March 12, 2013

Strengthen Your Core

Sorry. This blog post isn’t about the latest exercise plan for defined abs. Instead, it’s about some very good fundraising advice I heard a few weeks ago while serving on the advisory board for the Episcopal Service Corps’ New York Intern Program (NYIP). 

Like most committees operating in the Episcopal Church, the NYIP advisory board is comprised of passionate nonexperts. We’re a diverse crew of lay and clergy members from various Episcopal congregations who want young adults to have opportunities to integrate faith and service. The advisory board has done a lot of excellent work over the past few years: We’ve found work sites, doubled the number of interns, and have clarified roles and responsibilities in relation to the two Episcopal churches that we work with. And this year, we’ve set ourselves the goal of looking more closely at how we do fundraising. 

For the past few years, our fundraising efforts have been quite minimal. In many ways, we’ve been shy about asking others for money even though we believe that this is a worthy cause. At some point, we became paralyzed by an overabundance of good ideas. We’ve talked about planning a fundraising event in which we’d invite alumni and neighborhood partners; we’ve discussed having a special collection on one Sunday per year; we’ve considered adding video to our annual appeals so that they would be more attractive. We collected idea after idea until finally we recognized that we needed an outside voice to help get us started.

Recently, we made the very wise decision to find a development expert to help us get out of the weeds. She heard us talk about our passion for the program, heard all our ideas for fundraising, and then asked us to press “pause” on all of them. The first thing we needed to do, she said, was to strengthen our core.

By “strengthen your core,” she meant first looking at what percentage of the advisory board members had given to the prior annual appeal. Next, she asked us to look at what percentage of the two vestries we work with had given to the prior annual appeal. Doing so, it became very apparent that our first priority needed to be making sure that there was a “strong core” of committed givers who understood their role and responsibility toward this burgeoning program. She has asked us to focus our energies on getting to full participation among the various leadership bodies that have a hand in this program. This will certainly be a challenge, but I’ve no doubt that it will be worthwhile.

As a result of this advice, we have since set aside our many good ideas. We are planning a Saturday meeting in April to talk about next steps for getting to full board participation. This is good, ground-level stuff. It’s the sort of thing that will eventually allow NYIP to grow sustainably, deepening in breadth and impact, over time.