AFP Member Spotlight
Jason Adkins, Director of Development at Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative (OVEC)
Does your organization have a recent success story related to fundraising? If so, can you describe it?
I work for the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative. We have an affiliated foundation called the Ohio Valley Educational Foundation. It's a 501c3. We serve 15 school districts. Our fundraising mainly consists of grants. Most are federal, but some are corporate and foundation grants.
I started in 2008, right out of college. I worked there eight years, and then I went to JCPS as a Grant Developer. I came back to OVEC in 2018. At that time, the organization had never had an individual donor. We wanted to fundraise more and grow capacity. Federal grants have match requirements and more restrictive funding. OVEC invested more resources into fundraising. There's me, a full-time grant writer, and a Development Associate. We've tried online fundraising, direct mail, and major gifts. In-person meetings are a challenge due to COVID.
One recent success is our summer newsletter to donors. Our Development Associate, who started in March, had this as one of her first tasks. The newsletter was sent out the beginning of July. It has started getting donations. We got a $10,000 gift in the mail. It was a really big win for us!
She [the Development Associate] is doing great. I'm coaching and mentoring her. In a short time, she's taken on a lot of responsibility-social media, database management, donor stewardship-and tested several new strategies.
What is one thing you wish you would have known when you started your fundraising career?
I think understanding why people give. I've learned that more and more. I was nervous to start soliciting grants from individuals. For grants, I usually asked from organizations who had to give money away.
Donors get joy from giving. When you ask donors, you're not hassling them. You're giving them
the opportunity to make a difference and feel good about it.
Why did you join AFP?
Just to learn more. I had done individual fundraising only three years. I knew a lot of ways to raise money, but I wanted to learn from other pros.
I know I can learn more from successful organizations. We're in an acquisition phase with donors and building a donor base.
In [other] classes and webinars, they are mostly about donor retention. I started with 0 individual donors, so the donor retention webinars were not helpful. Hearing other fundraisers talk about what they do is exciting.
How have you benefited from your AFP membership?
I'm a research nerd. I like research on fundraising. I like all the publications AFP puts out. Any time there is a new publication or report, it's valuable. I'm getting the current literature and enjoying it. I also like the chapter YouTube videos.
What is one tip you recommend for connecting with donors?
I think prospect research is huge. When we do more research, we're more confident. Who did they give to in the past? Do they support similar organizations? I read annual reports from other nonprofits to see who gave. I'm not trying to take other peoples' donors. I'm trying to help them make a difference. I'm giving them other opportunities to get involved in the cause.
I'm really doing homework on potential prospects. Tools like Donor Search and Windfall are really helpful. We're making sure donors are a good fit and have the capacity to give. Once you know these things, you feel more confident in phone calls, letters, and meetings.
Direct mail has been our most successful fundraising strategy so far. We're trying to improve our success during giving days. It's our third year participating in Give for Good Louisville, and we are focusing on our Head Start program. The first year was not good, but we improved the second year. This year, we had tremendous growth, receiving four times as much in donations as last year! We did Kentucky Gives Day for an initiative outside of the Louisville area.
Do you have a fundraising-related resource you recommend? If so, what is it?
A book I still go back to – the first fundraising book I read – is Asking about Asking by Kent Stroman. It's eye opening about the donor perspective. It gave me confidence asking for money. It has questions to use with prospects and donors. I often will look back at a couple chapters before a meeting. It's a really practical book that helped me a ton. It gave a lot of resources, guides, and templates.
I follow folks on Twitter and LinkedIn. I follow Fundraising Everywhere in the UK. I follow One Call Away by Kevin Fitzpatrick. One of the AFP speakers was the Donor Guru, Lynne Wester. There's also a fundraising class online called Fundraising Standard. I get email newsletters. Tom Ahern has a different perspective about the donor mindset and how we write. Vu Le has a great blog that often challenges me.
We will be highlighting and answering frequently-asked fundraising questions from AFP members. What fundraising-related question is burning in your mind?
We're in a different spot from other AFP members. We've never done a special event. We're planning one in March 2022.
How do you get people to come to your event who don't know much about you?
KY, Greater Louisville Admin