Fundraising in a Small Town: Sarasota, FL

FLiP community, I want to introduce you to our newest guest author – Holly Lillis. Holly is a fundraising professional in Sarasota, FL. Holly, an employee of Changing Our World, Inc. asked me if she can stand up for the people across the country who can’t necessarily make it to FLiP events. How does she deal? How should you? What is it like to be a fundraiser in a small town like? Holly, take it away….

It can be a real challenge creating that elevator pitch when your town only has a handful of buildings more than 10 stories high. More than likely, the lack of skyscrapers is a minor issue compared to the daily obstacles of making your organization succeed within the constraints of
a small population. When you are part of the nonprofit world in a modestly sized city, it can have a huge effect on the way you go about business development.

There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is you probably won’t make it to the FLiP-on-Tap events held at the venues only the Big Apple has to offer. It may even be the case that in your area, there aren’t enough potential FLiPs to fill a restaurant dining room. The good news? Necessity is the mother of invention, and having to adapt to the size of your community will only make you keener to the best methods to connect with your constituency and prospective donors.

But here’s the best news: even when living in a small town in this day and age, you have just as much access to information and current trends as your counterparts who happen to live in a bigger pond. All it takes is a little tailoring to turn the rules of the big city into a perfect fit, and a little intuition on when to break them altogether.

Below is a short list of some of the best aspects of working in a small town, so take a look at how your location can put you ahead of the game.

Small-town benefit #1: The media is accessible.

Unlike an attempt to have your nonprofit headline in the Washington Post, making connections with your local media nearly guarantees your presence in the news. Between creating a regular supply of press releases and contacting the press with plenty of lead time before an event occurs, you can create a healthy relationship with your local media counterparts. There are even more benefits from a strong relationship with local media. Readers of the local newspaper not only will become acquainted with your organization’s name, mission and accomplishments, but they will be able to see your organization as an integrated part of the community. Given, global recognition is always good, but maintaining a strong presence in your own community is key for local fundraising and events.

Small-town benefit #2: So are the politicians.

Especially for those working in organizations that benefit from grants from the city or county government, easier access to leaders in the local government can mean anything from more publicity to greater consideration when your application comes across some very important desks. Getting yourself involved in the politics of your community is an effective way to get your organization into the minds of the people making decisions in your area. Make a point to become a regular at town meetings; it puts you in the same room as the people in your community who want to know what is going on, and who are driven to make a difference. Show them the importance of what your organization does, and they can be very powerful supports to your organization’s future goals. And even when you aren’t using this opportunity as a platform for your cause, it will give you an insider’s vision to what is happening in your town, enabling you to make changes in your nonprofit to respond accordingly.

Small-town benefit #3: People sincerely care.

Small towns are known as places where everyone actually says hello to each other. Though this doesn’t mean you should solicit random strangers to donate to your capital campaign, the welcoming nature of modestly sized cities is definitely something you can take to the bank. People are more open to a casual conversation, and you never know when the person you talk to might be your next potential board member or major donor.

If your organization is in need of volunteers, you can rest assured that your neighbors will come through for you. By doing anything from a litter cleanup campaign to helping young ones read, your potential volunteers know that by helping, they are making a measurable impact on the quality of their town. You won’t encounter the metropolitan rush to “escape the city” on the weekends either, and more likely than not, you are creating a venue for people to get together to do something different and meaningful.

Small-town benefit #4: Business trends move in slower motion.

By not being in the midst of a big city in the heart of all the action, you get the benefit of perspective. Ultimately, the trends affecting business practices in big cities will trickle down to your neck of the woods, but the gentle pace of this change gives you time to see what’s on the horizon and adjust as needed. It also gives you the option to look at the events going on places like LA or NYC as a kind of test lab. Take the time to see what works and what doesn’t, and you won’t end up getting swept up in fads.

This slower-moving business style also means that the steps you take to bring your marketing, fundraising or business practice up to the minute will really stand out. Unlike the challenges of gaining the attention of a more cosmopolitan, media-saturated demographic, your organization is likely to be the first in your area to try out ideas like a guerrilla marketing campaign, or a funky new widget on your website. The key to this, however, is that you keep yourself informed on what’s going on in the greater nonprofit world. Stay tuned to thought-leading websites in the field, because keeping your eye on the horizon is one of the most valuable things you can do for your nonprofit.

Small-town benefit #5: Your reach doesn’t stop at the county line anymore.

Thanks to the internet, your local supporters no longer have to be your only supporters. As the philanthropic world moves to an increasingly global perspective, you have the tools to let the whole world know about what your organization is doing. This puts a growing responsibility on those of you responsible for the online aspect of your nonprofit’s outreach to keep all of your media updated and interactive. Through blogs, newsletters, and online community presence, it is of utmost importance to make it easy, innovative, and interesting for anyone to find out about your organization. Online donations are a growing proportion of any organization’s revenue these days, so it is pivotal to let people know through your electronic media that they can help, no matter where they are.

The internet is a great resource for your professional development as well. “Webinar” is one of the words making their first appearance in the Merriam-Webster dictionary this year, and it absolutely belongs in your professional training arsenal. Though business travel for conferences and seminars may not have a place in your organization’s budget, webinars offer real-time training and discussion for a fraction of the price.

Keep these benefits in mind, and can say goodbye to feeling like a small fish in a big pond just because your nonprofit is in a distant locale.

Is there a plus to working in a small town that we’ve overlooked? Add your field notes to our comment section!

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