During the last week of May, I had the privilege of attending the Western Canada Fundraising Conference as a Beedie Ambassador and learning from fundraising professionals from all over the country. I had an existing knowledge of fundraising strategies due to my previous volunteer work and past co-op placements with non-profits. I had always thought of fundraisers as salespeople for their respective causes. However, as the conference progressed, I joined a wonderful group of people focused on saving the world by telling stories of impact and necessity for change.
Here are several key lessons I am taking into my professional life moving forward:
Lesson 1: “The first gift you ask for is my attention.”
Tom Ahern’s approach to creating support is similar to how I envision high-level sales executive approaches any client about their product. Tom Ahern described building a case for support by providing a donor with the answers to three questions:
- What is your organization doing that’s so uniquely wonderful that the world should want more of it?
- Why now? Why is this cause urgent and a priority?
- Why should the donor care?
In answering these three questions, Ahern insisted that people give to people, saying “a campaign case is about the vision, the destination, where the [organization] wants to go and soon”, and how a donor can help get there. Throughout his presentation, he advocated for donor-centricity, where a case for support is telling a story of how a donor can create the impact they want to see through the non-profit organization they invest in. It stunned me how practical his approach was, yet not many organizations take advantage of it, focusing on cause-centric content that doesn’t generate donor commitment.
Lesson 2: “You can afford to lose a donor to maintain an organization’s integrity.”
The Me Too movement Fireside Chat unpacked a side to the industry that I had never considered. In a panel moderated by Samantha Laprade, Lynne Boardman, Jas Jhooty and Simone Joyaux, they confronted the tough topic of donors taking advantage of fundraisers and sexual harassment in the nonprofit sector. In a thorough session, it revealed to me the necessity of formal procedures in meeting donors and changing the social paradigms that accompany fundraising work.
Lesson 3: “Get rid of your sponsorship packages! You’re leaving money on the table.”
Chris Baylis from the Sponsorship Collective cited sponsorship as being audience-centric, where corporate donors focus on the benefits of being a brand in front of the audience your organization serves. He rebelled against the idea of using sponsorship packages with detailed matrixes to detail how a company can engage with the organization.
Instead, he suggested that a sponsorship package should detail the event or program and leave an undefined opportunity to discuss the monetary level of sponsorship. Discussing the prospective corporate sponsor’s needs and how it aligns with the people your organization serves is critical in ensuring a true value match and attaining a bigger donation. As someone who has profusely used sponsorship packages in the nonprofits I worked for, I saw the idea as revolutionary.
Lesson 4: Guerilla donor relations
Mary Saretski approached donor relations in a new yet simple method she titled “guerrilla donor relations”. Although this method doesn’t replace traditional stewardship, it is a strong addition to creating authenticity and trust between an organization and its supporters. She emphasized simplicity in terms of engaging donors in informal settings. These included capitalizing on social media for immediate impact updates and sharing candid photos of donated items being used.
During the Western Canada Fundraising Conference, I was exposed to fundraising on a deeper level. Beyond the technical knowledge and practical applications of fundraising strategies, I learned about how integral continuous learning and information sharing is to the field. “We are here to learn from each other,” said Simone Joyaux at the beginning of my first day at the conference. It can be safe to say that I learned plenty, and I intend on using it to the fullest of my capability in my current role with JABC and in my future professional roles.
Mikaela Nuval is a fourth-year student pursuing a dual concentration in Human Resources and International Business. She is passionate about creating impact in her community, especially in education and empowerment. Her enthusiasm for education is seen in her consecutive terms as a Teaching Assistant where she taught 168 students to date, and as a mentor to 6 first-year students through their first term in Beedie in the BASS Mentorship program.
As an advocate for female empowerment, Mikaela is a proactive board member of the Richmond Women’s Resource Centre, having been heavily involved in Young Women in Business SFU championing more opportunity for young female professionals. As a Development Assistant for Junior Achievement of BC, Mikaela combines these themes planning and executing events that educate and empower youth to succeed in the global economy, allowing for donors and volunteers to witness the impact of their support and patronage.