Street Kids International Flexes its Fundraising Muscles

You can learn a lot about fundraising just by watching how others do it. Take Street Kids International (SKI), an international charity based in Canada that for the last 15 years has been helping to enhance the work of local organizations throughout the world that are involved in providing service directly to street youth.

Their tools include animation specifically created for and about street youth, as well as supporting materials that helps transcend the limits of language and culture. "Our main function is to build capacity among youth-serving agencies at the local level," says Mark Pusey, Fund Development Manager at Street Kids.

With an annual fundraising budget of $750,000, this Toronto-based organization is in the very first rank of fundraising excellence. Pusey describes a recent $25,000 operating grant his organization received from a "large Canadian corporation with a significant overseas operation."

Pusey notes that when Street Kids first called and pitched the contact person listed on their BIG Online profile, the individual on the other end of the phone said: "You know this is very interesting. We have someone in our international operations branch who would be very interested in talking to you guys."

That employee, who Pusey describes as "a very senior person", became so enamoured with the work of Street Kids, he helped push the grant proposal right through the approval process. The actions of this individual, Pusey agrees, underline the significance of finding a champion within a potential donor's executive or upper management.

Pusey adds that the corporation in question normally sponsors distinct projects or programs at a charity. "But the fact that we were an international organization with operations in a diverse group of regions, they felt it would not make sense to channel it to one particular project."

Keeping Their Eyes on the Prize
Success in fundraising comes down to a lot of factors: the quality of your research and writing; the extent and depth of your community and relationship building; and, of course, the impact of your programs and services on your target audience.

One major - and often overlooked - element in the fundraising equation is the value of staying focused on your target market. Pusey says Street Kids made a conscious decision many years ago to work exclusively with "street active youth".

"Sometimes we have organizations that will come to us and say, 'listen, we'll give you X amount of dollars if you go out and run some programs in this country and focus on this group.' If that's not part of our core group, we have to say no." Pusey believes that in the long run, staying focused is the key to long-term fundraising success.

A large function of maintaining that focus is finding contacts whose giving interests and priorities match tightly with those of your organization. Pusey says it would be "very, very difficult" for him to do his job effectively without the BIG Online database. "BIG cuts a lot off my researching time."

Since joining Street Kids in April, Pusey says BIG has helped his organization raise approximately $40,000. "It's got the names of key contacts and people to talk to and it's got the key giving interests of the organization. If we don't fit their profile, we won't waste our time (approaching them for funding)."

In addition to solid research, Street Kids boasts a highly committed volunteer base, including professional animation houses that donate their expertise to help execute projects. Pusey adds that the majority of these professionals provide discounted rates for their service, while others participate for free.

Street Kids can also lay claim to an engaged Board of Directors, "which is very active, very passionate and very focused on what we do." The Board, he adds, is out there trying to raise money for the organization every day and often provide hours of volunteer service, "well beyond the call of duty."

With all its organizational and program strengths, it's a wonder Street Kids faces any significant barriers to its fundraising at all. Pusey notes, however, that while his organization might be an international success story, "it is well known everywhere except Canada."

It's not unusual for a representative of the charity to step off a plane in a foreign country and find that many of the locals know who Street Kids is and what it does. "Our biggest challenge is to raise our profile domestically."

BIG Picture: If you're looking for someone to make a difference in your next grant proposal, find a champion within the foundation or corporation you're applying to. Their input and stewardship can often be critical to the success of your proposal.

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