April 12, 2011 \ Geoff Birmingham
Fundraising at The Children’s Room

Three teens after a performance

TCRPT: The Children's Room Performance Troupe after a recent show

The Children’s Room is down the street from Reflection Films in Arlington.  We help them with their video needs and believe strongly in their mission.  We asked Anne Favaloro, the Development and Communications Director, to share a little about what their fundraising strategy is, and how it’s changed over time.

What is The Children’s Room?

The Children’s Room is the leading nonprofit grief center in Massachusetts for children who have experienced the death of an immediate family member – either their mom or dad, or their brother or sister.  We help families regardless of how the person in their family died. Whether you are a boy whose dad died in a car accident, a girl whose sister died suddenly of an aneurism, or a teen whose parents died after long illnesses, The Children’s Room is there to offer safe and caring support. For children, we offer support groups and an environment to hang out with other kids who have been through the same kind of devastating loss and transition. We have a teen performance troupe that gives older kids a chance to share their feelings with each other, and to educate audiences of both peers and adults.  We also educate the community about many issues related to grief and loss, providing workshops, trainings, and crisis response.

What has been your fundraising strategy?

It’s actually changed rather significantly in recent years.  In the past, it seemed we were one step ahead of the “fundraising bear,” often chasing money to keep ahead and usually out of breath.  About three years ago, however, we shifted gears.  Rather than seeking money from anyone and everyone, we embraced mission-based fundraising.  In other words, we focused on finding a core group of dedicated people who cared deeply about our mission, and asking them to give us multi-year support.

With the new strategy, how have your fundraising activities changed?

We generate much of our support through two main activities: a single fundraising breakfast each year, and tours of the house where our support group program is located.  In both cases, our main goal is to share stories that demonstrate what we are doing, to help people understand the value of our work.

What is the main challenge in getting people to understand your work?

Perhaps the biggest challenge is confidentiality.  Much of the work we are doing with children cannot be “made public.”  But that’s why creating an annual video has not only been tremendously valuable for us, but it also, I would argue, has helped to keep us viable.

Video has kept you viable in what way?

The new fundraising strategy we have implemented calls for a 7-minute video to be used at our annual event.  We have also experimented with showing that same video during our house tours.  We invite kids from The Children’s Room to participate in the video voluntarily and share their stories.  This gets their voices in the room at the annual breakfast, which otherwise would be impossible.  After people at the event see the video, everything we do becomes transparent.  They understand our work at a gut level, which is impossible to achieve by only describing our work to them anecdotally.   They understand and respond emotionally because there’s a natural desire to help grieving children and their families.

What have been the results?

Since we started with the mission-based approach three years ago, our core donors have doubled, and our financial health has strongly improved each year.  This has been enormously helpful – we now experience much less pressure to fundraise (allowing us to focus on other important mission-related activities), and we are better able to do advance planning because we can more accurately predict our income in the future.

We have a waiting list of families who are suffering and need our services.  The breakfast, with the video as its centerpiece, helps ensure that we’ll be around to help them when space in our program becomes available.  At this point, we would never consider not having a video for our fundraising work! I would suggest every nonprofit needs a video to be successful with their fundraising.