Story Tapestries recently participated in a Fail it Forward initiative led by GlobalGiving.org. We wanted to share our story with you!
When Story Tapestries first received its 501-c-3 status, we knew we needed to spread the word about our new status and to rally a network of donors that would help sustain our growth. Following what we’ve observed from other successful organizations, we decided to host a fundraising event – live music, wine, snacks and an opportunity to meet and talk with ST artists. We used Eventbrite to invite our friends and acquaintances, as well as made phone calls and sent personal invitations to encourage attendance. However, the event was not well attended and we raised very little money. The following year we tried again, only we changed the flavor of the event by asking our Samba band artists to provide the entertainment, as well as a juggler and a face painting artist, and we made a more direct ask for a $25 donation per family in advance or at the event. Sadly this event was equally unsuccessful in meeting our objective of raising funds and letting people from outside of our existing network know about who we are and what we do. While we had called on Board Members and friends to help us drum up support and encourage attendance or a donation in its place, we still managed to raise only a few hundred dollars with these events.
Simultaneously in 2011, we learned about Global Giving and participated in the Open Challenge, successfully earning a permanent place for our Literacy Project. We were excited and encouraged that perhaps this could be a new way for us to expand our network of donors above and beyond our local connections. Unfortunately, after the initial excitement over achieving that first goal, we struggled to make significant progress with securing individual donations and our donations from 2012 to 2013 flat-lined, and in 2014 they actually dropped. We were failing and needed to change our tactics.
Time to go back to the drawing board?
So in 2015 we participated in webinars through GlobalGiving and other resources, we met with local organizations like the Community Foundation of Montgomery County, and we met with marketing and social media consultants. Gathering together all of their resources, we tasked our Board and staff members in an annual Strategic Planning Meeting to complete a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) and to develop a new strategy to help us focus and prioritize our next steps. We then launched an annual fundraising campaign that more than doubled our individual donations comparing 2014 to 2015.
What was different? We followed suggestions to activate our artist network and our program participants to share their stories and let people know about the results of the work we do. A series of short videos and email templates with colorful photos helped empower our Board Members to reach out to their personal contacts and move them to action. Our messages moved away from long emails quoting national numbers and statistics related to arts integration, and instead focused on telling stories about the direct impact of ST programs while highlighting key numbers to demonstrate in a concrete way how a donation would affect the life of a child. We also set a specific monetary goal, following the advice of our mentors, to create a clear target and a sense of urgency. Utilizing GlobalGiving’s connection with the VolunteerMatch service, we were also able to engage several skilled volunteers to help us achieve our goals.
Through this process, we learned first and foremost that we can’t fundraise on our own – we need to engage the support of resources like volunteers. We also learned that for our organization, in-person events at this point are not a fruitful strategic approach for fundraising. However, we have realized that successful fundraising needs a personal touch, allowing readers to feel a personal connection to what we’re doing by seeing photos and videos of what we’re doing and the results our programs achieve. While this is a continuous process that we continue to learn from, our failures with in-person fundraising events and our initial struggle with online fundraising finally took a turn in the direction we were aiming for and by reflecting on what has and hasn’t worked, and we’re confident that we’ll continue to improve our ability to engage individual donors and expand our support network. We decided to share this story with you as part of GlobalGiving’s Fail it Forward campaign because we believe that transparency is a key means for building a strong foundation. It has given us the opportunity to reflect on what we’ve learned, and to let you, our reader, in on what has happened behind the scenes. This reflection has also created an even stronger bond and sense of being a team that will help us persevere and ultimately achieve even our loftiest goals – together!