Monday, August 31, 2009

A Personal Touch: Fundraising the Forbes Health Foundation Way

Twenty-five years ago I worked in the development department at St. Vincent's Hospital in Los Angeles. Using a crude computer program we created direct mail campaigns. With a good list we expected a two-percent return on every mailing and we usually got that or more. That is simply not the case anymore. Except for direct mail solicitations to existing members or donors, most direct mail campaigns to new prospects cost more money than they raise. The goal of new prospect direct mail campaigns is to increase the list of donors or members, not to reap a windfall.

Now, much more effort needs to be directed toward personal solicitation. This can be daunting if yours is a small to medium sized organization that doesn't have the budget for full-time development staff. It requires the involvement of the entire staff and board. And it requires making sure potential donors understand how important you are.

Mary Lee Gannon, President and CEO of the Forbes Health Foundation, wrote me an email outlining their efforts to make fundraising personal. I like how she says "we have adjusted our development plan to meet the needs of our donors." Interesting concept. How can you adjust your development plan to meet the needs of your donors? Bunnie

A Personal Touch: Fundraising the Forbes Health Foundation Way

by Mary Lee Gannon, President and CEO

I am the president and CEO of Forbes Health Foundation in Pittsburgh. We raise money for Forbes Regional - a 340 bed suburban community hospital east of the city. We have adjusted our development plan to meet the needs of our donors during this downturn in the economy and it has been beneficial. We are staying in closer touch with our major donors who understand that our needs have not changed and are even greater in these challenged times. The development staff is making personal thank-you calls to all donors over $200 as opposed to a higher amount in the past.

We are meeting with more people on a face-to-face basis and decreasing direct mail activity. Relationship building for now and in the future is our focus. We have worked with our chaplains at both the Hospital and Hospice to host memorial ceremonies when we place leafs on our Trees of Life.

Our Employee Campaign this year was greater than ever because we stressed that during these difficult times, people still do fall ill and that the improvements the Campaign funds would not otherwise occur were it not for philanthropy. We met with as many departments in person as would allow us to present.

Regarding corporations as well as individuals, we are focusing on our existing partners as well as the ones who have no giving history. The latter is not typically advised but we are specifically seeking potential donors who may never have been asked. Then we are arranging private tours whereby our new friends are delighted to see the breadth of our service to the community. They really didn’t know who we were and who we served before the visit.

The number one reason why people give is because they are asked. Think of all the potential donors who are not being asked. If we don’t ask during hard times we are pre-judging people’s dedication to the causes they care about and may support especially when the need is greatest. Know what your need is. And be able to define what would happen to the constituency you serve were you to disappear.

Contact Mary Lee Gannon at

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