Jack Heath, chief executive officer of the Inspire Foundation, traces the fundraising trials and tribulations of a small nonprofit on the move. Small Beginnings
Inspire was started in 1996 with the idea of using the internet to do something about Australia’s then escalating rates of youth suicide – now thankfully down by 47%. Our three programs, which are all web based, now attract more than 200,000 visits a month.
Microsoft Australia kicked us off with a grant of $10,000 arranged by its then CEO Daniel Petre – both Microsoft and Daniel are major supporters today. With additional grants from Microsoft we were able to secure a major grant from the federal government in 1997 which enabled us to launch the Reach Out! program.
This year our budget is $4 million, a 100% increase on last year, and we are in our most secure financial position ever, but in light of our growth there are many challenges ahead.
One third of our revenue comes from corporate partnerships, another third from individual donors, around a quarter from foundations, and the remainder through a combination of consulting and government support. We do all this with a small fundraising team of four people – last year it was only two.
Confronting Self-Righteous Delusions
After a couple of years we hit the wall financially. With a degree of nonprofit self-righteousness, I felt that because we did such important work we deserved funds.
So I was somehwat taken aback when our directors didn’t go and raise a whole lot of extra money but tather told us to cut back hard, which we did – reducing salaries and putting people on unpaid leave. It was a tough lesson at the time but it serves as a constant reminder not to take things for granted.
Around this time we learnt two critically important lessons – first that you have to create great opportunities for people to give, and second that you have to give yourself. The first lesson became very clear after attending a one week Fundraising 101 course in San Francisco where it was stressed that if you don’t ask you won’t get, however worthy you might be.
The second, and in some ways more important lesson I learnt from another workshop was that if I wasn’t personally giving to Inspire, then how could I really ask others to do so. And the amount of giving is important – it has to hurt to be a real gift.
This forced us to confront and deal with the enormous emotional baggage that we carried both individually and organizationally around money issues – one of the biggest impediments to raising funds.
Since then three other fundraising lessons have become clear.
Being able to show your supporters how their money will be spent and reporting honestly on those results is critical. Fundraising and accountability must be key organizational goals and integrated.
Be passionate about your work and keep creating opportunities for people to give – but without badgering them. Chances are they eventually will. After two years of trying, we were about to walk away from our plans to extend our Reach Out program in the United States, but decided to have one last go.
We managed to get to see Rupert Murdoch who agreed to fund our feasibility study, linked us up with News Corp entities (most importantly myspace), and recently provided seed funding for establishing our US operations.
Finally, get yourself a BHAG – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal that you, your staff and your supporters will be inspired to realise. Ours is to have a global impact on young people’s mental health and wellbeing by 2020.
For more information about the Inspire Foundation visit: www.reachout.com.au
Jack Heath – Mr Major Gifts
While Heath is the CEO of the Inspire Foundation, he is also the lead fundraiser working closely with the development team. He spends at least 50% of his time on fundraising related tasks including making presentations and solicitations to potential donors. “Invariably I am the one who makes the ask,” he says.
Heath makes around 30 major gift asks a year, including to individuals and corporates. The largest individual gift he has asked for and received was for $240,000, and on the corporate side Inspire now has several multi-year partnerships of $500,000 each.
“In the early days, our big challenge was being an unknown entity taking an innovative, and for some, risky approach, to issues related to youth suicide. But from the beginning we had great individual supporters, a well-connected board, highly talented staff and a real passion to make a difference.”
Jack Heath leads from the front with fundraising.