“Packaging” Programs

Dear Kim:

Our 23-year-old educational nonprofit is doing a large annual fund drive. Our tag line is “Better Choices…Stronger Relationships” and we work with young people during challenging stages of adolescence, marriage and parenting.

We have several programs and want to know how to package them so they are attractive to donors. Here are just three examples:

Teen Health and Relationship Skills: a 5 day in school program for high school students on reducing high risk behavior, and inspiring students to pursue healthy relationships by providing modeling, behavior tips, and expectations.

Adoption Option: a one day in school program for high schools promoting adoption as a way to build a family.

Parenting: teaches at risk parents positive parenting techniques to reduce the risk of child abuse.

We see a lot of “funding packages” that are very tangible such as “Buy desks for students,” “Goats so families can have milk,” “Drills for water,” etc, and we are at a loss at how to package our programs in a way that will appeal to donors. Can you suggest ways we can package our programs or suggest other similar educational agencies we can talk to who will share their funding package ideas?

~Drilling for Dollars

Dear Drilling:

Since you have been around for 23 years, you might want to look at what you are already doing that is working! And your programs absolutely lend themselves to these very specific requests.

For example, your agency has probably done the five day course for high school students many times and has reason to think it works. So, make this your request:

“We have created a five-day course that we know is life changing for high school students. The course focuses on how to create and maintain healthy relationships and pursue healthy lifestyles. High Schools that work with us report a marked decrease in alcohol and drug use, teen pregnancy, and an increase in the number of students who graduate. We want to take this program to all 20 high schools in our community. You can help.” Then pitch the program according to the donor: Major donors would be asked to cover one full program for one high school. Other donors might be asked to cover the cost of one day of such a program.

A long time loyal donor might be asked to host a houseparty to raise the money for all the high schools on their side of town. Smaller donors would be asked to help one student attend this five day course by dividing the cost of the course by the number of students you generally serve. Alumni associations, Rotary Clubs, small family foundations could be asked for one or more high schools. By personalizing each request to the prospective donor, you will have better luck getting a yes.

A word of caution, however, to all readers who package their programs, whether goats or teenagers, in such specific ways. The kind of funding that most organizations need most is unrestricted—someone gives you money with no strings attached just to use for what your organization most needs. Since this is the kind of funding we most want, this is also the kind of funding we should most request from donors, and we should educate our donors that the MOST HELPFUL contribution is unrestricted. Many donors actually don’t care where the money goes, but if given a chance to pick something, they will. Donors that say, “I don’t want my money going to overhead” don’t understand how a nonprofit organization runs. Some organizations have used the specific request to showcase overhead expenses:

“The light bill: $105.00. Rent for one month: $765.00 Office supplies: $332.50. These are all the bills in front of our bookkeeper right now. They translate into human needs: we can’t run our programs in the dark. We can’t provide a place for young parents to meet if we don’t have a meeting room, and we can’t advertise our services if we don’t have paper, toner ink, pens and pencils. Will you help pay one of these bills? It may not seem exciting to pay the light bill or help with the rent, but it could change a life.”

Remember, overall, all your fundraising needs to be mission driven, and helping the donors understand how your organization fulfills its mission. Building a broad base of donors who trust your organization to spend money wisely requires financial transparency on your part and serious education of the kind of costs your organization incurs to do its work.

Good luck!

~Kim Klein