I asked Cecile for advice that I could give a typical small-to-midsize not-for-profit addiction treatment program looking to build a base of donors to raise funds for their operation. She’s been a development director and taught classes in resource development for many years. Here’s what she told me over lunch:

First: When it comes to donations and fundraising, think of an addiction treatment program as akin to an educational institution rather than a conventional healthcare provider. Hospitals and clinics raise money through dedicated campaigns that target individual diseases or public health concerns. Schools and colleges, on the other hand, build their future around a network of loyal alums and grateful families– often taking advantage of their connections in the community (including the organizations or businesses where they work).

Second: if your organization is relatively new to fundraising, you shouldn’t imitate the familiar (and costly) methods of larger, better-funded organizations. Such as golf tournaments– you’re likely to be disappointed when you calculate the return on your investment. It’s probably not worth the effort, unless you happen to have a special asset, such as a board member willing and able to sell plenty of tickets to the tournament and the inevitable “afterparty”.

Your first year or two of development should be dedicated to building a base of alums and families, and establishing yourself within the larger recovery community. If you decide to put on an event, think in terms of an English village fete, with itsĀ  guest speakers, music, games and activities, raffles and prizes, booths and exhibitors. Sell sponsorships to interested businesses, and make sure they get lots of free pub for their good works.

As your contact list begins to take shape, set up a schedule of regular contacts (not too many, not too few), along the lines of those calls you may get from students at your alma mater, asking for donations. Let everyone in the organization know this is not dull ‘make work’ — It’s an important job that must be done properly and with care. Provide appropriate instruction.

Volunteers are an asset addiction programs have that many other organizations do not. Graduates, grateful family members, students, or interested recovering folks in your community– they’re not necessarily ‘volunteers’ in the conventional sense, meaning those recruited to provide support and assistance to current patients. This is a different kind of volunteer, enlisted to work for the welfare of the community through their support for your organization. Treat them with courtesy and plenty of respect.

At some point, you may want to hire outside help- a consulting firm, for instance, that specializes in helping organizations in the recovery field. Or you may hire or appoint a development director, full or part-time, to coordinate your efforts on the ground. If so, look for crossovers in your marketing staff, and be prepared to allocate some resources to help them build new relationships.

Above all, never stop educating. The future of addiction treatment depends on our ability to reduce stigma and build the public’s trust and confidence in what we do. In that sense, we’re all educators, all the time.

No reason you can’t raise some additional funds along the way.

A note: A GOP candidate for Congress was so impressed with his visit to a local treatment facility that he asked his supporters to donate there rather than his campaign. A stunt? I dunno. But bravo, fella.


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