Take the Time to Build Relationships

What is the essence of securing strong and committed philanthropic support for your organization?

George C. Ruotolo, Jr., CFRE, Chairman and CEO of Ruotolo Associates (RA), advises that the answer is to create and sustain meaningful relationships. “The reality is that many organizations feel they don’t have the time or expertise to build relationships with key constituents. Yet that is the one task that, if given proper care and attention, can completely transform an organization. Fundraising is all about relationships, and successful nonprofits understand this and put in place a culture that focuses on nurturing these connections.”

George, along with RA New England Associate Ana Dabrowski, explained the finer points of this approach at a recent presentation to the Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce. The impact of individuals in overall giving is documented by the Giving USA Foundation, which conducts an annual assessment of philanthropy in the United States. Giving by individuals, bequests, and family foundations amounted to an estimated 87 percent of total giving in 2013.

To grow a base of individual support, George and Ana began with the basics: build a strong annual fund. “An annual fund is truly the lifeblood of an organization’s philanthropic efforts,” said George. “It is the bedrock upon which all fundraising rests. The program provides a mechanism to identify both potential major donors and volunteer leadership, and to attract new donors.”

To ensure a successful annual fund, nonprofits need to create a detailed implementation plan – timelines, donor segmentation, personalization, and acknowledgment. Promoting your campaign, including issuing a “call to action” is also critical:

  • Ensure that your annual fund campaign is featured prominently in print publications.
  • Make it easy for your donors to contribute! Personal appeal letters should always include a donation card, return envelope, and notation of website.
  • Implement an email and social media strategy that includes links to your online donation page, which should be easily found on your website in the same location on every page.
  • Ask board members to help by providing a list of their contacts, reviewing and rating the annual fund prospect list, and signing and personalizing appeal letters or notes.
  • Consider utilizing a brief video if your budget allows it. A compelling, well-crafted story can be the most powerful gift motivator.

In fact, storytelling is an essential component of any successful development program, including an “elevator speech,” a short, 30-second description that sets your nonprofit apart from others. “An elevator speech should be interesting and authentic, and enable someone to make a connection with an individual,” described Ana. “It should leave a lasting impression and open the door to continued conversation.”

Amy Naples, Plymouth Area Chamber of Commerce Director of Operations raved: “This was undoubtedly one of the best workshops we’ve had. The information provided to attendees was not only practical and useful, but was presented in an entertaining and stimulating format.”

For more information on training, workshops or a specific tailored presentation for your staff, Board members or other volunteers, contact George Ruotolo at gruotolo@ruotoloassoc.com or by calling 201-568-3898 x106.