Creating a Culture of Giving

Dear Kim:

Our organization has been around for over 30 years. When our therapeutic riding program started, our founders felt it was very important not to charge the families of the riders who benefit from the program. The founders felt that these families had enough to worry about with their disabled children, and wanted to provide the program for free. For most of our history we have relied on foundation grants and outside donors to support the program. Sadly, things like ranch maintenance and staff salaries went severely underfunded due to lack of income.

As Executive Director of this small organization, I have attended many workshops and have done a lot of reading to learn how to fundraise for our program. (I really enjoy your workshops and have many of your books!) All of the information directs me to start asking for donations from those who are closest to my organization. The families who attend our program fall across the socio-economic scale, from having very little financial resources to having quite a bit.

For the past three years my board and I have been asking our participants to make voluntary contributions, and about 30% of them have responded. But we have many families who seem quite capable of making a small to modest donation who refuse. I think our original message of “we don’t charge for our services” has been too successful, so now people feel we must not need financial support. So I have two questions: will outside funders, both foundations and individuals, be more motivated to support us if we can increase the financial support from our own participants? How do we begin creating a “culture of giving” within our circle of participants, so that we do not have to go to a fee-based service delivery?

~To Charge or Not to Charge

Dear Charge:

It looks to me like you are already creating that “culture of giving.” In three years, you have gone from zero support from user families to 30% responding! Feel good about that. You are doing a good job.

Now what you want to do next is make sure that your financial information is available to anyone who wants to see it, so that people know you do not have pools of money that keep your organization afloat. Post your audit on your website. Create pie charts that show income and expenses. If you feel comfortable, post your salaries on your website. In your newsletter and on your website, create a wish list for ranch repairs so that people see that your program has, in part, been funded by deferred maintenance. For example:

One saddle: $259 (need five)

Termite mitigation in barn: $9,450

New fence posts ($50 each) Need: 200

And so on. (Readers please note that I am making up these costs for the sake of the example!)

Some of your more well heeled clientele may not be donors to anything. Three out of ten adults in the United States do not give away money-some of these non-givers are poor and some are rich. Some may respond better to a more personal approach. Some may not have paid that much attention to your needs, but will respond over time. All your parents may respond better to a specific campaign-“We need $42,000 by Oct. 1 to pay the insurance on our horses and ranch.”

Finally, I would ask the parents who have given you money if they would be willing to help the board think of a campaign that is low-key, appropriate and encouraging of donations. Some of them may be willing to ask each other.

But mostly keep doing what you are doing. It is working-it takes time. Twenty seven years of not charging will take more than three years to change.

Your work is very important and I wish you well.

~Kim Klein