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Relationship Fundraising Techniques Doubled Revenue

Isn't it every fundraiser's dream to have confidence that the annual goal will be met without stress, donors will call to offer help and fundraising will be a job you look forward to every day?

For one executive director and her development staff, this was the development environment they created over the last three years. Despite facing an economy in Michigan with 21% unemployment, they revolutionized their tactics by using a relationship-based strategy.

Sue Ann Culp, the former executive director of a Michigan hospital foundation, implemented Marshall Howard's relationship-building techniques three years ago. "Marshall's advice is the most practical advice out there. He gave us a blueprint for implementing change. We turned from an event and mail solicitation fundraising base to a full relationship development model."

"We doubled our revenue in 18 months, increased corporate giving 30% and had more fun and less stress," she said.

No one on the staff resisted this change. "Events are so time-consuming that we could sit down with ten people and raise more money faster and easier than holding an event. How did we make this change? Just like Oscar, in Marshall's book, we drank a lot of coffee and ate a lot of lunches," Sue Ann said.

"Marshall's training is unique because it provides lots of practical techniques. We watch a lot of webinars but they usually only offer theories and stories. Marshall's methods are so easy and really made it fun to come to work every day. We never knew who we were going to meet!" she commented.

Sue Ann focused on three fundamentals:

  • Fundraising was not primary focus. When you go in with dollar signs in your eyes, people know it.
  • We quit talking about the foundation and its mission. Instead, we talked about the other person's hopes and dreams and how we could help them.
  • We became very donor-focused.

The hardest part was to "stop planning and start doing. Once you make the decision to build relationships, you have to dive in. Then it becomes a way of life. Instead of counting money, we started counting friends," she said.

"We replaced the usual thermometer showing fundraising progress with a tree full of branches showing the people we knew and their referrals," she explained.

Following Marshall's training which focuses on infusing personal exchanges into each meeting, Sue Ann and her staff forged lots of new connections "At one chamber breakfast, I met an executive who was looking for a piano teacher for his daughter. Later, I followed up with the name of a teacher for him," she said.

The result? Sue Ann went to the child's recital and in eight months, the executive donated $10,000. This was someone who had never given to the hospital before!

Sue Ann also employed Marshall's concept of a Partnership Council, a powerful team of 18 to 25 new leaders who fundraise for your mission. Marshall shows clients, step-by-step, how to recruit and motivate them to raise major gifts in a campaign of your choice.

"This is the best organizational technique I've seen!" Sue Ann commented. "We used two councils, organized around people's passions, either the nursing school or the health center. These council members reached out to their circles of influence and it worked very well. Our Annual Campaign revenue and Employee Campaign revenue doubled!

Sue Ann Culp

Sue Ann Culp has 25 years of nonprofit management and fund development experience and is currently the CEO of the Humane Society of West Michigan. She moved to Holland, MI in 2003 from New York and prior to her tenure as executive director of a hospital foundation, served as director of development for Disability Network Lakeshore.

Sue Ann's expertise in creating a vision led to the development of a new focus and mission at the foundation: bringing health care to the uninsured/underinsured members of the community. She established the FACE of Holland Project and the Guardian Angel Partnership. She was recently named one of the "Top Women in Health Care" by Michigan Business Review.

Sue Ann studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and Empire State College. She holds degrees in Music, Piano and Voice Performance with a minor in Theater and English/Creative Writing. She and her husband, Michael, founded AP Theatrical Productions in Holland which partners with restaurants and banquet facilities to bring dinner theater productions to the area. She is also a professional writer and has published numerous articles and fiction for adults and children as well as two plays.

She currently resides in Zeeland with Michael, a local attorney, and their Old English Sheepdog, Monty.

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