Case critical in annual giving

By Rosie Molinary

Step one in an effective annual giving campaign is “having a case for giving that is relevant, urgent, and meets a critical need in the community,” says Ceil Weatherman, vice president of community development at the YMCA of the Triangle Area in Raleigh, N.C.

The group’s annual giving campaign supports its financial assistance program, making YMCA programs available for those who cannot afford them.

“We want to make sure that no one is turned away from YMCA programs and services because of inability to pay,” says Weatherman of the impetus for the annual campaign launched in 1993.

That first campaign, chaired by Gregory Poole, a longtime YMCA supporter who now serves as chair of the YMCA of the Triangle Area, had a goal of $275,000 and raised just over $350,000.

“We recruited some really dynamic volunteer leaders in our branches, and we conducted a face-to-face campaign with our branch volunteers, members, and close friends of the YMCA,” says Weatherman.

“Every morning, he came to the YMCA wearing his camp T-shirt and a big smile on his face…And then, right around one o’clock, he would fall asleep…They called his mom to let her know what was going on. When they explained, she started to cry. Her family was living in a homeless shelter, she said, and he was too afraid to sleep at night. She told the counselors, ‘Let him sleep.’ Because the Y was the only place he felt safe.”

From WeBuildPeople campaign materials

To date, WeBuildPeople has generated over $26 million, which yielded services for 60,000 children, teens, adults and families who could not have participated otherwise.

“As soon as people understood that they were contributing to assist people in the community, they embraced it, and it has grown ever since,” says Weatherman.  “That first year, we had 200 to 300 volunteers, and now we have 2,000.”

In 2006, YMCA of the Triangle invested more than $4 million in its financial assistance program to serve 7,754 children, teens and families through various services including summer day camps, sports leagues, afterschool care, and assistance with membership fees.

With a goal of $3 million, the 2006 annual giving campaign, which ran from mid-October through the end of the year, yielded $3.4 million from 11,000 donors.

The face-to-face approach remains the cornerstone of the campaign.

Weatherman believes totals for the 2007 campaign, led by Ann Goodnight, director of community relations at SAS institute and a long-time local champion for education, will exceed $3.5 million, thus providing financial assistance and critical outreach programs to 8,000 people in need.

“Each branch of our association has its own campaign goal and a volunteer team,” she says.

With seven branch campaigns, the money is invested in the community where it is raised, and none of the dollars raised are used for campaign expenses.

“All of that is funded through our operations budget,” says Goodnight.

Weatherman advises nonprofits initiating annual campaigns to start with a small group of campaign volunteers who are well trained in executing best practices to ensure donor acquisition.

As the years go by, focus should move to a larger campaign and donor retention, something that has been a cornerstone of the WeBuildPeople campaigns.

“I am humbled every year by the way this community responds to helping each other through the YMCA,” Weatherman says.  “It is a beautiful thing to watch this community step up year after year.

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