Donations from individuals create a sustainable revenue base for nonprofits, helping them become less dependent on one or a few funding sources. This week, Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired Executive Director Karla Jutzi shares how they increased individual giving from nearly zero to 20 percent of their annual revenue in just seven years.Donations from individuals create a sustainable revenue base for nonprofits, helping them become less dependent on one or a few funding sources. We asked Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired Executive Director Karla Jutzi to share how they have increased individual giving from nearly zero to 20 percent of their annual revenue in just seven years:
Donor development is now indispensable to advancing our mission, but this wasn’t always the case at the Alaska Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. I remember a board meeting in 2004 when a member asked how revenue flowed into the donations line item, which was then budgeted at $2,000. Thank goodness for board members with a sense of humor because my answer was, “It’s not because anybody is asking.”
Unrestricted donations for this past fiscal year were 16% of our total budget of $960,000. Adding in gifts given for a particular purpose, donations were 20% of revenue in FY11. Many things happened between 2004 and today. Here are some of the most important:
- We became believers in the value of sustainable revenue. While the growth of donations has sometimes seemed painfully slow compared to the infusion of new dollars that can come with a big grant, the donation income continues after grants have ended. We’re still applying for grants, but we’re committed to nudging upward our percent of revenue from donations.
- We stopped thinking of donor development as arm twisting or “begging” for handouts. Instead we are connecting Alaskans with our mission and giving them a chance to help their fellow citizens with vision loss reach their life and work goals. We accept that not everyone will have our mission at the top of their list of worthy causes.
- The Board of Directors has written annual giving into their own job description, so 100% are donors. They have included sustainable funding growth as a strategic goal since 2004. Every board member and a growing number of volunteers is involved in donor development in ways they’re comfortable with – thank-you calls to donors, securing donations from businesses and organizations, inviting friends and colleagues to our annual event, and making major donor requests. We talk about donor development at every board meeting.
- The energetic support and involvement of the executive director is necessary, but we also invested in staff to focus on donor development full-time. We have been very fortunate to have the support of Rasmuson Foundation and Atwood Foundation to help with the human resource costs as we move past the point where donation income exceeds expenses and advances our program.
- We work hard to respect, know, and appreciate all donors—the $4 giver receives as much enthusiasm as the $10,000 giver.
While real urgency to raise dollars compelled us to begin asking for donations, we have come to realize that donor development is about way more than money. It is about connecting with people who know and care very much about our organization’s mission, who will give what they are able, and who will tell our story to others. That’s why we call it donor development now instead of fundraising.
We at the Center know we still have some distance to go to ensure sustainability of our mission for Alaskans who are blind and visually impaired. But now we’re moving forward buoyed by more than 1,000 Alaskans—individuals and families, Lions Club members, small business owners, and eye doctors—all invested in our success.