Tiny non-profit is huge success in raising funds


December 14, 1992|By LESTER A. PICKER

We need a break from the chronic doom and gloom that has befallen the leaders of non-profit organizations throughout the region. I promise not to hit you with even one negative statistic.

'Tis the season to be jolly and, believe it or not, there really is some jolly news to report.

How would you like to be on the board of a non-profit that realizes that to meet the demand for its services, the board will have to raise 600% more money in 1992 than it did last year? Of course, every consultant they asked said it couldn't possibly be done, at least not in this dismal economy.

And, to make matters worse, the board had never raised funds before!

So, what did the Central Scholarship Bureau do? They raised $300,000, compared to the $40,000 they brought in for 1991, and by far a record for the organization.

The Central Scholarship Bureau (CSB) is totally supported by private funds. It provides financial aid and counseling to students who need last-resort funds to obtain their college education. Since 1924, this tiny agency has been quietly providing interest-free loans to worthy students, both undergraduate and graduate, with more than a third of the recipients coming from single-parent families.

One of the yardsticks by which one measures such revolving loan programs is by their default rate. At CSB, an unheard of 98% of all loans are paid back in full and on time, enabling the funds to be recycled to the next generation of students.

By any measure, aiming for a record-setting fund-raising goal in the midst of a recession is a gutsy move. Does CSB have any secrets to share with other non-profits?

"If I had to focus on one reason the campaign worked," reports Executive Director Helen London, "it's because the board got behind it 100 percent and made a real commitment." I'll second that motion for success any time.

Campaign Chair Steven Himmelrich echoes Ms. London's sentiment: "It's easy to feel good about this organization and want to go out and help. People who have been helped with scholarship money write heartfelt letters to the agency."

Along with hitting the 100 percent mark in board financial participation, the campaign was helped in other ways.

"Helen provided incredible staff support for the board," Mr. Himmelrich says. "She was the cheerleader, motivator and organizer."

Amazingly, Ms. London had never been involved with a capital campaign before. According to Mr. Himmelrich, Ms. London made up in determination and spirit what she lacked in experience.

What Ms. London was able to do with her small staff was provide whatever logistical support the board felt was needed in order to remove barriers to face-to-face solicitation by its members -- the key to success for any large campaign.

"We tried to structure the process so it wouldn't overwhelm the board," says Ms. London.

For starters, Ms. London and Mr. Himmelrich developed a motivational presentation for the board which helped to sell them on the need for a major campaign. Once the board committed to participate, the rest fell into place.

Next, the board got a financial commitment from each of its members. A financial goal was set for the board. When the final tally was made, the board had exceeded its goal by a factor of three.

Once every board member had given, it was easier to solicit from peers.

Board members solicited two or three people personally, using a modified version of the presentation developed by Ms. London and Mr. Himmelrich. "By giving the board a good case and behind-the-scenes support, members could just go out and act as the salespeople," according to Ms. London.

Also, for the first time, the fund raising took on a personal appeal. Testimonials and support from former scholarship recipients helped make the appeal come alive.

* Next week we'll look at how a large Baltimore-area player managed to raise record-breaking funds during this recession.

(Les Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 7 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md, 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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