Victory Cup Initiative

VCIThis morning I took off my fundraising hat and put on my funder hat, as I had the opportunity to be part of the review process of applications for the Victory Cup Initiative (VCI).

The VCI is a platform where companies come together for philanthropic investing with a twist. This unique event is designed to provide a high-profile opportunity for charitable organizations to tell their stories, build their strategies and partner with business and community leaders to make a difference in Central Florida. During this breakfast event, 10 of Central Florida’s top nonprofits present a 2 minute, 30 second pitch on who they are, how they are changing lives and how they are serving the community to a room of philanthropists who will vote to determine the winner of the $20,000 grand prize. Organizations also compete for second ($15,000) and third place ($10,000) financial awards. All remaining organizations will be awarded a $1,000 participation grant. The Ten finalists are selected through an application process to compete in main event for cash awards. In its first two years, the victory cup initiative received applications from 132 nonprofits and distributed $84,000 in awards to 20 local nonprofits.

IMG_0975 (1)About 6 weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Ashley Vann, VCI Founder, as part of the Association of Fundraising Professionals Central Florida Chapter’s National Philanthropy Day. VCI was to be recognized as an honoree in the AFP social enterprise and community service category. This honor recognizes organizations – specifically non-profits, civic or service groups – that are actively engaged in philanthropy through social enterprise or a “hybrid” nonprofit business model, or engaged in exceptional community service.

Ashely’s enthusiasm was very infectious. I wanted to be involved. So, I signed up to be part of the application judging committee. The 2018 event won’t take place until February 7, but the behind the scenes efforts are well under way including the application process, which is where I came in.

The application was fairly simple compared to most grant application. Each of the applicates were asked:

What is your organization’s mission?

Briefly describe your major programs and activities.

What is your elevator speech? (90 seconds or less description)

Give one of the best examples of a constituent has been positively impacted by your organization.

Describe your organization’s vision for furthering your mission over the next 3-5 years.

I received 10 applications via a secure portal. The evaluation review instructions called for me to rank 1-10 how I felt about the nonprofit answered the following questions:

Does the nonprofit have a compelling story that needs to be shared with the community?

What is the magnitude of the impact of the nonprofit organization’s programs and activities?

How comprehensive is the nonprofit organization’s programs and activities?

How comprehensive is the nonprofit organization’s vision for serving their constituents?

Then the last question was: Should this nonprofit organizations be one of the finalist which presents in the Victory Cup Initiative 2018? Yes. No. Or Maybe.

VCI $20KSounds simple, right? No! It was a lot harder than it looked. I was familiar with a couple of the applicants, but there a couple I had never heard about. None of which I have any association with, or I would have recuse myself. All were worthy of support, but I couldn’t just send them all along to in the finalist. I felt I had a responsibility to really think about these charities and the causes they represented and what they said in their application. There was a lot of money on the line, and the opportunity to spread awareness for their cause.

The VCI is dedicated to equipping Central Florida nonprofits with the skills and training to better tell their story and ultimately raise more funds. Now that is a cause I can get behind.  Here’s the website is you want to learn more or buy tickets for the 2018 VCI.

If you are reading this and your organization didn’t get into the finalist, don’t get mad at me. I only reviewed 10 of the applications, there were 20 other reviewers. Giving away money is hard. I am glad I had my small part. It was a learning experience. Not only did I learn about some really neat nonprofit organizations, but I gained experience looking at applications through funders eyes.

Ashley’s passion for uniting donors with the causes they care about sparked her idea for the inaugural VCI. Ashley knows the joy of giving.

If your organization could use help in spreading the message about your cause, call me. Let’s talk.

End of the Year Appeal? But it’s still summer!

It may be hot and steaming outside, but it is only 16 weeks until Thanksgiving, November 23, 2017. Thanksgiving weekend is when a significant amount of people make their end of the year giving decisions. Which means they need to have your annual appeal in their hands, or your nonprofit might get left out. Past experience has taught me to plan far in advance, starting the appeal collateral production process at least 10 weeks out, to meet this important deadline. Let me explain by working the time frame process backwards.

Let’s break it down:

EOY Appeal CollateralA bulk mail can take 7-10 days to be processed at the post office. To get that piece of mail into the potential donor’s hands before November 22 (Wednesday before Thanksgiving), you need to get your mail trays to the post office mail before November 13.

Two Weeks

Do you use volunteers to fold and label and to save money? Better work in a couple days for volunteer labor. This is probably your biggest mailing piece of the year, so you are going to need lots of hands on deck. Many hands make for light work is my mantra. One organization I worked for used the local church ladies’ circles, but they only worked on Tuesdays and Thursdays. My volunteer labor needs had to accommodate their Wednesday mahjong and Friday tennis schedules. Or does your printing company handle the folding, stuffing and labeling? Lucky you! But still build in a couple days to get that tasked finished.

Speaking of printers, they need production time of at least couple days turnaround time for the project’s actual printing. My printer, after receiving my files, always made a mock up that needed to get final approval of an okay to print. What if that email proof arrives in your inbox late in the afternoon, when you were out making a donor visit, or your Executive Director is out on vacation? Whose final okay is needed? Better build in an extra day for this type of contingency. What if the proof came out all wrong? And there needs to be a correction? Oh my! Better build in another day to your time frame. And of course, the printer is closed on weekends.

Four Weeks

Your time frame in now worked backwards into October.

Is your piece created in house? If you are a small shop, probably. If you are lucky you have a PR Firm who creates content. A seemly easy two-page letter of request content may go through a dozen revisions (over two or three weeks). The program director may want to substitute the statistic, or the ED changes her mind on the levels of giving included in the ask. I also suggest handing the “final draft” to someone who has never seen previous versions, to get a once over for typos.

Is your layout person in house or external? Are you using a volunteer Creative Suites expert? Add in another two to three days for delays.

Six Weeks

Are you including a response envelope? Make it easy for donors to give by including an envelope for them to send in their checks. Is your response envelope up to date? Does it need revisions? Anticipate another delay. What? You don’t have one? Create one. Any other collateral material? Will you be adding a program insert? Add another week to production time.

Your new board chair has mandated a cost control policy of requiring at least two quotes for all outsourced expenses. Add another couple of days to get quotes back.

What about the story? A client story of impact is the best way to get across your mission. You will want to add at least one picture, which may mean you need to make arrangements for a photo shoot.

Eight Weeks

It’s now September. What about the database? Who will you be mailing this appeal to? How clean is your database? Have you made sure to keep it updated? How far back in time will you go? Three years? Five years?  Are you going to purchase mailing lists to acquire new donors? Will you be doing an A/B test? An A/B test is where you do two separate mailings with two different messaging to see which message or delivery method is most effective.  Will you be doing a separate appeal to major donors? Your answers can impact the messaging and or scope of the project.

Ten Weeks

Gather your team together for a concept design session to decide which program or outcome this appeal will focus. Decide what will best represent your mission. Having the right direction will make the process go a lot smoother.

Overwhelmed? Don’t be, call me. I can help.