Brilliant Fundraising - Turning $9K Into $40K

On a gorgeous spring night in 2014, I found myself looking out at the Manhattan skyline from a 49th floor office in midtown. Suffice to say, the view was breathtaking, but even that couldn't distract from the gripping topic at hand: fundraising!

The NYC Gay Men's Chorus had a summer fundraising drive that desperately needed new life, and our committee, perhaps appropriately surrounded by the luxurious trappings of corporate America, was tasked with making that happen.

The goal of the drive: encourage singers to reach out to friends and family to raise money for the chorus. But despite a tremendous amount of effort, only 25% of the chorus (60-70 singers) participated each year, bringing in about $9,000 annually.

Our committee chair, Chris, was convinced we could do better. Under his very enthusiastic guidance, participation rose to 60% (150 singers) the following year and we raised $40,000! Crazy, right?!

Not only did participation more than double, but average donations per participant almost doubled as well (from $140 to $270). Here are some of the brilliant insights that helped make that happen:

Timing is everything

The membership drive historically occurred over the summer. The intent was to avoid overlapping with other small fundraisers in the fall, but the result was that it was practically impossible to motivate singers during the chorus's off-season.

Chris moved the fundraiser to the fall, after the start of the new season. The drive did end up overlapping with other events, but the weekly reminders, progress reports, and encouragement made a major difference in participation. This was probably the most important part of the turnaround.

Add some competition

Organizing singers to participate in a fundraiser is harder than herding cats. It's a lot easier if you can find a way to make things fun and competitive.

Chris added three layers of competition:

  1. Individual: A trophy went to the top fundraiser.
  2. Teams: The chorus split up into 5 teams, one for each section and one for new members. Spoiler: the basses won. Because, you know, we're clearly superior. :)
  3. Geographic: Chris set a collective goal for us to get a donation from every state, and we succeeded! A glitter-bombed map kept track of our progress, and every chorus member who helped us glitter another state was publicly praised.
A week before last year's fundraising deadline. Still a few states left to go!

A week before last year's fundraising deadline. Still a few states left to go!

Break it down

Most people have major psychological barriers when it comes to fundraising. The key to overcoming this is to break the process down into bite-sized chunks, which involves lots of super unsexy work for organizers (e.g. helping people set up fundraising web pages).

For those not used to fundraising, getting a first donation is one of the biggest psychological hurdles. The map actually seemed to help a lot with this. For people who felt intimidated by the prospect of raising $200, it was much easier to think "Wait, we're missing Colorado? My college roommate lives there! He might donate $10 if I asked."

Breaking things down can make the prospect of participation much less overwhelming.

We just started the fundraising drive for the new season. This year's goal: $50,000! And you better believe the basses are bringing home the gold again.

What about your chorus? Got a lackluster fundraiser you turned into a big success? Share in the comments below!

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