“People are funny about money,” said Corinne O’Connell, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia.
On November 3rd, 2018, Fox Board Fellows hosted a workshop to address the struggles of nonprofit fundraising.
As the featured guest speaker, O’Connell brought her twenty plus years of experience in the field of fundraising to share with the MBA students by presenting her strategic thought process when asking for donations.
“The nonprofit world is being challenged,” said Ellen Marshall. As an advisor for Fox Management Consulting and Strategic Clarity Advisors, Marshall has been working in the nonprofit realm for over twenty years, and attended the workshop in order to better understand the Fox Board Fellows program. “For nonprofits to meet the growing needs and address this massive game-changing changes, it can’t be like it was back in the day.”
One of the most pressing obstacles when managing a nonprofit is maintaining financial stability. Money is a very sensitive issue, which makes it especially difficult for board directors when asking for donations and allocations from individuals and large organizations. In addressing this issue, and reinvigorating the purpose of the nonprofit’s endeavor, O’Connell spoke about how she manages to keep her purpose clear and strong while persuading potential donors to believe in her cause.
Her nonprofit Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia was established in 1985 as an independently chartered branch of Habitat for Humanity International, the largest home building nonprofit organization in the world.
“There is never enough money, and there is entirely too much need,” O’Connell said. “To put that need into context, 800 people call us a month. 800 people. We’re right now building 12 houses a year and repairing 100.”
As a member of the board for a nonprofit, fiscal responsibility is central to managing a successful organization, because nonprofits aren’t in business for monetary profit, they fundraise for a cause.
As CEO, O’Connell spends about half of her time asking donors for monetary support. The concept of fundraising is central to the survival of not for profit organizations, allowing them to fully provide for their community.
In her explanation of how to successfully fundraise, O’Connell emphasized the importance of maintaining existing relationships in order to foster strong donor loyalty. She asserted that, for most people, numbers and statistics are not convincing enough to connect them to the cause. There needs to be an underlying purpose that the potential donor can connect to, a cause that they can identify with, reflected in their own lives.
“You know what works? Empathy,” O’Connell said. “You gotta make a connection with people, you gotta create empathy, and you have to have people feel and know that they are empowered and that their gift counts.”
To create these connections, she suggested treating any kind of support with the same level of gratitude as with a large six figure donation. Empathy is the reason people will care about a nonprofit’s cause. “The why. That is why people give,” O’Connell said. “Start with the why, and it’s a personal thing.”
O’Connell’s speech heavily focused on the necessity to create interpersonal connections and build a relationship with the potential donor, in which effective communication and having a strong sense of the organization’s purpose will lead to success.
“She presents Habitat in such a way where she hones it down and says this is how you can help, by supporting this organization and talking about the breadth and depth of what they do, not just that they do it,” Marshall said about O’Connell’s presentation. “Telling that story and talking about what it means to have a passion or drive simplifies that complexity and helps people understand that they can act.”