To recover from what she describes as a dark phase in her life, then-professional dog trainer Danielle Gracyzk experienced what she describes as a spiritual connection with her dogs which played a large role in her healing process, and later felt called to help others heal as well.
She wasn’t sure where it would lead at the time, but her calling led her and other champions down the road to eventually found the nonprofit Canine Inspired Change (CIC), an organization which uses the unconditional, non-judgmental love of therapy dogs to reinforce the transformative nature of connection and community. Today, CIC has trained more than 165 dog therapy teams to help deliver programs to nearly 900 youth who experience socially-isolating situations or trauma.
As Danielle and her team of volunteers continued to build out the programs they were passionate about, they also had to learn how to build and run a strategic nonprofit at the same time, a task many founding nonprofit leaders find themselves faced with as they look to translate their passion into a sustainable organization.
For the past year, CIC has been one of seven East Metro nonprofits which make up the 2018-19 RaiseMN Campaign Institute Cohort, a year-long coaching and peer-learning program geared to help nonprofits uncover their own solutions and build strategy around fundraising.
We asked Danielle to share some of her experiences as a member of the 2018-19 cohort. Below, she offers four of their top discoveries which she believes is beginning to transform their strategy to allow CIC to grow into the future.
Creating an annual fundraising plan to give yourself a confidence boost.
For many nonprofits, especially small-but-mighty ones, there are too many things on the to-do list and seemingly not enough time to put together and maintain a yearly fundraising plan. Danielle and her team were in the same boat, trying to meet their program responsibilities and handling fundraising one event at a time.
Through the RaiseMN coaching process, Canine Inspired Change worked to create an annual fundraising plan. It was a rough sketch at first, but then came into clearer focus once they put most of their fundraising plans on one sheet of paper, month by month. Danielle believes their new fundraising plan will only deepen relationships with their donors and supporters.
“We feel good, we feel organized and like we’ve done our due diligence. We’ve found how our different events are compatible and can actually help drive one another. And we have goals for these events months in advance, which gives us something to reach for.”
Fundraising shouldn’t exist in a vacuum: seek out feedback from a coach or mentor.
When she founded Canine Inspired Change, Danielle said that she not only had zero experience with fundraising, she also had no experience with nonprofits in general.
“It felt like fundraising and running a nonprofit was some giant secret. We were always so busy trying to get our program up and running, and fundraising was always secondary, like ‘Oh yeah, and we also have to raise money.’ I was always doing my best, but it felt like I was faking it.”
Through the Campaign Institute, Danielle brought questions big and small to regular check-in meetings with RaiseMN’s lead coach Leah Olm, increasing her team’s confidence in their own instincts and allowing them to narrow in on strategies that were sustainable and were tailored to their own community.
“We realized that although we had to get all of our planning together, we weren’t far off the mark. This gave us more self-esteem and ownership in our ability to raise money. Leah is helping to point us in the right direction, but we’re actually the ones doing the work and we’ll be able to meet our goals this year and beyond.”
Don’t let fundraising FOMO clutter your to-do list.
Danielle and her team got CIC’s fundraising program off the ground largely by trying things that seemed to work well for other nonprofits. As a group of volunteers who cared passionately about the mission but didn’t have much experience raising money, she often found herself wanting to try dozens of new things hoping one of them would pan out in a big way.
“I’m a big idea person, and so we tried things like silent auctions, firefighter calendars, and they just weren’t bringing much success our way. At the time, I was trying lots of things and looking to catch the big fish so more people would know about us, but it wasn’t effective.”
Looking back, she says trying dozens of new things and hoping they would work took them off course many times, and now looks at it as fundraising FOMO – fear of missing out.
“There are so many cool ideas it used to be hard for me to let go of. Leah gave me a new rule: there comes a time in every plan when the time for new ideas has come and gone. It’s really a relief to focus on our best prospects, and let the rest go.”
Your best prospect for new donors are people who already know you and love what you do.
Speaking of fundraising FOMO, one of the main reasons Danielle said she wanted to take big swings and try to chase the big fish was in order to reach new potential donors. While that’s always a goal of expanding your organization’s reach, she is much more focused now on building and deepening relationships with the people who already support CIC’s mission.
“We have such a great community of volunteers, board members, clients and people who are our champions. We’re now working to deepen those relationships and invite them to become more involved and help support our work through their giving. As we continue to grow our group of supporters, our impact and network will follow.”