Growing up in rural Vermont, I spent many summer weeks across the state at various camps with kids from different schools. The first day was always the hardest - walking into a group activity and the only person I knew was the roommate I met two hours ago. But over the course of the week, through conversations and experiences, friendships blossomed and grew. We all know that making new friends can be hard but that friendship is one of the keys to our happiness, well-being, success, and long-term development. Why not apply this strategy as the basis of your community foundation relationships as well?
Whether you are building a community foundation or have decided to take on a new initiative or region, you may wonder... “Where do we start? Who will our donors be? How do we apply fundraising strategies if we don’t have any prospects to begin with?” If the idea of jumping right into fundraising makes you or your board nervous, try reframing the conversation to think about “friend-raising” - intentionally making meaningful connections with new people and organizations in your community. The best part - you only need a few friends to start.
To build a friend-raising strategy for your organization, take some time to reflect on the two-way nature of friendship. Think about all the things friends do to enrich your life and vice versa:
- Friends share your passions.
- Friends show up and get involved.
- Friends want to stay connected.
- Friends are excited about what you do.
- Friends introduce you to their friends.
- Friends teach you about new things.
- Friends give you ideas and advice.
- Friends are interested in what you do.
- Friends want to help you.
- Friends are loyal and there for you during tough times.
- Friends are kind to you and allow you to practice kindness as well.
- Friends celebrate your success.
Which of these values seem most relevant to your organization? Pick a few and turn them into opportunities to engage:
- If your friends want to help you, think about volunteer opportunities with your foundation: sitting on a grant review committee or even just reading grant reports.
- If your friends have good ideas and knowledge to share, ask for their contributions: host a lunchtime learning session for staff or include in a focus group.
- If you’re looking to foster your friends’ loyalty for the long-haul, make sure you stay in touch: include plenty of solicitation-free stories and updates.
- If your friends have friends you don’t know, cast a wide net: offer free passes to events, incentivize and provide easy ways to share your communications.
Through my experience in both the nonprofit and community foundation world, I’ve seen friend-raising work in many ways. To build a new fund in a less-engaged region, we hosted an annual event that cast a wide net, inviting everyone in our database with addresses in the relevant counties and providing registration open to the public.
It may seem overwhelming to open your event up to the public but you can allocate your event budget into a larger and more flexible space, time the event between meals to keep refreshment costs to a minimum, and tap your most articulate friends to share stories and engage your audience for free! Make sure you ask people to register and staff a registration table or two at the entrance to capture new contact information. People will always walk away remembering what they learned about your organization more than what they had to eat or drink.
Another great example comes from my time in higher education fundraising. Volunteer class agents are a commonly-used model - engaged alumni are tapped to lead the annual giving drive for their class. With staff support, they are encouraged and enabled to reach out to their former classmates to solicit gifts of all sizes. When I worked in this field, my constituent base consisted of graduate school alumni and people who attended shorter-term summer programs. We knew who they were but they had not been as connected or engaged to the school as your typical undergraduate alumni. With a broad and disconnected audience, I decided to focus our communications on simple, visual reminders of the beautiful campus tied to the season we were in touch. I found that this helped connect our alumni back to the beautiful place - an important step before connecting them to one another and asking for a gift. One alumnus even asked for us to send additional postcards so he could put them up in his office as well as his home. This approach helped us make meaningful connections even with a large base of unknown constituents.
Friendraising allows you to start the donor relationship with a real human connection. It serves as a precursor to fundraising or can help you revitalize your existing donor base beyond transactional giving. It is a way to engage people beyond the initial gift to start a fund so you can call on them later when your foundation takes on something new and then celebrate your future accomplishments!