Twenty-Four Hours of Magic in Omaha

contributing writing by RSC Senior Consultant Jeremy Hatch, cfre

At RSC we are frequently asked to counsel on the viability of online giving efforts, Facebook solicitations, special auctions and other “gadget” fundraising activities. As our clients can attest, we are often skeptical of these “innovative” fundraising approaches. Why? Because innovation is sometimes used to replace the fundamentals of a disciplined and well-executed annual campaign, leading too often to predictably poor results and critical time lost. We define the annual gift as – say it with us – Reliable and Renewable Support. 

That said, we recently witnessed a wonderful example of creative – and yes innovative – community engagement by the BLUEBARN Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska where RSC is providing counsel to the Progression capital and endowment campaign to support building Omaha’s first new multi-purpose theater in a generation.

Omaha Gives, a first-year program of the Omaha Community Foundation, presented a 24-hour challenge with all gifts made online via credit card in a one-day blitz. Organizations competed for the most new donors, most dollars raised (based on budget size) and other benchmarks, with matching funds on the line from foundation and corporate sponsors. The results? An astonishing $3million was raised from more than 19,000 donors in 24 hours!

BLUEBARN Theatre pursued the opportunity with flourishing creativity, encouraging their patrons, fans and friends to give by promoting the 24-hour campaign via curtain speeches at performances, imaginative storytelling in email, social media and other channels, and through a motivated leadership group that wanted to see a smaller non-profit compete (and succeed) against some of Omaha’s largest organizations.

By May 23 the results were in, with an amazing $15,000+ raised from 140 donors, many making their first-ever gift to the BLUEBARN. “We were optimistic based upon the enthusiasm of our board and the buzz the program generated in the week before May 22 but this surpassed everyone’s expectations. We are thrilled to have dozens of new donors to cultivate over the next year,” explained BLUEBARN Director of Development Kevin Mahler.

As we celebrate this inspiring and effective idea you may ask, “Should my organization pursue some similar innovative approach -- especially in the closing weeks of our fiscal year?”  RSC says, “Only if you are ready like the BLUEBARN!”  Read on:

  • The BLUEBARN was already poised to reach this year’s fundraising goals. Special fundraisers rarely fix a broken goal or budget, so they are best used for a campaign that already has momentum. Understand that these efforts also take preparation and can sometimes distract volunteers from cultivating relationships and making leveraged asks from their peers. 
  • Make sure there is urgency. BLUEBARN knew that the Omaha Gives effort would be effective because the compressed intensity of the campaign (24 hours) and the chance to receive matching funds would resonate. Conversely, longer “special campaign” efforts of 30-45-60 days (or more) often lose steam, so it’s better to stick to your Annual Plan.
  • Keep it Simple. BLUEBARN did a great job of promoting the blitz while not being drawn away from their “core” annual and capital campaign solicitations.  They also successfully used the tools that were already at their disposal – people, performances and p.r.
  • Always say “thank you”.  BLUEBARN showed genuine appreciation to their donors. No matter how you get the gift, make cultivation and stewardship your hallmark, with personal thank you calls, handwritten notes, and follow up activities to engage new patrons.

RSC can help your arts organization navigate the bold new world of technology and innovation in fundraising, while keeping focused on fundamentals and proven methods for long-term growth. Give us a call (or send us a tweet) today!

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