Nonprofits Get Creative to Keep Donations Coming

Over the past few years, most charities have been challenged, to say the least, on fundraising efforts. Many previously flush donors have been forced to cut back on their generosity. Asking the remaining contributors to dig deeper is not the answer in most cases. What’s a nonprofit to do?

One answer is, get creative. One of the more innovative approaches I’ve seen in the sustainability arena is Christie’s Green Auction: Bid to Save the Earth, which last year raised $2.4 million for charities Oceana, Conservation International, Natural Resource Defense Council and Central Park Conservancy. This year, Christie’s has also teamed up with Runway to Green, featuring dozens of designers creating ready-to-wear ensembles. All green designs are available to the public through the exclusive online retailer Net-a-Porter. And Christie’s again is waiving all fees and commissions to enhance funding for the participating non-profits. A live auction as well as online bidding will be featured. Just visit www.charitybuzz/BidtoSavetheEarth, anytime between March 17-April 7, to register and place a bid, all that is needed is a valid credit card.

Here’s a sampling of the unique experiences that will be offered as auction items for this compelling event:

  • Spend the day with President William J. Clinton;
  • Fly to Paris for the Chanel Couture Experience, which includes tickets to Chanel’s couture show, a meet with Karl Lagerfeld, a private tour of Coco Chanel’s apartment, and of course a handbag;
  • Meet Lady Gaga backstage and stay three nights at Soho House Miami;
  • Meet Justin Bieber backstage in Tokyo, with VIP tickets to his performance;

“Christie’s and Vogue’s Runway to Green will activate people to give their time, skills and funds to benefit a larger cause. The event is a terrific platform to showcase many fashion designers’ commitment to green and what CI, NRDC, Oceana and Central Park Conservancy are doing to save our planet’s natural resources, green spaces and oceans,” explained Susan Rockefeller, who along with her husband, David, has been instrumental in making it successful.

“In light of the tragedy in Japan, supporting these organizations becomes even more relevant. It is our responsibility to help preserve and protect the planet’s natural resources. The theme for this auction, “Bid to Save the Earth” was developed last year but seems even more appropriate now given the environmental challenges we are facing,” she explained.

Obviously, not all charities are able to attract this type of celebrity and connections. But the concept remains a valid one — nonprofits do have creative options available to raise money in troubled times. Another new model of philanthropy might be referred to as the social entrepreneurship model. This is when independent donors conceive of, fund and operate a separate unit of the non-profit, bearing all the costs and risks. Meanwhile, the non-profit receives a significant portion of the profits on an ongoing basis. This is how Sierra Club Green is structured in its relationship with the Sierra Club. This tactic is still new but should become more widely adopted in coming years.

A third approach to creative fund raising is attaching a charitable element to a recreational or hobby-style event that might not normally be thought of as a charitable endeavor. A friend of mine is staging the “Race 4 Change” later this year. This is a road rally through challenging terrain of East Africa, which benefits a microfinance organization that assists tiny businesses run by villagers who are living along the rally route. All costs for the rally are absorbed by the individual who is staging the rally. Exposure generated by the rally will hopefully bring awareness — and donations — to the microfinance cause.

And yet another example of clever fundraising is the cause-related marketing where proceeds from a product’s sale go to a charity of that company’s choice. This is similar to the relationship La Mer has with Oceana. Every purchase of La Mer face cream results in a donation to Oceana.

These are but a few of the ways charities can create new potential revenue streams in a climate of declining donations. If you know of other examples of this positive trend, please comment to tell us about them.

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