What does it take to start a fundraising program from scratch? I sat down over coffee with Kathie Must, Manager, Philanthropy at Reception House Waterloo Region, to find out. Kathie started at Reception House in October of 2017 and became a CharityCAN user not long after that. Since we get asked sometimes about early stage fundraising, I asked Kathie if she could share some of her story and she was gracious enough to agree.
"Being more strategic, even for a small organization makes a lot of sense."
Reception House is a “community-based organization that provides warm welcome to government assisted refugees,” helping newcomers settle in Canada and Waterloo Region. Before Kathie started their fundraising program, they were almost entirely government funded, with only a very small group of loyal supporters and a few monthly and online donors. So, Kathie’s first order of business was to look inward, identifying the resources Reception House did have, and to put together a plan on how to use them.
What they had was a great story, awareness of the program within the community, and a well-connected and respected executive director. Kathie put together Reception House’s “elevator pitch” and then started the process of looking for potential funding sources.
To do that, Kathie took the first step of profiling her own organization. “One of the things we used CharityCAN for was to compare us to other like organizations,” she said. “If we compare ourselves to other organizations of similar size in the settlement sector, who supports them? Who are the ones who are more likely to feel a connection to what we are doing?”
"Cultivation starts at prospect research. It's all about relationship."
After identifying some potential funders, Kathie started planning a calendar and used her connections to reach out. “Even for foundations, you don’t just send in an application,” Kathie said. “How do you get to know them; how do you share what you’re doing [and] find someone who might be able to give a warm referral?” After finding connections, she also worked backwards to find the best times to put in an application for funding or make specific asks. When meeting with potential donors, Kathie used research to prepare her colleagues. “If we talked about a potential source or a potential foundation, I was able to put together very quickly a briefing note with some really good information,” Kathie said. “To get people to act, you need to give them enough information that they feel confident, so that was really helpful.”
Over that first year, Kathie focused on being not just a fundraiser but a facilitator for the team. “I think being more intentional, being more strategic, even for a small organization makes a lot of sense,” Kathie said. “Thinking about the research, because cultivation starts at prospect research. It’s all about relationship. And then making sure everyone is involved. Like the program manager who gets a grant funded – [making sure] the program manager is writing the thank you [to the donor]. I know that message will be valued by the donor and will show the impact of her gift on our program.”
So how did all this fundraising strategy help Reception House? “We far exceeded our targets for this year,” Kathie remarked. “[We met] some of those goals that felt like stretch goals at the beginning.”
Going forward, Kathie hopes to start expanding more into individual giving and using prospect research to help figure out what makes their donors choose them, and make sure Reception House can continue its mission. “My dream for this region is that we become the most diverse, culturally wise community to show to the world,” Kathie said. “We’re helping support a group that tends to be the most vulnerable, but they also have so much potential. Being part of a fabulous team that helps make that happen is really important.”