9 Fundraising Tips You Can Learn from a Savvy 7-year-old

Like Art Carey, a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer, summertime might conjure images for you of a lemonade stand out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Carey recently wrote about a variation on that image. He told of his encounter with 7-year-old LilyRuth Mamary who operates a mobile lemonade stand in suburban Philadelphia along with her 11-year-old sister, HannahRose.

The Mamary sisters charge $1 a cup, provide complimentary cookies, and donate all of the money to the SPCA. I think the story primarily caught my attention because, when I was eight-years-old, I began my fundraising career by donating the money I generated from my own lemonade stand to a local charity. But, it also interested me because I recognized some lessons that all fundraisers can learn from the Mamary sisters. So, here’s what you can learn from a 7-year-old and an 11-year-old:

Mission. LilyRuth explained why she wants to raise money for the SPCA, “If I could raise some money, that would really help animals, and they might get adopted and then another animal and another person would be happy.” It’s a pretty simple statement. It’s not fancy. It wasn’t crafted by a strategic-planning consultant. But, it very clearly says what LilyRuth is striving for. It explains her intended outcome. It drives her passion and efforts. Everyone involved in fundraising needs to work for an organization with a powerful, meaningful, clear mission statement. And, everyone in the organization needs to know the mission statement. By the way, if you have to explain the mission statement to someone, it’s not a good mission statement.

Passion. LilyRuth and HannahRose are passionate about animals. They each have adopted a kitten from shelters. The family also owns two dogs that also came from shelters. For the past five years, the sisters have also volunteered about once a month at local SPCAs and animal shelters. Their passion for the cause comes through when they talk with their customers. Fundraisers need to be passionate about the causes they work for. Prospective donors, in part, will take into account your passion when evaluating whether your organization is worthy of their support. One way to demonstrate your passion is to donate to the cause for which you work. The Mamary sisters aren’t just satisfied with raising money for a good cause; they’ve “donated” their home to four animals in need.

Mobilize.The sisters could have set-up a traditional lemonade stand in the comfort of their own front yard. Instead, they thought they could do more business by loading their lemonade on to a wagon and taking it to an area park frequented by dog walkers and joggers. As a result, business is booming. Fundraisers need to make it easy for donors and prospects to find them. You also need to think of creative ways to spread your message. Are you using social networking services like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, just to name a few? Are you asking donors to refer prospective supporters? Are you getting out in public and talking up your cause? Like the Mamary sisters, get out there.

Photo by Moyan Brenn via Flickr

Appreciation. The sisters don’t just sell lemonade; they give their customers complimentary cookies as kind of a thank-you. What a nice surprise. Who doesn’t like cookies? What nice things are you doing to show your appreciation to your donors? Thank your donors appropriately (see last week’s blog post about thank-you letters). Also, think of creative ways you can recognize donors for their support beyond simple thank-you letters.

Quality. The sisters don’t serve lemonade from a can or carton. Their lemonade is made from organic lemon juice, real sugar, and water. It’s a quality product that shows respect for their customers. Quality counts. Fundraisers need to present a quality image in everything they do. That means looking neat and tidy when meeting prospects and donors. It means not having any spelling errors in your direct mail letters. It means producing high-impact results. You get the idea. Donors have plenty of choices of where they can give their money. Earn their trust and support by ensuring quality in all things.

Tireless. LilyRuth launched her venture the day after the last day of school. She works 4:00-7:00 PM most days. She didn’t take a week or two off for fun before starting her mobile lemonade project. She doesn’t slack off as the hot summer grinds on. LilyRuth is tireless in pursuit of her goal. Fundraisers, like LilyRuth, need to also have boundless energy. LilyRuth is inspired by her mission. When you get tired, focus on your organization’s mission. Then, keep going. Moving forward is the only way to achieve a goal.

Underwriting. 100 percent of the money raised from the lemonade wagon goes to the SPCA. That’s because Mom and Dad Mamary are underwriting the costs of the lemonade, cups and cookies. Imagine, at age 7, LilyRuth already understands underwriting support. Whenever possible, fundraisers should seek-out underwriting support for their efforts so that more of a donor’s money can go directly to mission fulfillment. It’s a great way to make a compelling case for support.

Deliver. The demand for Mamary lemonade has been strong. On one evening, LilyRuth ran out of lemonade, but some folks were still willing to give her a dollar for the good cause. LilyRuth didn’t feel right about that. So, she quickly went home, got a refill, and trekked back to the park. She caught up with her donors. She made sure they got the lemonade they paid for. Fundraisers should make sure they keep their promises and always do right by their donors. If you take care of them, they’ll be more willing to take care of your organization.

Cultivate. LilyRuth did not begin her relationship with the SPCA by donating money. She began her relationship as a volunteer. She first became involved in the organization and then she became a donor. Look for ways you can engage prospective donors. Cultivate them. Invest the time. Involve them. They’ll be more likely to give, give more, and give longer the more they are engaged.

If you’d like to read more about the Mamary mobile lemonade project that I’ve described, you can read Carey’s column here.

That’s what Michael Rosen Says… What do you say?

20 Responses to “9 Fundraising Tips You Can Learn from a Savvy 7-year-old”

  1. The Mamary sisters are absolutely perrfect! It’s a lesson to be learned no doubt, and to apply every day doing fundraising. Thanks for sharing this, Michael.

  2. Very nice, Michael. I’m sharing this with all my fundraising colleagues here at UNT.

    ROB Buchheit

    • Rob, thank you for writing-in and for sharing my post with your colleagues. The story about the Mamary sisters touched me on several different levels. They’re great kids. I think I’m going to go get myself a lemonade now.

  3. I LOVE this story. At our Foundation we work with teenagers in a teen philanthropy program and although each young person starts a small fund they also learn strategic gifting and choose projects that they volunteer for. One young man collected soccer equipment and with the help of his parents took the equipment to a small town in Israel (they were going for his Bar Mitzvah) that was in great need. He had the pleasure of seeing his gift in action as the boys in the town asked him to play soccer with him. We need to pass these messages on to our children, they are already making such a difference.

    • Roberta, thank you for your comments and for the work you are doing to inspire young people to be philanthropists. Philanthropy is a learned behavior. We all need to teach young people the importance and joy of philanthropy.

  4. Thanks Michael its enriching . I LIKED IT. I will be going for the August globalgiving open challenge therefore I need more advice. I need to fundraise $4000 on-line. Send me more tips to win the challenge.

  5. What a great story of philanthropy! LilyRuth and her sister are remarkable children and obviously very passionate about their cause, which as you’ve said, is one of the things that makes them so successful. I love that they took their lemonade stand to a great spot where they knew they would find the right demographic who would be willing to purchase a cup of lemonade.

  6. Enjoyed this post.

    Picasso was a master in the techniques and creation of classical art. He spent many frustrating years later in his career trying to return to painting like a child. These are the works that we know him by.

    Your post is a reminder that the greatest challenge for many of us fundraisers is returning to our own child-like ways of doing our jobs with tireless enthusiasm, dedication to the cause and to the supporters and undying belief that we might just be able to change things.

    Thank you for this.




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