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How One Nonprofit Cultivates Relationships for Funding Success

Posted by Kit Dickinson on Oct 25, 2018 9:00:00 AM
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Mary McEvoy is the Director of Institutional Advancement at the Pope Francis Center, a homeless service center in downtown Detroit, which provides a safe, welcoming space for people to tend to their basic needs. We recently spoke with Mary to find out more about how she approaches strengthening relationships with Pope Francis Center's funders.

Cultivating Relationships with Funders

IDI: Could you please describe your role at the Pope Francis Center?

Mary: In my role as Director of Institutional Advancement, I am responsible for managing our development and marketing activities, and incorporating these into our overall organizational growth strategy.

In terms of fundraising, I oversee our annual gala, our grant writing program and direct mail. From a marketing perspective, I oversee our newsletters and social media channels. A new and exciting component to my role is incorporating crowdfunding across all our marketing channels.

IDI: How much of your time is spent cultivating new or existing relationships with funders (donors or grantors)?

Mary: A significant amount of our resources is dedicated to marketing for the purpose of cultivating new and existing relationships. Our focus is on connecting our donors with the mission in a personal and emotionally compelling way. Some people will connect with the whole picture of our mission, while others might be more excited about one particular program. So we try to offer a variety of content in order to provide donors with an opportunity to connect.

Behind these efforts are talented marketing interns and marketing companies that do incredible pro bono work for the Pope Francis Center.

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IDI: How does your organization approach building new funder relationships?

Mary: Across all of our channels, we put a lot of thought into our marketing imagery. There are many negative connotations around homelessness, so it's really important to show hope while being respectful of Center guests. Our writing and imagery is intended to engage by sharing stories of success and the joyful parts of our work.

A new part of my role is heading up our crowdfunding efforts to get the message out there in front of people. We have been able to engage many new funders, as well as gain support from existing funders.

In our crowdfunding efforts, we evaluate what went well and what didn't after every campaign to continue improving each time. It's a coordinated effort, planned in advance with a team to organize and distribute the message.

Last September, we had the $30k in 30 Days campaign, and I'm proud to say we exceeded this number, raising a total of $34,960. The campaign took off with many social shares. We let supporters know their donations would allow us to keep the Center open on Saturdays.

With this year’s THRIVE Campaign, we upped our game with the goal of $40K in 30 days, letting our supporters know we have taken the next step in helping our guests reach their full potential (beyond just surviving) with clinic programs that need their support. To add extra incentive, when others donate through a supporter’s Facebook post, they’ll be entered in a vacation get-away.

From an event perspective, we are very active with our upcoming events, such as Painting and Pinot, our Annual Cornhole Tournament (Bags N’ Brews), and of course, our Superbowl event – The Annual Dinner. These events are opportunities for supporters to meet others who feel connected to our mission, create awareness of the Pope Francis Center for new supporters who want to be part of what we do, celebrate the successes, and help to keep the mission top of mind. Also, these events are a ton of fun!

Handpicked related content: Never Run Out of Funding Early Again 

IDI: How does your organization approach cultivating existing funder relationships?

Mary: It is important for us to recognize that people come to us through various channels and so we need to continue cultivating relationships across these channels. We want our supporters to see the fruit of their gifts and see the fuller picture of what their support does for those in need.

The Pope Francis Center’s frequent touchpoints for communicating this impact is the newsletter, email, and social channels. In addition, there is the Annual Report and Bi-Annual News email blast. We’ll include pictures and videos on social media to communicate our mission’s work. If people can feel the momentum of an organization’s impact, their likelihood to continue giving will increase.

One of my mentors taught me the importance of the 48 hour rule, which has helped us to grow by making those who support our mission feel appreciated. This means that after receiving a gift we send a Thank You letter immediately and no longer than 48 hours after we have received it. 

In building relationships with foundations we give them an opportunity to see the Pope Francis Center’s operations and the services we provide in action through tours of our facilities. Similar to individual donors, foundations want to see what their money is doing. When meeting with foundations we make sure to give them time to ask questions and see the full impact of their donations and grants. 

IDI: What advice can you give to other nonprofits in building lasting and strong funder relationships? 

Mary: All giving is personal. It is really personal. People want to feel what you are doing. I recommend learning who funders and volunteers are and why they want to give by connecting with them directly. Simply put, this comes down to spending time with those who support your cause and listening in order to meet them where they are. When crafting marketing messaging, consider what supporters are telling you are the parts of your organization they connect with most.

IDI: Thank you for talking with us!

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