Nothing demonstrates “compassion” like a mandated philanthropy event, but I assume some chapters do genuinely find an interest in philanthropy. This post is for those chapters.
I took on the role of Philanthropy Chairman at the same time that I was our Recruitment Chairman. My hope (and the advice I give to all recruiters) was to use philanthropy events as recruitment events. I figured that if a potential member wanted to help us raise money without being required to, that they might be more interested in doing such work once they joined the chapter. (Shazam! I was right!)
Initially I focused on having memorable, big events, but I quickly applied my recruitment logic to my philanthropy logic. More important than the event itself were the outcomes: did we raise money and did we build relationships. How did that work? Our chapter’s fundraising increased from about $800 the year before I picked up the cause to $5,000+ that year.
I also served on Stetson’s Greenfeather (a multi-day program of competitions to raise funds for 10+ local charities) and Relay for Life committees. You can read about how our team reorganized Greenfeather and improved its fundraising from about $12k to $20k+ by clicking here.
I believe that almost anything can be improved through simple adjustments to an organization’s communication tactics, and so here are a few simple thoughts to improve your fundraising results without breaking the bank, and to build relationships – which is the truest form of service to a community.
Tradition doesn’t hold up as a fundraising strategy
It’s cute to do the same thing over and over again and add a “34th Annual” to the title, but successful teams take some time to sit down after a major event or incident and discuss what happened, what needs to stop, and what can keep going. We did this with Greenfeather, cut that event from 2 weeks to 3 days, and increased our fundraising by 50% year over year.
So don’t worry about whether your chapter has always put on a 5-day event. Don’t worry if your chapter has always stopped trying to raise money once your event was finished. Explore how to improve your event and don’t concern yourself with how things were done previously. I’ll make this point again and again, no chapter was ever shut down for a diminished philanthropy performance.
Your Chapter Name Impedes Your Fundraising
The first tradition to cut: Please stop plastering your name all over an event meant to help another organization.
I experienced this personally as our chapter collected funds to assist the Japanese after the tsunami in 2010. We replaced the typical, “Delta Sigma Phi Presents…” with the name of our university. Why? The name, “Stetson,” was a familiar connection to 2,500 students compared to the 600 members of fraternities and sororities who MIGHT want to support our chapter’s efforts to win a trophy.
Our shirt sales went through the roof compared to a similar event the year prior, and the University asked to sell our shirts at their official benefit concert. Think about that: Swapping our letters with the name of our university resulted in that same university selling our t-shirts for us at one of their events. Now the school was supporting our chapter’s efforts to win a trophy!
Want to take this even further? Spend more time fundraising off campus as long as it is legal, you may find some new regular donors who are permanent residents of the local community. Just don’t refer to them as “townies,” that’s mean.
Find a Reasonable Way To Collect Credit Card Donations
Many chapters set up a table to sell tickets or to collect donations. As students pass by they’ll say, “I don’t have cash,” but chances are they are carrying a credit card. Set up a simple page on one of many fundraising platforms or use your billing service (LegFi, for example, offers fundraising & ticket sales tools – I know because I work there).
Not only will you be able to collect from people who don’t carry cash, but you can send that link out to parents, alumni, professors and people you know in the community. My parents were able to donate to our fundraising efforts even though they didn’t really understand what a fraternity was and why I was a part of it. Share it with whichever organization you are raising funds for and they’ll likely share it on their social media channels or with existing donors.
Credit card donations are a must in 2018. Don’t stop there. Consider anything that’ll result in you having more to give, even Bitcoin.
Keep doing your event, but don’t limit yourself to the event
Events can be very fun, and they should be, but don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. If you are supporting a legitimate cause then have your philanthropy/service officer promote those fundraising efforts throughout the year. Several small events carry less financial risk than huge events and will help better connect your chapter to the charity of your or your national organization’s choice.
If you’re going to spend $10,000 on a concert to raise $1,000 for a charity, then you’re just hosting a concert. That’s fine, make the concert awesome, but that has nothing to do with your charitable focus. If you are supporting a nonprofit, then volunteer there throughout the year, invite potential members or members of other fraternities/sororities to volunteer with you. Put as much effort into making a video about their work and your work with them as you do your rush videos.
Year round attention, fundraising and promotion will make your events more effective fundraisers. Collecting shouldn’t end at the end of an event.
Competitions are fun, just keep it classy
Again, what is this about? Your chapter and an award or the money you raise. Too often we get concerned with whether or not the “hot” sorority wins our tournament, or whether XYZ fraternity shafted our chapter after we donated to their cause.
It’s important to involve the organization you’re supporting in your events, so if there is a competition involved then don’t make it a “Show how much you love our fraternity” event, you know, one that just happens to raise funds for a philanthropy. Take your name out of it, take the trophies out of it, and ask your service partner what types events they think are fun or how they’d like to be involved.
“Who can collect the most trash from this forest preserve” honestly sounds way more fun to me than, “let’s play tug of war for 30 minutes and also it costs $300 to enter and we won’t donate to you if you don’t do this for us.” Give everyone a Capri-Sun afterward and they’ll get over the fact that they picked trash for an hour to win a plastic trophy.
Screw the rules; you’ll be fine
Please tell me if your university or fraternity headquarters attempts to pull your chapter’s charter/recognition for not completing a philanthropy event in the way they prescribe it. Seriously – that type of shenanigan needs to be shamed publicly. You should help the world how you see fit.
Is there a local business in town that is struggling? Why not offer some volunteer support or work with them to drive more patrons to their doors. Help local people in your community, regardless of whether or not they are a non profit organization. A chapter of my fraternity raised enough money to buy a new mobile home for an alumnus who had lived without heat for many years. Did they get philanthropy credit? I don’t know, but it doesn’t matter, they HELPED someone in desperate need.
So screw the rules and give up on the trophy, no one remembers who wins those things anyway. Help your community how you see fit. Forget the points you need to “remain in good standing.” You will feel much better when you befriend someone who needs a friend and help them out of a sticky situation.
Thanks for sharing: