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7 Tips for Cultivating Donors

Let's face it, one of the first questions an emerging arts organization asks itself is, "How do I get funded?"  The truthful answer is that there is no easy answer to this question.  Based on a 2004 survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts,  an arts organization can expect 31% of their income to come from Individual donors, while only 9% will come from foundations, and 3% will come from corporations.  Since then, the economy has suffered, and therefore, funding for the arts has become even more competitive.  With foundations reducing their funding these days, it's even more important to look to individuals while fundraising for your organization.

So, how do you ask individuals for money?  Here are some tips for how to cultivate a relationship with your donors and inspire them to continuously support your project.

o   Go Team! Fundraising is time consuming, so you shouldn't have to do it by yourself.  Put together a fundraising team to help you out.  There is no definition for the perfect team, but it should be made up of your biggest cheerleaders.  Team members can be anyone from your program team to your board members, or from your volunteers to your executive director. The more people promoting your project, the better.   You can even look to your donors!

o   Game plan: Create a fundraising plan for yourself and your team.  Start by setting an attainable goal and creating strategies for how to reach that goal. This will help to mainstream your fundraising efforts and ensure that you and your team are all on the same page.  Then, when you approach individuals, you'll know how to articulate your vision and the anticipated impact of your programs.

o   Who do you approach first? Often times, your most supportive audience will be your family and friends.  They are the people who care most about you and want to see you succeed.  It's important to take a look at your audience and determine the most effective way to communicate with them-including language, voice, and formatting.  This will help you keep your solicitation clear and personal.  These initial donors will help you expand your audience.

o   You can't spell "Fundraising" without "FUN!" Be creative when thinking of ways to approach your potential donors, and don't be afraid to make it fun for them.  Consider hosting a fundraising event and inviting all of your friends and family, and encourage them to bring their friends and family.  It's a great way to spread the word about your company, and it could grow your fan base significantly.   You might also consider running a crowdfunding campaign.  You'll reach out to several people and ask them to donate toward an achievable fundraising goal in a specified amount of time.  These fundraising strategies also give you the opportunity to reward your donors for your achievements.  These rewards do not necessarily need to be tangible, and you can be creative.  A reward can be anything from listing your donors on your website to inviting them to participate in one of your programs.

o   Make it plain and clear. Your donors should not need to figure out what you're asking for.  Be sure to ask for a financial donation, rather than "support," and clearly outline how they can make these financial donations.  Ultimately, if you clearly lead your donors through the process of donating, there will be fewer questions, and it is more likely that you'll reach your goals.

o   Twitter, Facebook, and Wordpress, oh My!  Using technology can be essential in finding (and keeping) donors, but keeping up with ever changing technology can be tough.  Keep it simple, regardless of what form of media communication you choose to use.  Make sure that your website is up to date and easy to look at.   It should effectively communicate your mission and show your company's personality.  Outline the essentials and do not bury important information.  Because social media is such a large part of our society, be sure to use these tools to link supporters to your donation pages, as well.  This is also a great way to keep your donors abreast of your progression and successes.  You can thank them here too!

o   Keep your eye on the prize. Always remember your mission.  Your ultimate goal is to run programs that fall in line with your mission, not raise funds.  Focus on the need for these programs and how they will positively affect the community, and therefore, the donor.   This will keep your donor engaged and encourage them to continue supporting your cause.

Remember to stay positive and confident throughout the process.  Believing in your mission and passionately communicating your goals will translate to your potential donors.  When asking for support, remember that you're not necessarily asking for a hand out, but you're offering your audience the opportunity to be part of something great.

And don't forget to thank them!