Dr. Todd Robinson is a navy pilot and flight surgeon, author, film producer, medical school faculty member, and a practicing physician. He is an MD and a PhD. But until now there was one area in which he had no experience: fundraising.
Here’s the background: Getting ready for the world premier of renowned composer Earnestine Rodgers Robinson’s oratorio “Exodus” required fundraising. Dr. Robinson (Mrs. Robinson eldest son), and family members needed to raise $140,000 to $170,000 to bring 200 diverse choir members to New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The family organized supporters as Chicago Voices United. But, surprisingly, not as an independent 501c3 organization.
“One of the FUNdraising Good Times! articles talked about being creative in looking for funding sources as it pertained to nonprofits. This was very encouraging as we struggled in the early phases. Initially, we used personal funds and a loan as start-up capital for Chicago Voices United. But we quickly realized that we needed the nonprofit status to be more attractive for donations,” Dr. Robinson shared.
Instead of becoming a 501c3 organization, Dr. Robinson asked an existing nonprofit if Chicago Voices United could become a “sponsored project” of that nonprofit. The answer was yes, and months of paperwork and filing fees were saved, allowing the group to focus on their goal: fundraising for choir members.
They launched a website (www.ChicagoVoicesUnited.org), attempted crowdsource funding, website marketing, and social media but found each to be “extremely ineffective.”
“We decided to go a different approach. Like the article I read and resonated with, we had to get creative with our fundraising,” Dr. Robinson shared. “As a result, we decided to pursue industries/companies directly involved in our fundraising needs: hotels and airlines based in Chicago. We figured it would easier for a company to donate their time or services to a home-grown project instead of just forking over cash.”
The results? “Requesting donations in the way of services, we quickly landed a sponsorship from Hyatt who made a donation in the form of “discounted” room prices; and in the world of expensive hotel rates of downtown Manhattan, this was a big win. Now, the price of lodging during the concert event was more within reasonable reach for our average choir member,” Dr. Robinson continued. “This also made it easier for us to recruit choir members. Recently, United Airlines has expressed interest in making a donation of its services.”
A January “sneak preview” of Exodus in Chicago was well-received, and part of the Robinsons’ fundraising strategy: potential donors and influencers had the opportunity to experience the oratorio and become inspired. Follow up meetings are in progress as we go to press.
Dr. Robinson’s advice: “Constantly monitor your efforts with a critical eye; be adaptive and flexible enough to quickly change directions if needed; and think creative.”
Read Part One: The “Carnegie Hall or Bust” Fundraiser
Visit www.earnestinerobinson.com for more information about the life and work of Earnestine Rodgers Robinson.
Mel and Pearl Shaw are the authors of “Prerequisites for Fundraising Success” and “The Fundraiser’s Guide to Soliciting Gifts.” They provide fundraising counsel to nonprofits. Visit them at www.saadandshaw.com. Follow them on Twitter: @saadshaw.