Can Small Organizations “Compete” With Large Organizations?

March 20, 2013


Diversity: The Voices of Sarasota, a LGBT chorus that celebrates all of humanity and inspires our community to embrace equality, raised more than $7,000 in the Challenge.

There is the tiniest little buzz we hear every so often, whispering that small organizations can’t compete with the large ones in fundraising opportunities like the 36-Hour Giving Challenge.

Our response: success is a function of effort, planning and mobilization.

Do donors base their giving decisions on the budget size of organizations? Is there proof that only large organizations can mobilize effective teams because they have staff (or larger staff)? We have evidence to the contrary on both accounts.

As we consider these ideas, let’s look at some examples from the 36-Hour Giving Challenge.

How did we define small and large organizations in the Challenge?
We took the annual projected expenses for all organizations with profiles in The Giving Partner and found the median. That median was approximately $500,000.

When you consider the amount of funding raised by small organizations vs. large ones, it’s helpful to also consider these dollar figures as a percentage of their overall operating budgets.

Are small nonprofits really “competing” with large nonprofits?
I would argue that donors make decisions about which nonprofits to support based on factors like effective messaging and good storytelling, a history of programmatic success in the community, financial stability, and peer recommendations.  If your organization is a small one and you believe that the large guys are outperforming you in all of these areas, why would a donor support you? (Framed a little differently, nonprofit effectiveness and good communication are not functions of size.)

Do we have examples of small organizations that heavily invested in the 36-Hour Giving Challenge and succeeded?
That we do.  But remember, “success” is in the eye of the beholder. We stressed the importance of setting organizational goals this year and targeting efforts–however large or small–to achieve those goals.

Here are a few examples of success from all-volunteer organizations with very small budgets, under $70,000.

  • Fairy Tail Endings  
    Annual Budget:  $68,050
    Number of full-time/part-time staff: 0/0
    Total Gifts Received:  239
    Amount Raised in Online Donations:  $11,430
    As Percentage of Annual Budget: 17%
  • Diversity: The Voices of Sarasota
    Annual Budget: $56,625
    Number of full-time/part-time staff: 0/0
    Total Gifts Received:  146
    Amount Raised in Online Donations: $7,050
    As Percentage of Annual Budget: 12%
  • Sarasota Architectural Foundation
    Annual Budget: $7,000
    Number of full-tim/part-time staff: 0/1
    Total Gifts Received:  34
    Amount Raised in Online Donations: $5,550
    As Percentage of Annual Budget: 79%

Three $2,000 Night Owl grants were awarded to organizations based on random donors who made gifts between the hours of 11 p.m. on March 5 and 2 a.m. on March 6. Two of the three donors randomly selected contributed to very small organizations: Fairy Tail Endings and Project 180.

Each organization had some luck in the game, but their “winnings” would not have been possible without mobilizing people to give during those wee hours in the morning.

The bottom line: we saw some serious data demonstrating what big players “small” organizations could be in fundraising when they make a commitment to participate.


2 Responses to “Can Small Organizations “Compete” With Large Organizations?”

  1. Karissa Mayer Says:

    I think the challenge gave us an ooportunity and a platform to engage our donors in a new and unique way. The “competition” we experienced was of a good natured competitive spirit. The leader board captivated donors, and they could see the impact of their donation in a comparitive way. The truth is we all compete and collaborate with other organizations of all sizes everyday in our fundraising efforts, and this was no different. Well, it was more fun:)

  2. Rhys Miller Says:

    I would be lying if I didn’t admit to having some of these feelings initially…after all, we knew there would be almost 3 times as many organizations competing this time around and most of our regular donors (including our board members) were already at their giving cap last year so we didn’t expect to get a lot of matching this year.

    Since we needed to complete our annual profile update anyway, we actually focused a lot of our time on developing our strategic plan for the organization and less time on the event itself. We didn’t want to rely on the Giving Challenge as the main contributor to our annual fund, because it is not a given for the future. Part of the by-product of that was figuring out who are donors are, what our strengths were as well as opportunities we could really develop that would benefit us beyond the “event”.
    Developing corporate partnerships was something we felt was going to be instrumental to our long-term success and the challenge gave us the impetus to pursue them. We didn’t secure one in time for the competition, but we did brainstorm some great ideas and approached some businesses we felt were a great fit for both of us. We wet our toes!
    We also decided to zero in on two challenge opportunities that fit our strengths the best. We run FTE from our laptops, often in our pjs at night after work …we engage with our core supporters in these wee hours so we knew that we were real contenders for the night owl grants, if we could mobilize them. But we also knew from NOT winning any of those last year, that other bigger organizations had international supporters in time zones that didn’t require a stake in Starbucks to stay awake and donate. What to do, what to do? We had to really strategize about this particular challenge. And we didn’t expect our donors to do something for us that we weren’t willing to do ourselves…so we were up with them during those 3 hours spurring them on and donating ourselves.
    I think we did so well in the event because we thought of it is an opportunity to develop our overall strategies.

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