A common and important aspect of owning, running, or volunteering at a nonprofit organization is fundraising. Most, if not all, nonprofits require donations of some kind to contribute to whatever cause the organization is committed to. For example, Grain for Pain is a nonprofit organization focused on raising funds to purchase and deliver sacks of grain to communities along the White Nile and Upper Nile areas of South Sudan. We sat down with Alin Vrancila, Founder & CEO of Grain for Pain and a professor in the Masters of Arts in Nonprofit Management program at Multnomah University, and, with a decade of nonprofit work under his belt, he shared four tips on how to successfully and ethically conduct a fundraiser:
Promote your brand through both in-person and digital events
The purpose of fundraising events is twofold. One, of course, is to interact with prospective donors and raise funds, but the second is to build the credibility of the organization and create brand awareness. Mr. Vrancila shared that, for many years, Grain for Pain mainly participated in in-person fundraising events; he said, “We went to churches, we hosted our own fundraising events, we went to other events that would host us, we made presentations, we did it all.” The fruit of those in-person fundraisers was that it established Grain for Pain as a trustworthy and time-tested organization. It was those years’ worth of establishing the brand and its relationship with community and donors that allowed Grain for Pain to become a fully digital fundraising organization in 2016. In 2019, Grain for Pain raised funds for over 300,000 lbs. of grain and it was all raised digitally. Though Grain for Pain is now a fully digital organization, Mr. Vrancila acknowledges the value of both and recommends a healthy mix of in-person and digital fundraisers.
Be transparent about where your donations go
In Mr. Vrancila’s experience, lack of transparency between nonprofits and their donors has hurt the overall credibility of nonprofits in the marketplace. For example, is someone were to donate $10 towards a certain cause, maybe only $2 of it actually goes to the need on the ground, and, often times, the receiving organization does not make that breakdown clear to the donor. Mr. Vrancila said, “I know that for some organizations, that is a price to pay because there is just so much that has to happen before you get to the ground, but also I know that, even if you think it might hurt you because you think that it is going to give details that people shouldn’t be bothered about, you will find out that people appreciate transparency and honesty and they are interested in the details.” You can share the need for funding transaction fees, transportation fees, and middle men costs, so that when you tell someone they are paying $10 for a sack of grain, or any other commodity or service, they know that they are actually paying $10 for the grain and not for the cost to ship it or to pay staff.
Avoid sensationalism in your advertisements
Have you heard the saying “If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead”? Basically, it means that the media loves violence and sensationalism. People are more likely to click on or watch something that shows the ugliness of the world or that pulls on their heart strings. This creates a tension for nonprofit organizations that work with marginalized groups or vulnerable people. It can create a viscous cycle of representation, or misrepresentation, and can sometimes make a problem worse. “Don’t create sensationalism for the sake of increasing your fundraising because it hurts the people more that it helps. You are creating a perception of that space, of the community that you are serving, that you won’t be able to fix with donations. Now you’ve hurt that entire country or community with prejudice and stereotyping that you can’t fix with funds.” It is important to be careful with your verbiage and with your imagery when representing someone else’s need. In Mr. Vrancila’s opinion, you have to consider what you are sacrificing in exchange for fundraising. Are you sacrificing anything, and is it worth it? Regarding Grain for Pain, he says, “We have a strong commitment to human dignity. In fact, in all of our social media posts, you will find very few faces of people, and we do that intentionally. We are aiming for hope and dignity for the people we are serving. When we do that, it doesn’t always give us a lot of ‘emotional’ material, and that’s okay.”
Consider video campaigns
Videos provide an opportunity for people to actually get a feel for what you are trying to do in just a few minutes. “If I could give one piece of advice on how to advertise your fundraiser, I would say use video. I have seen videos work much more efficiently than any other form of communication. We actually recorded a video where we asked people with a video to help with $3,000 for a distribution cost, and within 24 hours we had raised $5,000. People were able to see us, it was only a minute long, we explained the need and what was going on, we asked for help, and people responded very powerfully to that.”
Fundraising is an important aspect of nonprofit work, and this is only scratching the surface of the discussion. If you would like to continue in this conversation and are interested in learning more about these topics, getting your Master of Arts in Nonprofit Management might be the right next step for you. If you would like to study with Mr. Vrancila, check out the online Nonprofit Management program at Multnomah University. For more details on the program or to receive an application by mail, contact Admissions at (800) 275-4672 or firstname.lastname@example.org.