Interview With Joe DiDonato

Author of the Almanac of
Fundraising Ideas

Joe Didonato spent 10 years of volunteer work with many Nonprofits, gaining valuable fundraising knowledge, before writing his highly popular and comprehensive "Almanac of Fundraising Ideas" eBook.

(You can read my review of this fantastic book here.)

Some of the Nonprofits he worked with were The Thousand Oaks California Art Commission; The Wellness Community, Valley/Ventura; The Orphan Foundation; and State Representative Sandlin's political campaign.

During this time he gained valuable insight into setting up profitable fundraising campaigns, plus great knowledge on various fundraising ideas.

And so, I'm sure you'll find great value in Joe's answers in this interview!

Here's a great interview with Joe DiDonato, author of the Almanac of Fundraising Ideas, that has some really insightful advice and tips on fundraising!

Let's begin...




Joe DiDonato Interview:

Question Links...

  1. What advice would you give someone when choosing a fundraising idea to use? What should they consider?
  2. You have a phenomenally comprehensive fundraising ideas book! What inspired you to write it?
  3. What would you say are the top 3 fundraising ideas from your eBook and why? (Ie. The three that you would recommend first.)
  4. How would you advise people to use your eBook more effectively?
  5. In your opinion, how important is it to set a clear, defined, and realistic goal for a fundraiser?
  6. What are some tips you would give someone who was fundraising for the very first time?
  7. What in your opinion is the number one reason for fundraising event failures?
  8. And lastly, do you have any tips on how to effectively thank volunteers and donors?



1. What advice would you give someone when choosing a fundraising idea to use? What should they consider?

The best advice is to pick a fundraiser where you know your project team has expertise and a lot of personal interest - for instance an avid golfer is on your committee and you're planning a golf event.

When these are fun to do, everyone is energized and will help you make it a success.

There are a lot of fundraisers that are more like 'work,' such as putting out donation boxes and collecting or exchanging them weekly, but that kind of fundraiser is a regular producer of funds, especially in the October through December time frame.

However, some favorites that also get a lot of media attention are the rubber duck race, a big black tie gala event, and of course a bachelor auction with local radio and TV celebrities.

Those are a lot of fun for everyone involved, and they also help get your Nonprofit's name out in a big way.




2. You have a phenomenally comprehensive fundraising ideas book! What inspired you to write it?

My original purpose for writing it was to help raise monies for our own foundation (The Orphan Foundation), as well as provide a free copy to any family that had applied for a grant from us.

Adoptions are very expensive, especially when they involve children with special needs. If we couldn't cover the $18,000 to $25,000 plus that an adoption costs, we wanted the families to figure out how they could help themselves with these fundraising ideas.

We just wanted every child to find a home.

There are many people out there with big hearts, but just not the financial means to make that dream come true.

As time went on, I saw that there were a lot of organizations who had plenty of volunteer help available and great causes, but didn't know where to begin.

Those organizations were also more than a particular cause. They included churches and educational institutions, and even political campaigns.

So the idea grew way beyond our own foundation's needs, and we saw it serving a much larger good. That's when we made it available to everyone.




3. What would you say are the top 3 fundraising ideas from your eBook and why? (IE. The three that you would recommend first.)

The top three are the...

  • Donation boxes,
  • Any of the cause-related marketing venues that I mention,
  • And some of the more complicated financial venues around estate planning.

The donation boxes tend to give you a foothold for covering some of your initial start-up costs, while a cause-related marketing venue with a large retail or restaurant chain can give you some enormous funding.

An example I used in the book was a program that Staples did for a children's causes, and it raised well into the millions of dollars over the years.

For the retailer, it showed their support of the community and a great cause, but because they used scratch cards which provided future discounts when customers came in for a repeat visit, it had a benefit to them as well.

Getting repeat traffic - plus a positive association with a cause is a great boost for any organization's brand.

And finally, everyone on a Nonprofit's board should be naming the Nonprofit in their wills. The percentage can be painless - 1 or 2% - but the impact on the organization over time and as new board members come onto the board can be quite profound.

And it takes only about 30-minutes for each board member to do with their lawyers or insurance companies.




4. How would you advise people to use your eBook more effectively?

If this is an organization's first time doing a fundraising event, I would recommend starting out small in the first year and expanding in subsequent years.

In general, everyone underestimates the time commitment to make one of these events happen successfully, and it's not unusual to see the workload falling onto an already overloaded staff.

Next is to pick an event that you can expand easily.

For example, you can start with a dinner gala and then add silent auctions in the next year and live auctions in the subsequent years.  With enough forethought, a complex event like that can be a signature event for your Nonprofit.


Work With Your Limitations...

If you are limited with staff, then consider some of the events where one or two people can pull it off, without getting into trouble.

Donation boxes, gift wrapping, and sometimes even a holiday home tour can be very effectively done with a small staff. Then grow into major events in future years with multiple venues, delivery routes for donation boxes, and busing and vendor participation accompanying future holiday tours.

Look at your staff and be reasonable about your time commitment - and the time requirements for your volunteers.

But by the same token, don't miss the chance to pull off a cause-related marketing event with a retailer, if you happen to know the "right people" in an organization to ask. That retailer will probably give you all the help you need, and leverage your one-person effort.




5. In your opinion, how important is it to set a clear, defined, and realistic goal for a fundraiser?

As I stated in the beginning of this interview, start off with small expectations, but I'll now add, plan for a potential success. It's very easy to extrapolate what a 300-person dinner at $200/plate will generate in revenues, and then create a budget to accomplish that.

Few people think about what happens if you only get 30 people to come.

You need to plan for a less-than-expected turnout, but in addition, a huge success. Figure out a budget for a worst case, probably case, and best case scenario.

Try to keep as many of your costs in the 'variable' category when you create the plan.

You may have to pay more when it comes to keeping costs variable, but it will cost a lot less than when you over-committed to a particular part of the event - like guaranteeing a minimum of 100 guests which sounded so easy on paper.

The more flexible the event's costs, the more likely you will make a profit.




6. What are some tips you would give someone who was fundraising for the very first time?

Create a communication plan that has four quadrants which represent your typical audience of donors. Each quadrant is really a different category of people, needing their own message.

Here, let me draw it for you:

Determining your #Nonprofit Communication Messaging. Interesting info from this informative #Fundraising interview with Joe DiDonato.

If you're messaging a high-income person with a strong emotional involvement to your cause, then that's a very different message than the other quadrants.

When you set out, you should know which audience you will be addressing with this fundraiser, and what the message(s) are that will appeal to each of those categories of constituents.

If you miss on this, you won't have a successful endeavor - either on the attendee side or for those who are helping you out with committees or as sponsors.




7. What in your opinion is the number one reason for fundraising event failures?

The number one reason for fundraising failures is for everyone to underestimate the work involved.

When that happens, everyone is overwhelmed and inefficient, angry, and just waiting for the event to end.

Begin with modest expectations, find a way to expand if success smiles on you, but never underestimate the amount of work and word-of-mouth publicity it takes to make an event happen.




8. And lastly, do you have any tips on how to effectively thank volunteers and donors?

This is probably one of the areas where we don't do enough. We've asked all of these folks to help us, but we never celebrate our success or publicly thank everyone for their help.

The best and easiest way, is to acknowledge people during the event, if the event is one where there is a large crowd gathered.

Some of the best thank-you events precede the actual event with a celebration of some sort, like a barbeque.

If the event is not that large, then you can make wonderful certificates of appreciation on your personal color printer, and then you can visit Staples to buy a 6-pack of certificate holders for awarding them.

You can even go to one of the dollar stores and find great frames for the certificates.

The more public the thanks - meaning press releases and event signage - the better.

But never underestimate giving a gift-wrapping volunteer a certificate of thanks. That's an investment that will pay off year after year, and you'll hear things like, "Let me know if you'll need my help next year!"




Thank You Joe:

Just a quick thank you to Joe for agreeing to do this interview.

If you'd like to find out more about his eBook, The Almanac of Fundraising Ideas, then read my review of it here.

Or you can go to the book's website, and find out more there.




Other Recommended Interviews:

Pamela Grow

Joe Garecht




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