December 20, 2014

Donors to Fundraisers: So You Want Our Money?

Local philanthropists tell us what persuades them to open up their wallets.Dear fundraisers,
    Whatever your cause, rest assured there are those of us in Southwest Florida who hold it near and dear to our hearts.

   But as donors in this town, we are used to giving and know how to choose wisely. Pulling on our heart strings is just the first step. We want to feel a personal connection, and we want specific information about programs, finances and future plans. 

   Certain missteps are instant deal breakers, but succeed in winning us over and we might join the ranks of your most loyal supporters.

   Sincerely,
   Your potential donors

As financial transactions go, the decision to give money to a charity is one of the more rewarding. But even the most well-heeled donor has only so much money to go around, so we asked local philanthropists to tell us what convinces them to pull out their wallets and donate.


Tip 1

A personal connection is key.
   It can be as simple as a suggestion from a friend or as unpredictable as a chance encounter, but a personal connection with a charity is the first step toward giving for most donors.
   When Allen Ryan and his wife moved to a community called Hideaway Beach on Marco Island, they soon learned that the community had a longstanding relationship with the Guadalupe Center of Immokalee.
   
“It wasn’t long until people got ahold of me, and they took my wife, Diane, and me out to Immokalee,” he says. “We saw the poverty and we saw the kids, and you couldn’t not want to do something to help.”

   The Ryans have donated every year since.
  For Naples realtor Mary Ballard, that personal connection came by accident.
   Ballard was at an event three years ago when the woman sitting next to her got a phone call from a former foster child in crisis.

   Curious, Ballard asked about the call and learned the woman sitting next to her, Judi Woods, was the founder of a charity called Footsteps to the Future. The group pairs foster girls with mentors to help them through their teenage years.
    “There’s nothing like seeing someone and chatting with them face to face and having that interaction,” Ballard says. “You just get a read on who they are. With Judi, I could just see that her heart and soul is in Footsteps to the Future. So for me, the connection was with her.”

Tip 2

Honesty is the best policy.
  Honest information and interactions—or the lack thereof—can make or break a person’s decision to donate.
   To be most effective, the person asking for funds should be deeply involved in the charity, says Simone Lutgert, who is involved with the Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples, the Naples Winter Wine Festival and the Naples Botanical Garden, among dozens of
other organizations.
   It’s a huge turnoff if the person asking for money is a paid consultant rather than someone connected to the cause, Lutgert says. Worse yet, if consultants misrepresent their real motivation for a meeting or attempt to hide the fact that they’re going to ask for money, the charities risk alienating potential supporters.
    “A lot of groups send consultants out to the donors, and that gets nowhere with me,” she says. “This happened to me, and the consultant explained the project, and I felt no personal connection to them. I did say that I would contribute, but, if the people who were involved in the project had come to me, I might have given more.”
   Worse was when an organization called her and asked her to meet with a consultant, telling her they wanted her input about future plans. Then, right before the meeting, the group sent her a package detailing the completed plans and finalized campaign. They just wanted to ask for money, she realized. This felt underhanded and left a bad taste in her mouth, she says.
   “Please, just tell me what you want,” she says. “If you’re doing a campaign and you’re looking for donations, please be upfront with me. I’ll be upfront with you.”

Tip 3

Show your impact with numbers and stories.
   Showing your organization’s success quantitatively makes a difference.
When Ryan and his wife first got involved with the Guadalupe Center, the organization had about 50 kids in an after-school tutoring program where high school students tutor younger students. Today, there are more than 400 kids in the program and nearly 60 tutors. More than 80 former tutors now are
in college.
   “When you see the kids and you say ‘I can have an impact and I can see the impact,’ that matters,” says Ryan, a retired businessman.

   But sheer statistics only go so far. Donors need to put faces to the people they are helping.
   Ryan cites an example of a young woman he knows personally.
   “There’s one closing of the circle right there, a kid who was at-risk and is now a tutor,” he says. “It couldn’t get any better than that, to be able to be a part of something that works so well.”

Tip 4

Be an open book.
  Another crucial factor is the organization’s finances. It’s one of those all-important items that can be a deal breaker even if you love the charity’s mission, donors say.
  “The organization must have good oversight and good management, and it must have a strong financial position with minimal debt,” says Dolph von Arx, chairman of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. The retired CEO of Planters Lifesavers Co., von Arx and his wife are involved in many other local charities, including the Naples Philharmonic Center for the Arts, The Humane Society Naples, The Shelter for Abused Women & Children and Youth Haven.
  The members of the board also matter, as well as what kind of access a donor has to them, von Arx says. Board members should be people who are committed to the organization’s mission—not just interested in serving on a board for community recognition.
   Getting the right answers and access to the right people was key in Marco Island resident Roger Vasey’s decision to get more involved with the Guadalupe Center, he says. As the organization asked for more funding, Vasey began asking about the organization’s finances.
  Vasey and his wife met while working in a mentoring program for underprivileged kids in the heart of Chicago in the early 1970s. The Guadalupe Center was a natural fit for them, but access to information was crucial, he says.
    “I’ve always felt it was very important to see financial reports and information,” says Vasey, who worked in finance for 23 years with Merrill Lynch. “I want to have access to the people who have the answers and controls, particularly as the funding that my wife and I have provided has increased for a particular organization.”
   Today, 15 years later, he is the chairman of the organization’s board.

Tip 5

Host events, but spend wisely.
   Gala events can pump much-needed cash infusions into charities. But Lutgert, who has both organized and participated in charity events for years, says events can easily help or hurt a charity.
   She’s seen many people get caught up in the moment of a fantastic event and donate more than they had originally intended.
   But extravagance without results often backfires.
    “If I go to an event and I can clearly tell that they have spent so much money putting on the event, then I usually try to find out approximately what they’ve made. Then I can tell if they’re being prudent with their money,” she says. “It bugs me if you’re spending too much, and you’re only reaping a little reward.”
   In that case, it might make more sense to just ask for donations, rather than fund an event.
   And then there’s the fact that Naples is saturated with charity balls, galas, golf tournaments and outings.
“The ones that I like to go to are ones that have a little bit of a different twist to them,” says Lutgert.
   At an event, donors can make that personal connection to a charity, or, if it goes badly, they can rule it out altogether. Like all donor interactions, it’s a tightrope walk requiring goodwill, transparency, information and, above all, patience.