#b#Ellen Donohue#/b#’s entry into the nonprofit realm happened through her mother’s efforts, as both a role model and an employer. After her mother had retired from a career with Maxon, the company that developed gun sights for tanks during World War II, she was asked to volunteer to bring a YMCA to Great South Bay in Long Island. Her mother eventually became the Y’s executive director and was not able to truly retire until 12 years after her first so-called retirement.
Ellen Donohue volunteered at the Y in high school and in her early 20s started to work there, first as an administrative assistant and then as program coordinator. Her father was a Pinkerton officer.
Little did Donohue, now co-owner of the Sayerville-based ejImpact consulting firm for nonprofits, realize that she had taken the first step in what was to become a life-long commitment to the nonprofit sector. As nonprofits are struggling to maintain their budgets in the face of reductions in government funding and private and corporate donations, Donohue is using three-plus decades of experience to help them over the hump.
Donohue and her business partner, Joan Mound, will be teaching the development and fundraising certificate program at Middlesex County College, beginning with “Essentials of Fundraising Management” on Saturday, January 23, at 9 a.m. The program continues with four Saturday courses in board development and management, special events, sustainable income, and corporate partnerships. Cost: $798 for all courses, or separately for $125 each. For more information, call 732-906-2556 or check out the catalog online at www.middlesex.edu and click on “Spring 2010 Non-Credit Course Information Bulletin.”
This certificate program will give nonprofit executives time apart from the daily grind to strategize and re-energize themselves. Donohue often illustrates the stress of nonprofit management with a picture of a woman in a hamster wheel who is asking, “How do I get off the fundraising spinning wheel?” She offers several suggestions to harried nonprofit executives about how they can make sure they are doing everything they can to get their share of the dollars available:
#b#Build a case statement#/b#. Make your case for donating money to your organization with a written piece that includes the organization’s history, statistics on how and what has been accomplished, and very specific opportunities for giving — for example, the chance to name a program or to give to special tangible items within the operating budget. “The case statement allows the donor to see that the organization has thought through a plan of what it is going to do with dollars raised,” says Donohue.
The need for a strong case statement has become more pressing as support from the government and United Way has dwindled. “The elephant in the living room is that many nonprofits have been at least 50 percent funded by some form of government and United Way money and those dollars are changing or shrinking,” says Donohue. “With that comes real responsibility for organizations that might have been 75 to 80 percent funded and didn’t have to make such a strong case to the public.”
#b#Gather up the basics#/b#. Make sure your organization has a clear mission statement, a strategic plan, and a vision statement that is appropriate for where you are and where you want to be.
#b#Find volunteers for your board and committees#/b#. “The battle cry from many nonprofits is ‘I have no volunteers,’” says Donohue. Often organizations make the mistake of deciding in advance that a potential volunteer is too busy or will say no. Instead they should be approaching volunteers with a strong case statement and a job description that specifies exactly the organization’s expectations and what the responsibilities of the board member or volunteer will be. Then they need to let the individual decide. But don’t surprise a person with a required financial commitment after the fact; it should be part of the job description.
Before identifying potential board members, an organization must decide what types of people it needs to help with the organization’s specific needs. Perhaps for a juvenile diabetes foundation, an adult whose child has diabetes might be most in synch with the organization’s goals. But the same organization might also need attorneys, middle managers, and real estate people on its board.
Strong salespeople are also critical. “You need people who have Rolodexes and are willing to sell,” says Donohue. “Don’t kid yourselves to think that you are not selling.” An organization also needs people with financial heft that can open doors to corporate giving and private foundations, and still others who can help out with special events like walks and dinners.
#b#Plan special events carefully#/b#. Different special events have different purposes and draw on different types of people. “Both dinners and walks are great, but they hit different demographic areas,” says Donohue.
Dinners reach out to the corporate crowds and include a journal and large sponsorships from companies. Be sure to select a corporate chair and use his or her name on the envelope, because many people might simply throw away an envelope sporting just a nonprofit’s name, says Donohue. If it comes on a peer’s letterhead, they are more likely to open it.
But a dinner, by its nature, excludes some of the people involved in an organization, and Donohue emphasizes that an organization needs to explain why some people are or are not invited so that feelings don’t get hurt. “When they don’t take the time to think of the whole curve of that event, that’s when the get themselves into trouble,” says Donohue.
Whereas for a dinner the largest portion of the budget comes from sponsorships, the support for walks tends to come from the many participants, each of whom brings in a relatively small amount of money. “Even if the top changes, 30 to 40 walkers will come back,” says Donohue. “You want to try to do events that don’t have to start from scratch each year.” A walk also allows organizations to involve people they serve as well as volunteers, staff, and their families.
For all events, make sure you have timelines in place that include all the details and stick to them.
#b#Develop the organization’s base#/b#. If you are focusing only on the night of a special event, says Donohue, you’re missing the whole point. Although the goal of the event is obviously to make the budget, she continues, what is more important is that it is an opportunity to put out a wide net — to tell your story and to start to develop new donors.
One way to draw people in and keep them connected is to figure out what perks they need to make them feel appreciated. “The key to growth out of special events is to help the donor feel special,” says Donohue. This might include special luncheons, a special pin, and recognition at annual dinners and in the annual report.
#b#Build corporate partnerships#/b#. The first step is to look at your organizational database. Although organizations always claim they don’t know anybody, says Donohue, they all have people who have supported their events as well as people with whom the organization has regular ties. If your organization, for example, provides handicapped workers to businesses or if a company sent workers to help paint your building on United Way’s day of caring, then those businesses might be sources of future support.
But an organization also needs to go after those people it imagines will make great partners. After choosing carefully a small group of people you want to be familiar with your organization, send them information and then be sure to follow up by phone. Also, look out for the corporations’ accomplishments in the newspaper, and when you find positive news, send it to the company with a note: “I saw this in the paper. Congratulations.”
As a result, says Donohue, “They start to realize you’re not just coming to them once a year for support, but want to build a community relationship with them.” And of course once you do develop a list of corporate partners, you should send them a newsletter regularly to keep them aware of your accomplishments.
Donohue graduated from Empire State College in 1976 with a bachelor’s in business and marketing. She immediately fell into nonprofit work, first with the YMCA in Bay Shore, New York, then with the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Long Island, and the American Red Cross in Nassau County, where she was director of development and community relations.
Between 1990 and 1995 she served as assistant director of national special events for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America; from 1996 to 2000 she was Northeast field director for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation International; she then became director of field development and programs for the Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
After being in nonprofits for 30 years, Donohue and Mound decided the time had come to start their own business. The women have worked on special events, capital campaigns, and year-end direct mail pieces for organizations like Autism Speaks, National Alliance for Autism Research, United Ways, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County.
Donohue explains their vision for the business: “It would not be aconsulting firm that would give you a plan and walk away but would be a consulting firm that would give you a plan and do the heavy lifting with you.”