Like many small Minnesota nonprofits, TU Dance couldn’t afford to hire someone to work full-time on fundraising or organize the glitzy galas that larger nonprofits host.
But thanks to a recent pilot program, the St. Paul dance studio learned to fundraise more effectively, going beyond letters and online crowdfunding. The studio even invited top donors to a special rehearsal, where Justin Vernon of Bon Iver collaborated with dancers, to build better relationships. That and other efforts helped the nonprofit drum up $40,000.
“We experimented with new ideas,” said Abdo Sayegh Rodriguez, the managing director of TU Dance. “Now donors are continuing to give.”
The dance studio was one of more than a dozen organizations in Minnesota that participated in the pilot program with GiveMN, the nonprofit best known for the Give to the Max Day — the unofficial statewide giving holiday. This month, GiveMN is officially launching the new service called RaiseMN to coach Minnesota’s small nonprofits on fundraising.
It fills a critical gap in Minnesota’s nonprofit sector; while some consultants help nonprofits build fundraising campaigns, no organization was doing that work with small nonprofits until now, said Jake Blumberg, the “chief generosity officer,” or executive director, of GiveMN.
“Growing giving isn’t just about having donors connect with organizations, but helping organizations connect with donors,” Blumberg said. “We need to work that from both sides.”
RaiseMN is focusing on organizations with an operating budget of $2 million or less and provides coaches who work one-on-one with nonprofits and holds monthly training sessions. It’s similar to the work Minneapolis-based Propel Nonprofits does, helping nonprofits figure out finances, obtain loans and set up good governance — but for fundraising.
“This is just kind of the missing piece — how to work with individual donors. It’s an important part of the fundraising landscape,” Propel Nonprofits President Kate Barr said. “They’re meeting an absolute void in the sector.”
According to GiveMN, 72 percent of Minnesota nonprofits rely on just one person or volunteers to do their fundraising.
That was the case at TU Dance, which couldn’t afford to hire a development director with a six-figure salary. Instead, a coach with RaiseMN helped them develop a fundraising campaign, starting a “giving circle” of two dozen donors to develop stronger relationships and invite them to special events.
“That makes them feel special and they are part of growing the organization,” Sayegh Rodriguez said.
The fundraising campaign will help the nonprofit do more events, be more financially secure for the future and meet its $1 million annual budget for things like classes and dance teachers. For the first time, the nonprofit will give staff a 3 percent pay raise this year.
According to a 2018 report from Guidestar, half of all nonprofits in the U.S. have less than one month’s cash reserves, essentially living paycheck to paycheck.
The RaiseMN two-year pilot program was funded largely by the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundations. The cost of RaiseMN’s service varies. A one-hour fundraising coaching meeting is $125 and longer partnerships are negotiated based on a nonprofit’s needs.
“Nonprofits don’t always know how to tell their story to donors,” said Eric Jolly, president and CEO of the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundations. “RaiseMN wasn’t an apparent need until GiveMN. It was the next logical step.”
Blumberg said the hope is to better help small nonprofits not just rely on a letter-writing campaign or a one-time online fundraiser. Instead, he said, they have to establish relationships with donors so they connect with the work and want to continuously support it — ensuring a nonprofit is viable for years to come.
“The nonprofit sector is a significant portion of how we take care of each other,” Blumberg said, adding that if nonprofits can’t stay afloat financially, “that affects all of us.”