofits have crafted their own variations. The March of Dimes went with a tie-dye look, the Epilepsy Foundation joined blue and red in a single band and the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America personalized its band with a number of different colors.

Even with the silicone deluge, it was the LIVESTRONG wristband that generated and fueled a trend in the youth market, which led to a number of for-profit companies jumping into the production fray.

The wristbands created a stronger nonprofit presence at retail outlets and on the Web. LIVESTRONG wristbands could be purchased at Nike and Discovery Channel stores while the LAF was selling approximately 100,000 per day off of its Web site, www.livestrong.org.

The foundation and Nike originally set a goal of selling 5 million units but never anticipated that its wristband campaign would spur a societal trend, according to Jennifer Halpin, spokesperson at the LAF. The 5 million goal was exceeded in less than three months and the LIVESTRONG wristbands have realized sales in all 50 states, 60 countries and on every continent, Halpin added.

“The campaign was always about so much more than fundraising,” Halpin said. “The words LIVESTRONG are very meaningful to us and to Lance. They describe our hopes for people living with cancer and our approach to the battle.”

The LAF conducted a survey of wristband purchasers on its Web site and found that 83 percent of people buying and wearing the LIVESTRONG band were doing so to support someone living with cancer or to assist the foundation. As a result, the organization has parlayed its wristband success into the Unity Is Strength campaign, an endeavor designed to share emotional and practical support for people living with cancer.

The organization believes that there’s a story behind every wristband, so it has invited patients, doctors, caregivers, family and friends to its Web site to share personal tales of strength, knowledge and inspiration.

“Even if or when the demand for the wristbands slows down, they will always symbolize to us the true meaning of the campaign — the idea that unity is strength, knowledge is power and attitude is everything,” Halpin explained. “That doesn’t change no matter what our wristbands sales are. And Lance has said he is never taking his wristband off.”

 

Cause Marketing

St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

What began for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a two-person team and a simple paper pin-up promotion now amounts to a corporate marketing team of more than a dozen employees running one of the most expansive cause-related marketing programs in the nation.

St. Jude currently runs cause-related marketing programs with revenues surpassing $13 million annually, and climbing. With the first-year — and anticipated second-year — success of a signature cause marketing program, Thanks and Giving, launched in 2004, cause-related marketing at St. Jude is on the upswing. The Thanks and Giving program doubled its corporate sponsorships to number more than 40 in its sophomore year. And after the first annual 2004 campaign went on to raise nearly $9 million in little more than a month, executives at St. Jude forecast a doubling of revenues for 2005.

 

Humble beginnings

Realizing the tremendous potential in Corporate America, St. Jude in 1999 launched a corporate marketing division. With only a couple of corporate partners on board, the team set it sights on building strong partnerships that would last.

“Probably our greatest partnership at that time was our Coors (Brewing Company) relationship,” said Phil McCarty, vice president of national corporate marketing at American Lebanese Syrian Associated Charities (ALSAC), the fundraising arm of St. Jude. The organization pitched the Coors (now Molson Coors Brewing Company) promotion to various retail establishments, including quick service restaurants and grocery stores, asking that they offer customers the opportunity at checkout to purchase a pumpkin-shaped pin-up for one dollar. The program, which started out as strictly a Coors sponsor program, proved a tremendous success for St. Jude, raising more than $20 million during the past 12 years. It brought in $3 million for 2005.

 

Mutually-beneficial partnerships

The original ALSAC/St. Jude corporate marketing team of two is now a team of 13 who work on all aspects of corporate marketing, including cause-related marketing, sponsorship development, workplace giving initiatives, matching gift programs and licensing programs. As more and more corporations begin to realize the mutual benefits of cause-related marketing, the research hospital is gaining significant ground in building up its corporate roster.

One flourishing partnership is with Target Corporation, a St. Jude partner since 1999 when it opened Target House, a long-term housing resource for families whose children are receiving treatment at the Memphis, Tenn.-based hospital. The retail chain has since donated more than $30 million to St. Jude, and most recently partnered with a Walt Disney Company subsidiary to donate $1 million to benefit the 2005 Thanks and Giving campaign.

St. Jude in 1996 partnered with Hancock Fabrics, headquartered in Baldwyn, Miss., and singer Amy Grant to run the Quilt of Dreams promotion. Through the program, during the Spring and Summer months Hancock designs one-of-a-kind fabric patterns inspired by artwork drawn by children receiving treatments at the hospital, donating a portion of the sale proceeds to St. Jude. The program has raised more than $2 million. In 2004, St. Jude partnered with Dallas-based Chili’s Grill and Bar to run the “Create a Pepper to Fight Childhood Cancer” program, raising more than $2 million that year, and more than $3 million during September, 2005. Other St. Jude cause marketing partners include Kay Jewelers and The Melting Pot Restaurants.

Although less than 10 percent of the funds St. Jude currently raises is from cause-related marketing, “I see it only expanding,” said McCarty. “What’s been incredible about our efforts is that we really have developed some great marketing partnerships with the corporations. And in essence, we’ve become part of their marketing mix, and part of their marketing strategy. That’s been made very clear through the success of the Thanks and Giving program.”

 

Online

International Fund for Animal Welfare

Like many online fundrasing organizations, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) reaped the benefits of providing a convenient online giving tool following Hurricane Katrina. Since its fiscal year began on July 1, IFAW has collected more than $625,000, a 25 percent increase from the previous year.

“We are well above our target at this point mainly because of Katrina,” explained Cassandra Koenen, director of online campaigns and marketing for the Yarmouth, Mass.-headquartered nonprofit. “We had an outpouring from our supporters early on in the process. We then did a Google keyword ad buy, the sponsored link, which actually drove a large percentage of donors to the site. A lot of supporters put links on their sites, which also drove people to us.”

IFAW moved toward a more interactive experience on its Web site. Following the disaster, IFAW posted video spots of actual rescues and audio diaries from people in Louisiana. It continues to expand by planning a launch of both podcasting and blogging this year.

According to Koenen, when IFAW sends out an email message to its 300,000 online supporters, the message that goes out to the Katrina donors is tweaked slightly with the hope that they will eventually be brought into the organization as a whole.

The same can be said for www.ifaw.com’s audience. The target demographic is women age 40-plus, Koenen said. But through its activism, the organization hopes to bring in younger people and steward them through the organization as the years go on.

One method that IFAW has enacted to attain that end is the institution of microsites. Major campaigns including stopping whaling and the seal hunt have been focused upon with targeted microsites.

“We really want to hone in on exactly what we want our supporters to do,” Koenen said. “We want to get them information, we want them to take action, make a donation, watch video, read diaries and things like that. By keeping them in the microsites, we’re able to contain the message that we want to get to them.”

Seals and whales are the two microsites that have been launched at this point and Koenen assured that both microsites are a permanent part of the fabric of the overall Web site. Microsites may be pushed to the forefront during individual campaign times as IFAW often plans to drive traffic to specific unique URLs but they are a part of the site in and of itself.

Along with providing issue-specific information to its constituents, IFAW has been building a truly global Web presence. The flags of 15 nations are posted at the top of the site, each a link to targeted national issues detailed in the country’s native tongue. The two that are most thoroughly translated are China and Germany since IFAW has positioned staff in those countries. Canadians can peruse the site in French, there’s a Dutch link for those in the Netherlands, and on down the line including China, Japan, Russia and Latin America.

An example of the diversity can be witnessed when one clicks on the Australia site. There are different homepage features than there are on other country sites. There are global campaigns that IFAW works on across the board — whales, seals, elephants, emergency relief — and then there are specific local campaigns for the local country offices or different periods when the local campaigns are being pushed in those regions depending on what is going on, Koenen explained. If you are Australian and on the Australia site, your contact details go to staff in the Australia office.

It may already have the makings of a global communal site, but IFAW says it will continue to build on the more participatory elements of its Web site.

“Our goals this year, and the coming years, is to really build the site and make it a community site where people can come be advocates, donate and really embrace the issues that they believe in,” Koenen said. “It’s really about interactivity and getting them to be an active part of the organization.”

 

International

Doctors Without Borders

The intense media coverage of the tsunami disaster in December, 2004, incited Beatles-like mania as donors flocked to their telephones, PCs and mailboxes to give hundreds of millions to disaster relief organizations. Just days into the efforts, one organization made a move that rocked the nonprofit world – it asked donors to stop.

The North American branch of the international humanitarian agency Doctors Without Borders/

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF-USA), and the 19 MSF offices around the world, issued a news release on Jan. 3, 2005 — just eight days after the tsunami hit — stating that the organization’s tsunami operations were “sufficiently funded,” and that it would accept no further donations earmarked for the effort.

“It was not a difficult decision to make,” said Nicolas de Torrente, executive director of MSF-USA in New York City. According to de Torrente, MSF experienced such a tremendous outpouring of support from the American public, as well as internationally, the organization found itself with “more funds than we would be able to use responsibly in our operations.”

In a single day, MSF collected close to $4 million. Within 72 hours of the tsunami, the organization had received more than $6.4 million through its Web site alone. And one week after the disaster, that amount nearly quadrupled to more than $20 million — not including the checks still en route. “It was a completely unprecedented, spontaneous kind of outpouring of support,” said de Torrente.

MSF collected approximately $117 million worldwide in contributions in 2004 and 2005 intended for the tsunami operations. Minus the nearly $20 million MSF collected for the tsunami in the final days of 2004, this number exceeds the organization’s total public support for the entire year of 2004 ($91,382,539).

According to Kris Torgeson, communications director at MSF-USA, the organization made the decision to stop accepting earmarked donations for the tsunami when revenue reached $20 million. But the checks continued to pour in. “We ended up having to call back many donors and ask them to de-restrict (their donations),” said Torgeson. MSF made calls and sent letters to donors explaining that the organization’s budget for its tsunami operations had been met, and asked for permission to use the funds in other emergencies. While the majority complied, a small number of donors requested reimbursement. MSF-USA reimbursed about $1 million; worldwide ( U.S. included) approximately $1.5 million was returned.

MSF earmarked $32 million for its tsunami operations in Sumatra and Indonesia.

According to de Torrente, crises like the famine in Niger are grossly under-represented in the media, resulting in low levels of interest and even lower levels of financial support. While others, namely the tsunami, are so heavily covered that they tend to garner support disproportionate to the actual need. “The outpouring of support for people in South Asia shows the kind of positive impact media coverage can have on efforts to bring relief to people in crisis. Why can’t it extend to those trapped by wars or dying by the millions from a disease like (tuberculosis)?” asked de Torrente. “Silence is the best ally of atrocities.”

The media jumped on the Northern Pakistan earthquake minutes after it rattled South Asia on Oct. 8, 2005, and covered it in the days that followed. It is nearly soundless now, said de Torrente. MSF used a portion of the tsunami runoff for its operations there as well, “because Pakistan did not generate the kind of response needed there.”

Added de Torrente, “We want this to set a precedent that we can have funds necessary to respond based on need, not based on whether (the crisis) makes TV screens.”

 

Living Legend

Claude H. Grizzard, Sr.

As namesake and chief executive officer of The Grizzard Agency for more than 30 years, Claude H. Grizzard, Sr., was a key player in establishing industry standards for nonprofit direct mail fundraising. One of the grand old masters in fundraising, Grizzard is this year’s pick for The NonProfit Times Living Legend.

When Grizzard took the reins in 1961, the family-managed Grizzard Agency consisted of a few printing presses and 18 employees crammed into an old, second floor walk-up, just above a lighting and fixture company. The agency was small, but it was financially sound and had a strong reputation within the industry, something his father, the late Claude T. Grizzard, Jr., was content to maintain.

“I think one of the reasons my dad turned it over to me, is I wanted to do some aggressive things that he felt might not be fiscally sound,” said Grizzard. “(My father) was comfortable where he was. He felt that the time a company can go under is when it expands.”

Grizzard aggressively took strides during the next 40 years, successfully implementing programs for the American Red Cross, the State Sheriff’s Associations, The Salvation Army and nearly 70 rescue missions, eventually growing the company into one of the largest direct response agencies in the nation. “I wanted to expand the business, and I wanted it to be a national company. I was anxious to do that.”

Today, the 85-year-old, $120 million per year grossing agency is run by Claude T.’s grandson Chip Grizzard (since 1997), and has primary offices in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Houston and Lincoln, Neb. There are satellite offices in New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago and Cleveland.

Looking back, Grizzard recognizes the influence his father had on his career. “My dad taught me the benefits of tithing, of why I should tithe (in life and in business),” said Grizzard. His father led by example, and displayed no gray area when it came to ethics. “It was this way or this way.”

He added, “The top of the list to me, when I walked away from it all, is I felt like I was fair with people in my career. To deal fairly with your clients, your partners, your providers, your employees, is something that is very, very important to us.” Also important, said Grizzard, is “the constant quest to do better. We’re constantly testing new concepts, new lists, new strategies.”

His clients recognize all of those traits. “They’re always grabbing and making things happen on behalf of their clients,” said Maj. George Hood, national community relations secretary at The Salvation Army in Alexandria, Va. In terms of direct mail fundraising, The Grizzard Agency has the longest agency history with The Salvation Army, going back more than 60 years, said Hood.

Grizzard pioneered the idea of tailoring direct mail for nonprofits on a chapter-by- chapter basis, said Geoffrey Peters, president of the full-service agency Creative Direct Response, in Crofton, Md. “That requires huge amounts of coordination, and (it) made them pretty unique in the industry,” added Peters. “I don’t really know to this day that they have serious competitors” in that market segment.

“We’re helping organizations that are helping America,” explained Grizzard. “So as the competition (for nonprofits) gets smarter, it means we have to get smarter as well.” To this end, Grizzard involved himself with major professional organizations, such as the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the American Association of Fundraising Counsel and the Direct Marketing Association, from which he was awarded the 2000 Fundraising Achievement Award.

“The memorable thing to me are the people who I worked with during my career, the relationships that I had with my fellow workers, and with the clients. Some clients, I looked at them as friends,” said Grizzard.