Chapter development, more commonly known as “fundraising,” is essential to a Chapter’s sustainability.
Chapter development, more commonly known as “fundraising,” is essential to a Chapter’s sustainability. Active fundraising can supplement funding which may be insufficient and limit Chapter programming through either direct funds (i.e., money) or in-kind donations (i.e., equipment or services at no cost). Chapters should thoroughly investigate institutional policies and procedures before fundraising. Use the Resources below to learn more about fundraising.
Finding money and resources to reach or enhance a Chapter’s mission begins with being prepared. That starts with the Chapter’s strategic plan, including a mission and goals as well as foundational documents outlining the Chapter’s structure. This is all used to inform and build the Chapter fundraising plan and goals as a subset of the Chapter strategic plan. Chapter Leaders will not be effective in engaging individuals and organizations in why they should support the Chapter without the Chapter’s goals—the reason for donor support.
Prior to being able to raise funds or gather resources for a Chapter, the Vice President of Fundraising should coordinate with the Vice President of Finance, or equivalents positions, to ensure financial infrastructure is in place to receive funds. Just as the university guidelines should be consulted in creating the strategic plan, university guidelines also dictate how funds for organizations affiliated with the university can be raised.
Being prepared includes knowing, understanding, and following these guidelines. The Chapter should also have a bank account, a budget, a method of record keeping, and associated Chapter documents. Donations, even to a student organization, are important to track and account for reporting purposes both to the university, but also to donors for potential tax implications.
Fundraising also requires research. Most processes are already in place in the university, and so Chapters will not need to reinvent these. Donation processing systems available include Go Fund Me or Donorbox. Vice Presidents of Fundraising should understand which of these processing systems work within the existing university structure. It is also important to understand the budgeting system in use, the tracking systems required by the university, and the support offered by the university.
For example, many colleges and universities have a foundation or development office that supports all fundraising on campus. Chapters may have contacts within the university already establish who can connect the Chapter with possible donors based on shared goals and interests. Chapter Officers should work together to identify resources for fundraising, be open to using an internet search for answers, and ask National Headquarters for assistance.
It is important for Chapter Officers to know that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fundraising and that fundraising solutions or methods vary from Chapter to Chapter and event to event. It is an incredibly dynamic function, and so diversifying is key, like investing in the stock market.
Many Chapters are eager to raise money for the entire academic year through a one-time donation drive. The trouble with one-time donation drives is that they are a risk of investment because it is difficult to balance between how much is spent and outcomes. One-time events often require repeating. Chapters do not necessarily build relationships or capture donor data, and there is no guarantee that it will work every time and an almost certain guarantee that it will not work the same way every time. It is tougher to reach a strategic goal with one-time fundraising events, and it does not contribute to essential relationship building and follow-up.
Cultivating donors is about much more than donations. Chapters may consider inviting supporters to own and engage with the Chapter. After a donor has contributed, Chapter Officers should follow-up with “thank you” notes, success stories, and organizational updates. This continues to grow the relationship and secure future partnerships and funding. Donors may also provide resources outside of funds or in-kind donations, such as opportunities to mentor, talk to, or otherwise engage with Chapter Members. Chapters do not need a marketing team to approach donors; simple emails or phone calls can accomplish the relationship building. Once the relationship has been established, money becomes an easier afterthought, and ownership and loyalty are established.
Fundraising is all about relationship building. Interpersonal relationships will always support success and mitigate failures, but it requires a lot of time and preparation. Chapter Leaders should learn and understand the value of the Chapter, to easily communicate that to potential donors. This is a deliberate action; communicate the “who we are, what we do, and why is matters” of the Chapter. Also communicate how working with and supporting the Chapter is fun and easy. The relationship will drive donations without having to have a donation drive. Relationships are also more sustainable and require fewer resources (i.e., financial resources to put on an event, volunteers, etc.) and could provide better return on investment as it costs little to nothing to build a relationship.
Collaboration, like relationship building, is an easy and important way to raise funds and resources for a Chapter. A simple conversation about collaborating on an event or working towards a shared goal is the simplest way to start a partnership with someone. Once the interest is there and the importance of the collaboration is communicated, the money will again be an easy discussion because of the shared goal. In the end, everyone wants the same positive outcomes.
Many Chapters Leaders become intimidated asking for larger amounts of money. National Headquarters fundraises millions for research, advocacy, and programs and services, but a Chapter is much smaller. This thinking is a nonexistent barrier and should not prevent Chapter Leaders from making the “big ask.” There are plenty of foundations, corporate philanthropies, local business, and nonprofits available for partnerships. Chapters also have the benefit of a university’s history of alumni giving. If a significant event requires significant resources to put on, communicate that to potential partners. The worst they can say is “no,” but the potential for a life-long partnership is incredible.
Stewardship follows cultivation in the relationships of fundraising. Donors should be communicated the impact of their donation. “Your generous donation sent 15 student veterans to the SVA National Conference where they networked with 3,000 other student veterans to learn best practices for their Chapter as well as networked with potential employers and learned new skills.” Those that benefit should send “thank you” notes as well as follow-ups, especially if great news follows such as a job offer. Stewardship can be maintained through simple newsletters or email updates or even holiday cards thanking them for their support.
A Chapter’s goal is long-term sustainable revenue generation, and it can be achieved by building a diverse and prepared fundraising plan. A Vice President of Fundraising can establish a legacy for the Chapter by setting up a position of success for the Chapter long after they leave by maintaining stewardship and continuing to cultivate donor relationships through their tenure. This can be continued by strong Chapter Officer transition plans.