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Training program aims to increase nonprofits' fundraising skills

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Jake Blumberg is the executive director of GiveMN.
Jake Blumberg is the executive director of GiveMN, which has launched a new coaching program for nonprofits looking to boost their fundraising skills -- RaiseMN.
Courtesy of GiveMN

GiveMN, the Minnesota nonprofit behind Give to the Max Day, has created a new program. It's called RaiseMN, and it aims to provide nonprofits with the skills they need to be better fundraisers.

Depending on need, RaiseMN's coaching can range from a one-hour fundraising meeting to nearly a year.

GiveMN Executive Director Jake Blumberg said many nonprofits are too reliant on foundations and government agencies, and have the rug pulled out from under them when those major institutions suddenly shift their funding priorities. Like any major investor, he said, nonprofits need to diversify their investments. And they need to come up with a plan that meets their specific needs. 

Many people fail to realize that in the private sector, individual donors make up 80 percent of funding, he said. Only 20 percent comes from corporations and foundations.

"And the challenge with that is that individual strategies require nuance," he said. "They require long-term relationship building, whereas institutional funds are often an electronic portal application away from success or failure."

RaiseMN offers an intensive training program called the Campaign Institute. Approximately 15 organizations participate in the first half of the training. From that group, seven are chosen to continue for the second phase. Those organizations are each given a $10,000 matching grant to launch a fundraising campaign.

Blumberg said the goal is to help them design a campaign specific to their organizations' needs, and then learn from the results.

"So basically, what we think of it is as a working case study," he said. "If over the course of a six- to eight-week fundraising campaign you can find success there, you can take the lessons learned from those successes and apply them into an organization's strategy year-round."

Lindy Yokanovich, founder and executive director of Cancer Legal Care, a nonprofit that provides free legal services to Minnesotans with cancer, is just wrapping up her time with the Campaign Institute.

"I can't say how much it's helped us, because we do not have development staff and I don't know that we'll have it in the future," she said. Her staff of six works with 90 volunteer lawyers around the state.

"It's given us the confidence to really think that all of us are doing fundraising in some way, and not have somebody come on as a development person and leave in a few months and take whatever they've done with them," she said. "So it's been just transformative for an organization of our size."

Yokanovich said her organization worked to deepen its relationship with donors, and saw a 50 percent increase in donations.

Pilgrim Baptist Church is the oldest black church in Minnesota.
Pilgrim Baptist Church is the oldest black church in Minnesota. Like many churches, it faces challenges drawing in young families and raising enough funds to maintain its historic building.
Marianne Combs | MPR News

Another nonprofit that has taken advantage of the RaiseMN program is Pilgrim Baptist Church in St. Paul.  It's known as the first black church in Minnesota, founded by former slaves who fled North along the Underground Railroad at the height of the Civil War.

Like all churches, its congregation has grown and shrunk over the years. Stephanie Dilworth, chair of the church's board of trustees, said it's difficult to broach the subject of money.

"The Bible teaches us to give 10 percent," she said. "And of course we don't get involved in anybody's personal business to say, 'You're not tithing at what we think you should be tithing,' and we let them make that decision themselves. And so, sometimes they think, 'Well, that's what we should live off, is just the tithing. And then you don't need to do any fundraising.'"

Stephanie Dilworth, chair of Pilgrim Baptist Church’s board of trustees.
Stephanie Dilworth is the chair of Pilgrim Baptist Church's board of trustees.
Marianne Combs | MPR News

Dilworth and another church member completed the Campaign Institute in its first trial year. She said it taught her to think about fundraising differently, and it's helped her and the rest of the board to prepare for an upcoming capital campaign.

RaiseMN is taking applications for the next Campaign Institute on its website. The deadline is July 12.

The program is funded by the St. Paul and Minnesota Foundations. Blumberg said that, due to geographic funding constraints, the Campaign Institute is available to nonprofits in the east metro and greater Minnesota, but not the west metro. He hopes that with continued success — and an increase in funding from donors — the program will expand to serve more nonprofits in the years to come.