VisArts is a 501(c)3 nonprofit whose mission is to transform individuals and communities through the visual arts. Located in Rockville, MD, VisArts has actively served the greater Washington, DC metro area since 1987. Each year, more than 30,000 visitors have the unique opportunity to view contemporary art exhibitions, participate in art classes, and collaborate with other artists.
For the past four years, Ginger Webber, VisArts’ Director of Individual Giving, has used the power of peer-to-peer fundraising to fuel their year-end fundraising efforts. But this past year, for the 30th Anniversary Challenge, Ginger knew that meeting the large goal of raising $150,000 from individual gifts was vital. After all, they needed to raise the full amount in order to collect the impressive dollar-for-dollar match of $150,000.
So, Ginger decided to use CauseVox to power the campaign. By following best practices, VisArts’ personal fundraisers rallied their friends and family, and the organization easily met their fundraising goal.
Here’s how VisArts activated their community through peer-to-peer fundraising.
- Total funds raised: $300,000 ($150,000 was a match)
- Fundraising technique: peer-to-peer
- Number of personal fundraisers: 25
- Number of donors: 269+
- Fundraising staff: two part-time
About VisArts: Building an Individual Gift Program
Artists are the heart and soul of VisArts which serves more than 225 artists each year by supporting their professional growth and development, providing opportunities for working artists to make a living as class instructors and through the sale of their artwork, and by offering stipends. Ginger shared “VisArts is a leader in building a dynamic, thriving economy. We lead strategies for the arts to drive economic development in our community.” They accomplish this by partnering with local businesses in the hopes of building the community into a vibrant arts destination. Also, VisArts offers free or reduced cost programming to those who may not otherwise afford it. Naturally, these efforts all work to promote a stronger community in the process.
But all this good work costs money. To fund VisArts’ $2.4 million operating budget, they rely on the money collected from tuitions, event fees, and art sales. The remaining 25% not covered by these fees (around $600,000) comes from individual donations, government and foundation grants, and corporate contributions.
Unfortunately, when Ginger arrived at VisArts, there was no set process for tracking donations. “I didn’t have a donor database, and there were limited processes and systems in place to cultivate, solicit, and acknowledge individual gifts.” So, she got to work. Ginger got started by creating a donor database where she input gift data from previous years. From there, she worked tirelessly to put a system in place to acknowledge donations and thank donors quickly. Over time, Ginger developed a multi-faceted fundraising plan that aligned with VisArts’ strategic plan.
VisArts B.C. (Before CauseVox)
Once she had a system in place for donor and donation tracking, Ginger decided to dive headfirst into the world of peer-to-peer fundraising. Before using CauseVox, she ran two successful campaigns, raising $100,000 and $50,000 respectively. “These campaigns were effective but bare bones.”, Ginger explained, adding that roughly 25 board and staff members sent personal appeals to their friends, work colleagues, and family members.
During the first year, Ginger provided some content to fundraisers, but she quickly saw that coming up with messages was tough for personal fundraisers. “I saw that asking the board and staff to create the content for their appeals, from scratch, was a barrier to encouraging their active participation.”
For the second year, Ginger drafted specific content and instructed fundraisers on when and how to share it with their networks–which turned out to be a very successful way to engage fundraisers and capture donations.
All in all, Ginger says that the entire process of peer-to-peer fundraising before CauseVox was very manual and not particularly transparent for the active and dedicated personal fundraisers. In some cases, it was difficult for fundraisers to keep up with the status of the campaign. “It was a very covert process in that fundraisers didn’t know how well they or their fellow board and staff members were doing,” she told us.
Because of the sheer amount of labor involved, Ginger decided to look for a platform that could accommodate her particular peer-to-peer fundraising needs. Lucky for us, Ginger selected CauseVox to power VisArts’ peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns beginning in 2016.
Criteria for the Perfect Platform
What was Ginger looking for in an online fundraising platform? Like other nonprofit professionals, Ginger wanted a program that was affordable, easy to use, effective, transparent, and that looked professional.
Appearance was a significant factor in Ginger’s decision to use CauseVox. The “professional graphics design” was a big plus for her.
Cost-Effective + Versatility
Cost was another factor, especially because Ginger was looking for a platform to use for multiple online fundraising campaigns and different types of appeals, not just the year-end, peer-to-peer efforts. For example, Ginger used CauseVox during a “Live Ask” at their Spring fundraising event and donors got to track the progress in real time. “It was exciting, and people really liked it,” she said.
It’s hard to keep personal fundraisers interested in raising money if the platform isn’t user-friendly. Therefore, Ginger wanted the find a program that didn’t require her eager fundraisers to be tech professionals.
After running two campaigns that no one could follow in real time, instant feedback was a definite “must-have” for VisArts. Being able to see the total rising minute-by-minute helped keep people motivated until the campaign closed out.
Ginger likes to fuel fundraising through stories, so she wanted a platform that could easily accommodate lots of content.
Board and Staff Involvement
VisArts relies on its dedicated team of board and staff members to fuel its year-end fundraising efforts. But as Ginger points out, not all board members and staff are comfortable taking on the role of “fundraiser.” That’s where she stepped in.
Ginger spent ample time preparing well-written, impactful, and emotion-inducing content. She also sent instructions to help guide everyone through the process of fundraising, starting with setting up a personal fundraising page, and then sending time-sensitive content with prompts about when to forward it to their contacts.
To keep them motivated, Ginger made sure to send shout-outs to individuals and the group.
Thankfully, the vast majority of the board and staff seemed to love the entire process. “Many have commented on how easy the campaign is to do now.” Ginger told us. Even though some individuals took to the role of fundraiser more easily than others, Ginger’s formula for using CauseVox made it so that “anyone could do it.”
Moving Forward: The Future of Fundraising at VisArts
Although there are constraints that come along with a limited fundraising staff, Ginger has big plans for VisArts’ resource development. “Now that a strong fundraising infrastructure is in place and our major year-end, peer-to-peer campaign runs so smoothly, we can move to developing a major gifts program.”
Moving forward, Ginger also hopes to expand her peer-to-peer fundraising efforts, starting with recruiting new personal fundraisers. “We have plateaued somewhat at 25 fundraisers. To increase the amount raised during our year-end appeal, we need to have more people joining in to make a case for giving to support VisArts.”
After two community-driven fundraising campaigns, Ginger and the rest of the team at VisArts are proving that they’re pros at peer-to-peer, and we have no doubt that they’ll continue to expand their efforts, reach new goals, and activate new donors and personal fundraisers in the process.
Congratulations to VisArts on all their fundraising successes. We can’t wait to see what you do next!
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