community foundation kicks off nonprofit training

The Community Foundation for Western Iowa launched an 18-month training program Thursday to help nonprofit organizations build their capacity by developing their endowments.

The program, called “Make It Happen,” includes six monthly meetings followed by quarterly “Continuing to Make It Happen” sessions where participants learn from subject matter experts based on their personal feedback and needs.

“The training program not only helps ensure long-term viability and strength of our region’s nonprofit organizations through fund development, but also strives to create a widespread culture of philanthropy throughout the Community Foundation’s western Iowa service area,” a description from the foundation stated.

The foundation used a competitive application process to select nine local nonprofits for the program, which is sponsored by D.A. Davidson, an investment management firm that manages some of the foundation’s funds. Participating organizations include Avenue Scholars Southwest Iowa, Charles E. Lakin Human Services Campus, Habitat for Humanity of Council Bluffs, Historical Society of Pottawattamie County, Learning for All, Lewis Central Education Foundation, New Visions Homeless Services, Southwest Iowa Families Inc. and Wings of Hope.

In the opening session, Donna Dostal, the foundation’s president and CEO, told participants they need to start communications with donors by telling them “because of you,” the organization’s clients were able to eat, find shelter, find a job or whatever it is the organization helps their clients do. If you talk about the impact of donor dollars, “people will want to then support your organization,” she said.

“We’re trying to reframe the way we think about how we communicate with our donors,” she said.

Dostal asked attendees to think about how events their organizations hold that make things happen are received by the community.

“How are they driving impact in the community?” she asked.

At fundraisers, a spokesperson should tell attendees, “because you were here” or “because you donated,” certain services were provided to clients, Dostal said.

Brandy Wallar, CEO of New Visions Homeless Services, said that by asking for sponsorships, New Visions was able to turn its Christmas celebration — previously a substantial expense — into a fundraiser. In addition, they asked volunteers to work at the event so they could see the impact it had.

“This is a great way to get them into our facility,” she said.

The organization has seen a 20% increase in donors during the past few months, Wallar said.

John Nania, executive director of Learning for All, agreed that impact is what donors are interested in.

“They don’t donate because they like me, they don’t donate because they like the organization, they donate because their dollars make a difference,” he said.

Dostal said organizations should connect support and impact in their communications with donors and potential donors. She suggested they emphasize that they are driving a kind of impact in the community. Fundraising and communications need to be aligned, she said.

Charities face a culture in which they feel they’re not supposed to make a profit, Dostal said.

“The only thing they teach us to do is, if we do make a profit, show how it’s going back into our mission,” she said. “I challenge each one of you to stop thinking of yourselves as nonprofit. Everything you do is having an impact on our community. That’s the introduction to changing the mindset. This is creating an impact, instead of coming from a place of scarcity.”

Dostal told attendees to build relationships with people and organizations and think about how the relationships can be mutually beneficial. She added that having community members talk about their organization can make a big difference.

She asked how organizations make each volunteer feel special.

“If somebody volunteers for you, they’re more likely to donate,” Dostal said. “Again, 76% of volunteers turn into donors — probably long-term donors.”

John Hoich, vice president of the Lakin Foundation, suggested those seeking donations try asking people they’ve never asked before — like the “millionaire next door.”

“It makes them feel important,” he said.

Dostal asked if the organizations represented at the session keep track of the hours their volunteers put in. She encouraged them to do that.

“Funders love it,” said Kim Smith, family services and volunteer coordinator at Habitat for Humanity of Council Bluffs.

Hoich said it sometimes helps, when approaching a potential donor, to “stroke their ego. “Donors, even if they’re anonymous, they take pride in knowing they were a part of it,” he said.

The 2023 cohort is the second to have taken the training from the foundation, Dostal said during the lunch break. A group of eight organizations went through the series in 2020. The foundation will probably offer the training again in 2025, she said.

“We feel it’s part of our mission to create that culture of philanthropy and help the nonprofits in the community,” she said.