The little fundraising engine that could

publication date: Jul 23, 2011
Ask for the order. Believe in what you're asking for. Eat your own cooking. Those three fundraising principles led a team of volunteers from Toronto Christian Resource Centre to a $7 million fundraising success.

"It's a classic tale of ‘the little engine that could,'" says board chair Greig Clark, who was involved in the campaign from the beginning.

A candidate for success?

TCRC's neighbourhood, Regent Park, is one of Toronto's most challenging areas and home to the city's first large-scale social housing project.  The organization faced a history of operating deficits, the loss of its old building as the neighbourhood was redeveloped, and the opportunity to run a $20 million building comprising a community hub for social services and 87 units of affordable housing even though it had no track record as a landlord.

Its "influence and affluence" network was skimpy; its building management experience even more so. But its case was compelling and backed by passionate volunteers.

Networks don't have to be corporate, visibly powerful

Clark's team tackled the operating deficit first. Individual donors and a few business supporters helped eliminate that. Then the team went out to the one network it had - the United Church of Canada.

Simple lunch-and-learn sessions introduced congregational leaders and individual prospects to TCRC's service record and the extraordinary opportunity that awaited it. "It was really helpful to start small," Clark recalls. "The lunch-and-learn asks were very modest, but they got us started. They helped us build leads, enthusiasm and volunteer confidence." The spirit that developed from those early achievements propelled the team to more success and provided consolation and encouragement in times of disappointment.

Eventually, about half of the donors who had helped eliminate the operating deficit gave to the building campaign as well. New prospects committed, as did several congregations.

Wisdom to share

Clark emphasizes that what the team members lacked in high-profile fundraising experience, they made up with an unshakeable commitment to TCRC's new vision and the ability to describe it consistently, enthusiastically and compellingly.

With that goal attained, he's sure that the same three principles that kept the TCRC team going can guide others to ambitious targets:

1.     Ask for the order.

2.     Believe in what you're asking for.

3.     Eat your own cooking (contribute to the campaign yourself before you ask anyone else).

For more information, Greig Clark

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