What do Recreation professionals lose sleep over?
One of the top reasons is “fundraising”…
The things that run through our heads are: “where is the money going to come from?”, “how can I raise $40,000 more than last year”, “why don’t the elected officials realize how unrealistic this is?” or even “how will I fit it in?”
Suppose you find the time and put a great deal of effort into fundraising, but the results are still not as you hoped or need them to be. What’s going on?
There are two places to look: Evaluate your customer service and evaluate your public relations.
Let’s look at each one:
Customer Service: Spend time in your own facilities observing both how your staff interacts with the customers, and how the customers react or behave in return. Look closely at your facilities – the cleanliness, the efficiency, the clarity of your signs, etc. Is it a pleasurable and memorable experience to be in your facilities? Do the staff know the names of repeat customers and have the materials and information they need to provide excellent service?
Wait – are we talking about Customer Service or Fundraising? BOTH.
The perceived service a customer experiences when they interact with your department is directly related to their interest and willingness to further support your fundraising efforts.
Use every opportunity of customer complaint to address concerns and questions as a way to explain the underlying need for the fundraising you do. For example, a customer is complaining about the high cost of a dance class or boating lessons. Take a moment to educate them, in a positive way, about the overall costs, what their fee covers and how funds raised from the community supplement tax dollars.
Most importantly – begin to clarify for people that tax dollars cover the basics and keep the lights on, fundraising covers the rest. If you are a tax based agency that is now also expected to fundraise, as many of you are, it’s even trickier to surmount this. (If you are not a tax-based agency, this technique still works to explain the difference between the basics and doing more.)
Overall, providing excellent service and experiences directly impacts future fundraising.
Public Relations: Now, look at your Public Relations and your department’s public image. If you are known for mistakes on your webpage, mis-information published in your program guide, mix ups with refunds, and late cancellations of programs, the public feeling about your department is going to impact their giving when you ask. (By the way, are you asking? That will be a future blog post, perhaps…)
If you’ve had bad press over park issues or zoning changes impacted the neighbors, if there was an accident at a pool that the local newspaper spun into a media crisis, you have work to do before you fundraise.
How can you address this? Promote strongly as many positives as you can. Share happy faces at summer camp, happy customers at the pool, and racing puppies at the dog park. Gather and promote customer quotes about service and commitment. Coordinate positive news stories with local media outlets. Post videos on your social media and enlist trusted patrons to do so also. Send your Director out into the community, like the mayor, to get to know the public. Do anything you can to promote a better image.
All of this is more important than fundraising if you have a negative public image. If you’re not sure, ask a few people outside your organization that you trust and start there.
Later, when you outline the case for why your department needs support, the public – made up of happy customers who have a positive view of your department as a vital part of the community – are more likely to give.
If you’re trying to fundraise and the results are not as you hope, take a different view and start strengthening relationships first.