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Main Spotlight: How to Build a Meaningful End-of-Year Fundraising Initiative

November 15, 2022 | Main Spotlight: How to Build a Meaningful End-of-Year Fundraising Initiative | By: Hannah Davis, Development Manager at Downtown Florence | 

Photo courtesy of Downtown Florence.

End-of-year fundraising is a great tool, if planned appropriately, to bolster year-end programs, fill year-end gaps, or even create a contingency cushion for next year’s budget. Downtown Florence, an Accredited Main Street Program in South Carolina and 2023 GAMSA Semifinalist, took on a unique end of year campaign specifically designed to fill a holiday community demand and fund a popular downtown business program sustainably.

Many years ago, a local civic organization created and offered a holiday ornament each year representative of a historic landmark, either lost or memorable, which was beloved and coveted annually by community members. The original creator of that program retired and moved away from the community, leaving a decades-long void in the commemorative local holiday memorabilia niche. Fast forwarding to 2021, our Downtown Florence Main Street Program was presented with a unique challenge. The program’s popular downtown holiday window decorating contest grew tremendously, which necessitated the identification of a unique and sustainable funding source with which to offer cash prizes and recognition to winning businesses based on public vote.
The Downtown Florence Main Street Program board and staff thoughtfully crafted a brand-new end-of-year fundraising program that would accomplish two goals: 1) bring civic pride to Downtown Florence through the revitalization of the ornament program, and 2) create an annual fundraiser that would pay for the holiday window decorating competition. The board felt it was appropriate that the first ornament selected would be a depiction of Hotel Florence, which has become symbolic of the first catalyst project of Downtown Florence’s renaissance. What we didn’t expect was the storytelling that came along with the revival of this unique fundraising opportunity. Community members both local and former came out of the woodwork to purchase the ornament to add to their collection. Volunteers came forward offering guidance on making the program better and services to enhance the program. Altogether, the program has established new community pride that has resonated beyond the holiday season.

The ornament sales program, which debuts annually on Small Business Saturday, not only paid for itself in the first year, but it also generated a sustainable pool of year-end funds for our window competition leaving a balance that could be carried forward to pay for the following year’s ornament. The Downtown Florence Holiday Ornament program has also become a point of pride for the community, and we even took this year’s ornament selection to a public vote! At the time of this blog post, we were also contacted by the former ornament designer, who has donated over 1,000 of the historical ornaments to our program to continue proliferating them into our community.

We couldn’t have accomplished this program without following a work plan to keep us organized with so many moving parts, and we’ve put together a step-by-step guide for other Main Street programs to start a similar campaign.

Step 1: Identify your why

Fundraising, just like any other Main Street project should be mission driven. In our case, we had a problem—how do we sustain a popular holiday competition with our business owners and make it resilient to the ever-changing corporate sponsor landscape? We also wanted to ensure that the fundraiser we chose to implement was aligned with our Main Street program’s mission—in this case, we are highlighting and preserving through our ornament key downtown historic landmark structures, which helps us meet our historic preservation goals within our workplan.

Step 2. Collect input and make your plan

Ensuring that stakeholder input is heard and valued adds to the success of a program. We found through our surveying and discussion with community members that an ornament program was beloved and connected so many families to their hometown. There was a sentimentality that we felt we could directly address through the revival of this program, while also meeting our funding goals for year-end.
It’s also important to work backwards from your fundraiser launch date and create a plan. We established a timeline that was sensitive to supply chain issues and worked with the vendor to ensure we had what we needed for our launch date. Within that timeline, we also established roles and responsibilities of parties involved with the program. We selected a company that was present at a Main Street Now Conference because we had the opportunity to experience their product first-hand and we felt comfortable with their capabilities, price point, and our ability to make the kind of money we wanted to from the sales, while being sensitive to community barriers of cost. The ornaments were around $12 to produce, and we sold them for $25 each.

Step 3. Bring the hype

Once our ornament logistics were completed, we started to build the hype about this opportunity to own a piece of Florence history within our community. It didn’t take long for word to spread about this beloved holiday tradition returning to Downtown Florence, and we started taking pre-orders almost immediately. We utilized social media primarily along with our e-newsletter and word of mouth within the community to spread the word about the return of the Downtown Florence ornaments. We also produced teasers with local media, invited new community members to engage with a historic Florence tradition, and issued a press release to our local news.

Step 4. Make it easy

The potential barriers we identified and were sensitive to were the cost of the product for the community—we wanted to ensure we made money and covered our up-front costs, but also make the ornament accessible for nearly any budget; and ensuring that ordering the ornament was convenient, easy, and that we offered shipping. We worked with our local post office to determine the cost of shipping and built a flat-rate option into the cost of the ornament if it needed to be shipped. We believe that this enhanced the giving process, and we even experienced additional donations to keep the program going beyond the first year.

Step 5. Deliver the goods

Finally, it was time to deliver the ornaments to the community and we used every available outlet to get them into the hands of holiday shoppers. Our Main Street program sold the ornaments online through our website, in our office, and we even participated in our weekly farmers’ market through the month of December. Not only did this plan move the ornaments, but it also allowed us the opportunity to engage with the community sharing what the Downtown Florence Main Street program does, how to support us, and why our work matters.

Interested in starting your own end-of-year fundraising program? Please feel free to reach out to me, Hannah Davis, with any questions at 843-678-5912 or Happy holidays!