More than 50 leaders of non-profits from the Fort Smith and northwest Arkansas areas came to a conference hosted by The City Wire on Wednesday (May 1) to learn about fundraising, branding and social media, among other skills.
The “Magic of Fundraising and Media Relations” Conference was free to attend and featured speakers such as Beth Presley, vice president and marketing director at Arvest Bank, The City Wire's Chief Operating Office Patricia Brown, web consultant Jennifer Douglas of Kirkham Systems, John Sampson with Cox Communications and Catherine Frederick with @Urban magazine.
The Internet played a large role in the conference, which was hosted by The City Wire and Arvest. Fort Smith-based Vineyard Wine & Spirits was also a sponsor, and hosted a free wine tasting at the end of the conference.
Presley, who previously served as assistant athletic director for the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, said using the web effectively will change the face of fundraising for non-profits, both small and large.
"Everything that you need is on that world wide web," she said. "That will increase your donor database."
Besides finding potential new donors through research and database development, Presley said online advertising was a key tool that many non-profits were not taking advantage of.
She said using specific websites that reach a higher socio-economic group, such as The City Wire, was the key.
"If you want to reach your target donors, they probably read The City Wire."
She said it was also important to use current volunteers and donors to reach out to potential new donors in order to showcase the non-profit and the work being done through the organization.
"Use your volunteers and participants to tell your story," she said, adding that any hand-picked volunteers or donors should be able to tell an uplifting story. "If I hear a Debbie Downer from an organization, do I want to invest in that?"
Brown told the group of 54 non-profit leaders that the key to make a long-lasting organization that would create a legacy was going from small donations to major gifts and planned giving.
She explained that while with the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-South in Memphis, she was able to take the organization from $14,000 in the bank when she took over to having millions of donations and it was all through cultivation of relationships and taking donors from small donations to including the organization in wills and other estate planning.
She said while a celebrity golf tournament featuring Arkansas-native John Daly eventually netted the organization $500,000 annually, any organization must have long-term and planned gifts.
A comprehensive "moves management system" was essential, she explained.
"'Moves' are planned, regular and documented gifts," she said.
Douglas spoke to the group and said all of the work done by a non-profit could be undone without a solid, well-built website, making work like she did essential.
"It's like a second location for your business," added Douglas.
She said there were many things non-profits needed to do to make effective use of their site and to make it appear in results on search engines.
Among these, she said some of the top things to remember include:
• "Don't have an overly-designed website. Keep it simple so readers and potential donors do not focus on anything but the content."
• "Own your own content. If you have to pay an IT guy every time you need an update, you don't own your website."
• "Google cares how often you update your site. They want the most updated information. It should be updated once a week."
Betsy Brumley of the I'll Fly Away Foundation was among those to attend the conference today. She said she was stunned to learn about what all she had available to her.
"What I've learned today is I have a lot of the tools right in front of me," she said, explaining that it is simply about using the tools and building relationships.
"If you have relationships, they'll respond (to your request for a donation). It made sense," Brumley said.
Brown said it was responses like Brumley's that made the conference a success that will keep the many non-profits in our region going strong for decades to come.
"Many non-profits just fund from event to event," she said. "This was about cultivating to major giving. And planned giving is what you want to do. Living from event to even is never going to that point where they will be stable. You have to be put in their will."
The passion for making the community better made Brown excited to see what develops from today's first ever Magic of Fundraising and Media Relations Conference.
"With this town, this passion, their vision, this group is at the heartbeat of what Fort Smith needs," she said. "Giving them the opportunity to do this training is just going to help them be better at their jobs and in the community."