Five Qs: Molly Reeser from Nonprofit Camp Casey on Engaging Donors

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Raising funds and keeping a donor base engaged is a challenge for almost any nonprofit. But one Royal Oak-based nonprofit has found ways to make fundraisers a fun and unique experience. Camp Casey brings horses to sick children’s homes, is well known for their innovative fundraising events. DBusiness Daily News spoke with the founder and executive director, Molly Reeser, to uncover her strategies for reaching out to donors and keeping them engaged with Camp Casey.

DDN: What fundraising initiatives have worked for Camp Casey?

MR: Camp Casey is very grassroots. We’re local, we’re a bunch of young professionals who are very passionate and trying … to do whatever we can to spread awareness for what we do and also, of course, to raise the funds that keep the program going and growing. Because we are not a 50-year organization — we’re only going into our 11th year, which we’re really proud of — we’ve had to fight to get our name out there. Sometimes we have to become very creative with the ways that we fundraise. Additionally, our boards of directors are major doers, but they’re not necessarily the deepest pockets who are contributing thousands of dollars to sit on our board. They are the kinds of people who are engaged, who are working and helping to get their hands dirty. So we’ve done fundraisers as small as bake sales and car washes and those kind of traditional things that most grass root (nonprofits) start out doing, but we’ve really found that over the years, the best way to grow is to engage other community organizations and businesses, and really listen to what our followers have to say and what our supporters want out of a fundraiser. For example, we have to know who our donor base is. Knowing those who support us and volunteer with us are the 20-something crowd, golf outings aren’t necessarily our thing. Instead, we’ve had to become very creative and put on festivals and wine tastings.

DDN: What trends in the nonprofit world work to keep donors engaged?

When a particular donor, whether it be a private donor or a business that’s come on board to help us in a big way, (donates to Camp Casey), what we like to do is keep them engaged by sending photos. For our program, what we do is bring a horse to a little kid’s home that is sick. We like to invite our donors to be a part of that. We always follow up and send photos, video, and thank-you cards that we receive from the family so they can put a face behind the dollar amount. I think for some companies and people it might be easy to get out a checkbook and write a check but until they really see where that (money is) actually going, I don’t know if it’s a check that would necessarily reoccur. To make sure everyone understands the importance of what we’re doing, we make sure to reach out and make those connections. This isn’t just a dollar that you gave (to a nonprofit), this is actually a smile that you produced.

DDN: How often should nonprofits reach out to donors?

As often as possible without becoming a pest. I think what we do that is beneficial to anybody, a nonprofit or otherwise, is to reach (a nonprofit’s) donor base not all the time with “asks.” Sometimes we reach them just with a thank you, (and say) what’s going on, and here’s an update. (Nonprofits don’t) necessarily (need to say) at the end of that email, “here’s how to continue your support.” In terms of how often that happens, we do send out a quarterly newsletter — and again, we’ve always tried to prevent people from opting out of our email blasts. We are a very home grown, smaller organization, so we don’t want to be considered spam. We’re not there to bother people. We’re there to update them and tell them about the good that we’re doing and announce those who are supporting us. I think that recognition is an added bonus once you have donated to a cause — it’s nice to see your name in bright lights and be recognized for (your donation) publicly. We understand that those who support us have enough sense to know support is always needed, and if they feel that’s where they would like their dollars to continue going, we are grateful to accept it.

DDN: How do you balance finding new donors and keeping current ones?

I think it is important to always acknowledge the silver while reaching for the gold. It’s like retaining any relationship. With our volunteers, with friends, with any kind of people we come into contact with, we want them to understand that they can continue to grow with our organization while engaging new (donors). I think a good way to collaborate on the two is to involve past donors in the recruitment of new donors by reaching out to them not necessarily when we have a request or an “ask,” but maybe if we need a resource that the donor may be able to provide. It’s a real juggling act making sure you are engaging lifelong donors while recruiting new energy into the mix. I think that as long as you are not overly bothering anybody, everyone understands that in the nonprofit world you are trying to venture out into new territory.

DDN: How do you get a younger donor base, who may not have money to donate to a nonprofit?

We ask that they give emotionally, instead of financially. The best way to do that is to involve them in our programming. No matter what the person’s experience is, what their passion is, we find ways to engage volunteers in every capacity. We have a place for everybody, not matter what walk of life you come from. We like to engage the masses by offering them to be a part of what we do and then hoping we can turn them into a donor by having them come to a fundraiser.

Camp Casey is hosting a Cowbell Pub Crawl at the Loving Touch in Ferndale on April 4. For more information, visit Camp-Casey.org

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