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Resuscitate Your Fund Drive Efforts

Emergency Service Organizations frequently seek contributions from residents and businesses for memberships, fund drives and capital projects. Typically, the people in those communities that most benefit from an ambulance membership are aware of the timing of the membership drive and budget the annual fee. However, a majority of the recipients of the fund drive and capital fund solicitations are, in most cases, being asked to spend discretionary funds without having received any prior communication about the needs of your organization. The typical result is they put it off until later because they didn’t have it in their budget. In some cases, a second mailing may instigate those that did not respond to the initial letter, but the return on investment is still minimal.

Typical return rates average 15-18% for solicitations that mail two times. Your results may be slightly better or worse. However, when you compare the success of traditional EMS and fire campaigns when compared to some of the larger fundraisers in your area, there is room for improvement. All too often, organizations are heard complaining about their return on investment after calculating total cost compared to the net dollars received. Yet the organization does little to improve or modify their current campaign effort. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing, in the same manner, over and over again expecting different results. Whether the work on the fund drive is performed in-house or outsourced, your organization should focus efforts on this process to not view this as a once or twice a year activity. It should be a continual process that is ongoing throughout the year that will help serve many other aspects of your organization if done correctly.

Here are some recommendations to give your fundraising campaign efforts a makeover.

1.       Identify a leader and build a team

The person in charge of the campaign should be someone or a group of individuals with a passion for the organization. Ideally, this should not be one of the lead members of the organization. The team members can be from within the organization or from the community.

2.       Set your goal/budget

Your organization should have an annual budget. It should identify the sources from which revenue is received.  The revenue to be received through fundraising should be specifically identified along with its intended use. For example, if $1000 is needed for a suction unit, that specific item could be listed. If $75 is needed for one safety vest, it could be listed. This gives the donor the ability to identify both a dollar amount that is affordable but puts a tangible product in their minds of what their money is specifically going toward.

3.       Develop a plan of action

The time to start is now rather than waiting one or two months before the fund drive. Assign tasks to each member of the group. Consider more frequent tasks that could be easily completed in 1-2 hours per week. Meet every week or two to stay on target with the work. Plan for the expected and anticipate the unexpected. In other words, have some room built into your plan for delays.

4.       Communicate Frequently

The potential donors should be contacted several times during the year prior to your request for funds. This can be accomplished through low cost means such as email notifications, web site updates, reporting to municipalities, texting basic information and placement of informational materials at key gathering points in your community. When the drive is completed, report the results to your community. They want to know if the funds were put to good use and determine if your goal was achieved.

5.       Maintain a current database

Is your database up-to-date? Have people moved since the last mailing? Chances are your database will be outdated by as much as 8% simply due to relocations. Do you add addresses of new house construction or modifications to existing business locations? Has your service area changed? There are many ways to keep this up-to-date. But it should be done continually to reduce the amount of work that needs to be completed just before the drive.

6.       Invest into your campaign

Invest wisely into resources that will help you become more efficient. Use a database or software application that maintains your donor and potential donor database. Social media links, online contributions via credit card, donations received through texting and conducting special events are just some of the ways that organizations are raising funds today. Transitioning from traditional mail to web based or other automated transactions will lead to reduced mailing and printing costs.

7.       Differentiate your marketing materials

The template-driven marketing materials that are utilized are not easily read and look similar from organization to organization. Use your logo to build your brand name recognition. Consult people within your community to determine their needs and information wanted. Consider various mailers matched to the readership in your community.

8.       Demonstrate Fiscal responsibility

Accountability for donations, especially if cash is received, should be tracked by a receipt. Persons handling money should have proper checks and balances in place to limit the possibility of redirecting funds inappropriately. More than one person should be involved in the management of the money. Other safeguards measures could be in place from best practices from accountants and insurance companies.

9.       Involve the community

Visit your Chambers of Commerce, get involved in business functions, host a social event, speak at local organizations such as the Rotary, Lion’s Club, senior center, local nursing home or school and consider partnering with other non-profit organizations. They may have resources and offer their services to you. Instead of mailing, conduct a door-to-door campaign.  The multiple benefits of creating a buzz in your communities, physical exercise and the savings on mail costs will be rewarded by your efforts.

10.   Evaluate Success of the Drive

Evaluate the cost-benefit of the drive efforts during the year. Document what occurred. Maintain a report to determine success that can be passed along to future fund drive coordinators. Remember to report the results of the drive to all constituents.

Changes in volunteers and leadership in organizations lead to information being lost from year to year. By making this an ongoing effort throughout the year, and by having the plan and results put into writing, someone should be able to pick up the effort and continue year to year.


Look at your past performance as a benchmark measure. A reasonable increase in your return should be expected. Review the suggestions in this article and implement them as you are able. Seek advice and guidance from other organizations. Learn from both their successful and not so successful efforts. Consider outsourcing the activity if your resources are limited. With the 10th anniversary of September 11th coming up late in the summer along with the beginning of the traditional giving season, the time is right to act now and tell the public what you’ve been doing since then to make their community a safer place.

Rick Gurba, EMT-P