Bringing Donor Development Home

February 2013

Your Profitable Nonprofit

By Karen Eber Davis

Imagine your mission front and center in your area’s premier retirement home, offering a chance for you to interact on a regular basis with 400 up-scale seniors.  Each month, Your Profitable Nonprofit explores remarkable ideas that nonprofits are using to increase their income and reach. This month, we explore Mote Marine Laboratory’s outreach at The Glenridge on Palmer Ranch.

Early one Sunday morning I visited The Glenridge, “an exclusive, life-long-learning senior retirement facility.” As I walked into the main entrance, I was delighted to climb a stairwell placed around a cylindrical story-and-a-half aquarium. A sign indicated that the aquarium was associated with the nonprofit organization Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. Later I met with Dr. Kumar Mahadevan, President and CEO of Mote, and learned about the fish, who were swimming blithely as people climbed a stairwell around them. A donor funded the aquarium’s capital costs. The Glenridge supports its operations. Similar Mote aquariums are located in a second senior housing facility, at the main public library, in the pediatric wing of a hospital, and at the airport.

This Month’s Idea

Why might you choose to adapt this idea? Mote’s presence in public places and housing sites promotes its mission of today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans and helps people get closer to the marine research programs the Lab undertakes. The aquarium at The Glenridge supports the development of individual donors. Sharing a visual reminder of your work in an upscale senior facility satisfies two of the three key individual donors “musts.”  First, Mote is in the presence of people with means. Second, the aquarium provides a connection. Third, identifying those with passion can take place with follow-up work.

Bringing The Strategy Home

What is the strategy? Find ways to provide reminders of your work or even pieces of your mission at sites where potential donors live or congregate. Even bigger picture, the strategy is about selecting ideas that create value in people’s lives and lead to their support of your nonprofit. Ideas you can use are plentiful. The challenge is in selecting ones that provide double or even mega-whammy help toward your goals. Choose your ideas carefully, and most important, follow through with them.

This individual fundraising strategy involves three steps:

  • Find a place to provide mission services or display a mission reminder.
  • Create a partnership to pay for its upfront and ongoing costs.
  • Follow-up to create and strengthen relationships with potential donors.

How Can You Use and Adapt This Idea?

Have you dismissed this idea because the nonprofit you serve isn’t an aquarium? Think again. There is more here than just help for aquariums. This strategy is about increasing your reach into the homes of potential donors. You have very important mission stories to tell, and many of them might be displayed in places where potential donors congregate or live. Below are several adaptations of the strategy for different genres using the retirement facility scenario. Since you know your mission intimately, your nonprofit will have even better ideas.

  • Performing Arts. Display costumes and props for a forthcoming production. Or, use today’s equivalent of a jukebox with recordings from last season’s orchestra performance. To stir passion and develop relationships: Offer actor or musician talks or special performances such as on-site rehearsals. Provide a residents-only backstage tour.
  • Social Service. Exhibit a commonly used tool, such as a food collection barrel. Provide background information about the tool and how it serves the community. Use a rotating digital photo frame to tell a client story. To stir passion and develop relationships: Offer an afternoon program that introduces a client the nonprofit helped. For instance, one Big Brothers Big Sisters affiliate asks a Big and Little to share their story.
  • Environmental. Display pictures and sound recordings, such as the surf or birds songs. To stir passion and develop relationships: Offer lectures that include a tactile element, such as the five most interesting objects found at the Conservancy. Arrange on-site tours that accommodate resident’s special needs.
  • Visual Arts. Exhibit a new piece of sculpture or, for digital artists, new tools of the trade. To stir passion and develop relationships: Offer an artist-lead hands-on opportunity. Invite your children’s group in to create art with the residents.
  • Animals. Display pictures of animals needing adoptions. To stir passion and develop relationships: Bring animals to pet and share about your work to find them homes and how the residents might help by contacting friends and relatives.
  • Education. Display pictures of your school’s newest buildings. Offer recorded lectures for community broadcast by special website access. To stir passion and develop relationships: Invite your scholarship students to share their stories. Provide on-site guest lecturers about current events.

This month’s strategy reaches seniors, builds relationships, and stirs passions for a cause with the goal of creating new donors. Once you find an idea to create a presence with seniors with means and pay for it, don’t stop there. Develop relationships and passion with them. Never just change the exhibit. Use the opportunity to grow your community. Find ways to stay in contact with your potential new donors.

Next month in Your Profitable Nonprofit, you will learn about nonprofits that found ways to use their best skills to handsomely profit their bottom lines.