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Feasible Fundraising 

From the book
When Everyone’s a Volunteer
by Ivan Scheier

Certain rigidities bleed entirely volunteer groups of time and money. This happens partly because many members as individuals have a bigger budget than any volunteer group to which they belong. They are thus prone to 'project" onto the group's budget, perks and amenities they take for granted as individuals, but which the group cannot really afford.

Whatever the source of profligacy, this chapter urges not spending money unnecessarily, or time either. To be sure, lecturing all-volunteer groups on frugality may seem strange-we rarely use two paper clips when one will do! Wasted paper clips aren't usually the problem, though, or most anything of a concrete, visible sort. What might be a problem is 'resource leakage" in the area of ritual, habit, and prestige-doing it because it's always been done that way.

Resource Leakage Ritual and Recognition
Some ritual and recognition is valuable, even necessary, in an entirely volunteer group. But how much? Some years ago, new on the board of a largely volunteer national organization, I was greeted by the news that the organization was several hundred thousand dollars in debt! Severe economies needed urgent implementation. Among the cuts not made by the board, was the sending of a chauffeured limousine to meet the chairperson at the airport! I am not making this up-the board preferred the risk of bankruptcy to loss of this public-image perk.

I expect most non-staffed volunteer groups have already given up chauffeured limousines, though we may still overspend on more common 'image and ritual" items and activities. Include here, expensive volunteer recognition items. This "platinum plaque" syndrome strikes groups in which the reward of members becomes a major, if unacknowledged, goal of the group. Expense often exceeds sincerity here; tradition overwhelms performance; and attention is diverted from what the group is supposed to be all about.

There is another way, however. The distinguished psychologist who volunteered his services to our program had an office wall crowded with impressive plaques, diplomas and trophies. In a central place of special honor was our volunteer recognition certificate. As the volunteer coordinator, I happened to know its objective worth as about ten cents! So did he, I'm sure, but he also knew we meant it for far more than its pawnshop redemption value. And so, if your group is spending more than, say, 10% of total budget on ritual and recognition, you are spending too much (unless, of course, the purpose of the group is ritual).

Training and Consultation
The promo touted a two-day workshop for-I remember the phrase well-"grassroots community groups." The registration fee was $500! Were they kidding? Unfortunately, they were not. By contrast, Scheier's rule states that spending more than $15 as fee for a local brown-bagging workshop means paying partly for prestige, scenery, or a gourmet lunch. Scheier's law is somewhat extreme. Yet, in a recent study (1), seventy volunteer leaders, asked to imagine an ideal resource situation and process in support of their work, produced as a major theme: affordable quality training. Volunteer leadership training is today a major industry capable of offering options which do link affordability with quality. Indeed, you may be able to get a lot of this kind of help free, via networking (see Chapter 7). So don't spend big money just because expensive training has always been assumed as essential in the past, or simply to be seen at a popular workshop conducted by a famous trainer.

Boards, along with workshops - and especially workshops ON boards - may be seen someday as a major obsession of the late twentieth century. There are more workshops and books on this subject than just about any other. All-volunteer groups often invest huge amounts of time, talent and money trying to get their boards to work, without getting much work from their boards. Conventional wisdom and powerful tradition blind us to frequent fact: in terms of "energy in"/ 'energy out,' boards are often losers.

The good news is that many and probably most all-volunteer groups are not legally mandated to have a board (if they are not incorporated). They could get stubborn enough to reject knee jerk conformity as a basis for developing and maintaining a dinosaur, when a tiger is what they want. In a recent article, my co-author and I put it this way: We "...are free to entertain the ultimate sacrilege of not having a board and of finding less formal, more effective ways in which the organization can do what it needs to do to accomplish its mission and to meet the needs of its constituents."(2) We went on to indicate how basic needs of an organization and its members (for which it is often assumed you need a board) can often be met as well or better without a board.

These needs include cultivation and maintenance of a common vision (as we have already discussed), companionship in the cause (somebody to talk to now and then), representation of constituencies, tapping into volunteer staff capabilities of members, access to door-opening clout, and coordination of the group's activities and projects. Much of this work must be done via individuals, and to be sure, even the worst board has a few positive and productive individuals. However, this justifies the individuals, not the board.

When a board is geographically dispersed, travel and lodging expenses can be enormous for annual and other meetings; I've seen them reach 80-85% of a group's total budget! A self-disciplined, process-wise board can sometimes use far less expensive conference calls in lieu of fly-ins. Further savings are possible if out-of-town board members stay in the homes of host-community members, whenever face-to-face meetings are absolutely necessary.

Indeed, I wonder if it's time to re-examine what gets us into the fly-in or drive-in situation in the first place? Beyond the prestige of it, do we absolutely require board geographical representation even on a board with regional or national responsibilities? Many people in an organization's headquarters community will have lived all over, and will be able to represent in some fashion the perspectives of other locales. Moreover, in our era of mass communication, national and global perspective can be found in almost any county or community the group is headquartered in. It is more a matter of attitude and information than location.

So, be skeptical about conventional wisdom. You may sometimes find a policy board is everything the textbooks say it should be. At other times, you'll discover the job can be done with far less time and money drain, using individuals and/or informal advisory networks, and/or with very low investment in an honorary board.

Fundraising in New Terms
Even in fundraising, enslavement to conventional wisdom can end up as pain-without payoff. At any rate, it may cost you a lot more than the effort is worth. When a struggling all-volunteer group discusses major fundraising, two concepts often kick in automatically: we need to write a grant, and/or we need to have (another?) big fundraising event.

Frequently these concepts should be kicked out as soon as possible!

Example: a colleague of mine returned from a week-long seminar on grantwriting, thrilled by the quality of material and presentation. Back home in reality, she spent so much time trying to hold her precarious organization together, she had neither time nor energy for the sophisticated grantwriting the seminar taught her. Meanwhile, board members continued with good intentions and nil production, and non-board members failed to write successful grants. The group folded.

Beyond all this, larger grants tend to require a showing of organizational capability, the lack of which prompted you to write the proposal in the first place! As for really small grant requests, many foundations, especially larger ones, won't be bothered looking at them. In any event, there may be far more efficient ways to get that kind of money (keep reading). Avoid the grantwriting reflex.

Another common reflex is the big fundraising event. There's nothing wrong with the God-forbid-it-should-rain annual fundraiser except God forbid it should rain. And don't forget increasingly fierce competition (God forbid there should be ten other events the same day!). Finally, there's a real chance the enormous effort involved could overstrain the organization.

Here then are some first thoughts towards a more "appropriate technology" of fundraising for all-volunteer groups; specifically, a fundraising process which is efficient, consistent with mission, does not overly drain leadership/membership time, and does not assume levels of sophistication and resources which are unlikely to exist. The goal is minimum deviation from 'what comes naturally' to individuals or the organization in nature and intensity of effort. The following fundraising strategies offer something almost every member/volunteer/supporter can do--everyone doing a little bit, instead of a sacrificial few trying to do a whole lot.

The two strategies described here are 'time tithing" and "cause-related advertising," or "co-promotion." In both, the individual member is able to convert a modest investment of volunteer time and 'natural' behavior into money. The money does not come out of his or her pocket; it comes out of time and choices-which can be a whole lot less painful.

Time Tithing: The Benefit Brigade
"Time tithing' extends the concept of 'benefit performances" by entertainers to all kinds of services for which a person might be paid; for example, conducting a workshop, washing cars, typing, doing chores, or professional services of any type. But instead of keeping the money for themselves, time tithers have the amount, sometimes minus expenses, sent directly to the organization they wish to support. In other words, they convert volunteer time directly into money for the benefit of their organization. (A key consideration for the benefiting organization is that these services be of good quality.)

Advantages to the time tither include being able to contribute to the group without making a direct monetary donation. In fact, the amount 'raised' may be substantially more than that individual might be able to give outright in cash. It therefore allows people with little cash to make contributions more equivalent to those with deep pockets.

In the United States, if the check is sent by the tither's customer directly to the recipient group, and this group does not provide services or products to the donor, the amount donated need not be declared on the tither's income tax. By prior arrangement, the tither may divide the money and keep at least some of it (but that latter amount would be taxable to the tither).

As a fundraising strategy, time tithing has a number of advantages for the low-budget, non-staffed group. These include:

• Time tithing gives people something relatively easy they can do to support you, unlike writing a grant or organizing an ambitious fundraising event.

• You probably already have a core group of potential time tithers on which to build, in your key members, volunteers, dollar donors and board.

• You can build this core group steadily and easily, person by person, or group by group. You're not faced with periodic crises demanding severe extra time and effort drains.

• Once the time-tithed dollar flow gets established, it will tend to produce a relatively steady flow of funds you can pretty much count on rather than, say, a relatively risky once-a-year infusion of money from a fundraising event.

•  Time tithers are quite likely to become even stronger stakeholders in the group through their contributions.

The donee group reaps all these benefits without enormous investment of time, effort, skill, equipment, or money. This is, in sum, doable dollar development for the struggling all- volunteer group. The Center for Creative Community, which I founded as an almost entirely volunteer group, earned more than half its total revenue via time tithing for the first six years of its existence.

I've defined time tithing activities as those services for which an individual normally could be paid. I did this not just for purposes of simplification, but also because this seems to be an under-exploited area of funding enterprise. However, I certainly do not recommend refusing money from related sources. These include:

• Time tithing by a group contributor, for example, a group conducts a benefit workshop, with the proceeds going to your group.

• Money and services contributed for which one would normally not be paid; for example for each mile walked in a marathon.

• Money received for products rather than services; for example, the bake sale or things you contribute for sale at a benefit auction.

The last two are important but somewhat different than time tithing as defined here. In any case, they are well explored in other publications and workshops.

There is one more form of fundraising related to time tithing worth consideration. This is when, for example, an all-volunteer group that provides free job counseling for low-income people earns a little extra visibility as well as money by doing the same thing for a fee for middle-income folks. When such fundraising activities relate to the group's overall purposes, your 'presence" in the community is enhanced. Only be sure you're clear on criteria for who pays and who doesn't. Also, be sensitive to the lure of doing so much for-fee counseling that you begin to neglect the no-fee counseling that is the group's main purpose.

Cause-related Advertising
The second appropriate technology for fundraising is called cause-related advertising or co-promotion. Here, the volunteer's time-to-money conversion is a kind of benevolently directed consumership: purchasing goods or services from a business which has agreed to give your group a percentage of proceeds.

Co-promotion is essentially the opposite of a boycott (called by one women's group a 'girlcott"!) In a boycott you ask your friends and supporters not to patronize a certain business because you don't like what they are doing or have done. In co-promotion, you urge your friends and supporters to make a special effort to patronize a business because you do like them. The reason you like them is because they are giving your group a share of their business proceeds. Your constituency becomes their customers.

Cause-related advertising can have the following advantages:

•  It converts a resource you already have-your friends, supporters, clients, etc.-into money.

•  It does this with relative ease, little time drain, once the system is properly set up. You'll be asking a relatively small thing of a lot of people rather than a large thing of just a few people probably the same old worn-out fundraising folks.

• The process is mutually advantageous for the charitable group and the business, rather than one more case of begging on your part. You're sending them (new) customers in return for the money you get from them. Not to mention the excellent public relations they get.

Basic Steps in Setting Up a Co-Promotion Program
Believe it or not, business people also want to share your passion. In approaching a business partner, translate whatever may sound abstract and intellectual in what you do to the emotional language of 'heart tugs." By all means, say something like: "We pursue affordable, appropriate housing options for elderly, low-income people," but also add something like this: 'In many elderly households, fresh vegetables or social activities are sacrificed to pay the rent. Dental and eye care lose out to property taxes,' etc.

Choose possible target businesses according to criteria such as:

1. The company is reputable, solid, and provides fair value of goods or services.

2. The company sells directly to consumers rather than to other companies.

3. The company depends on relatively high volume of moderately to low-priced sales rather than high-priced specialty operations in a limited consumer market.

4. More likely prospects are businesses in which there is keen competition to market services or products which do not obviously differ markedly from company to company, e.g., fast food restaurants, banks, auto dealers, and many others.

5. The company presently markets in the geographic area in which your constituency concentrates-or might like to extend its geographic area.

6. The business has a particular interest in attracting your main constituent groups as customers. For example, if you are a women's resource network, your target businesses might include a local women's clothing store. If you have a general constituency, aim for companies with a broader customer base such as a supermarket.

7. The company's purpose, style, or products do not conflict with the basic goals of your organization.

8. The business has some track record of social responsibility in the community.

9. Someone in your organization is a well-known good customer and/or friend or relation of the business under consideration.

The essential characteristics to look for are a reputable business selling fair-value products or services in a competitive market, e.g., a restaurant, a department store, a movie theater, a car dealership, etc. Naturally, they would need to be businesses sympathetic to your group's purposes.

I suggest, too, that the approach be made open-endedly at first. For example: "Look, if we could get you lots of new customers from among our members and friends, would you be willing to contribute something (tax deductible) to our cause on a kind of commission basis? We can work out the details later. There are lots of options, if you think the general idea is worth looking into."

Even if all or most of the above criteria are met, do not expect to hit a perfect percentage of willing businesses with a relatively new concept such as this. But to try the concept out, start with a list of twenty or so prospects. One idea might be to approach an entire small shopping center-all the better if your supporters have choices when they do their caring-buying.

As a next step, establish a list of your friends/supporters/clients who might be willing to patronize the targeted business. These are people who you think would be willing to give their trade to Business X rather than Business Y, if they knew Business X was giving a 'commission" or something like it to our charitable organization. The assumption is that both are about equally good businesses with not much difference in convenience for your constituency-as-customers.

Select the method of implementing best adapted to your group and its co-promotion business partner. Most common is a percentage of revenues (usually about 10%) on a particular business day or week. Other possibilities include such things as one table at a restaurant that always gives a percentage of the billed amount to your group and has a sign on the table noting this. Finally, your group can sell coupons redeemable at the business for more than the face value you get for them. In all cases, though, your part of the co-promotion is to promote it assiduously with your members.


1. Nancy David and Ivan Scheier, 'Proclaiming the Vision," in "DOVIA Exchange," Vol. VIII, No. 3, August/September 1992 (Madrid, NM: Center for Creative Community).

2. Jane Mallory Park and Ivan Scheier, 'How NOT to Have a Board ... and Why,' in the Spring 1992 issue of "Grapevine,' VMSystems, Downers Grove, IL. (The crucial 'NOT" was not in the title as published-though we sincerely meant it to be.)


1999 Reflection on Cause-Related Advertising

This is no longer an innovative idea, if it ever was; it certainly seemed so when I first began writing about it in the mid-eighties. The disappointing thing to me, however, is that the initiative so often seems with the business rather than the charitable group needing money. Thus, so often, it is mainly the supermarket management that chooses the beneficiaries of its "girlcott" program, rather than the charitable group reaching out, selecting and then persuading an appropriate co-promotion partner.

When Everyone's a Volunteer   by Ivan Scheier is available for purchase from Energize.