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Increasing Individual Donations by Even One Percent

October 7, 2013
by Terry Axelrod
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Driving back from Breckenridge, Colorado to the Denver airport on a crystal clear fall morning, after speaking at the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council's terrific 46th Annual Training Conference, I had plenty of time to reflect. Rounding the corner on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, as behavioral health and substance abuse organizations across the U.S. prepare and brace for the shock and awe of this momentous shift, I had to chuckle at the irony of how far we've come and yet how much things stay the same.

The breakout session next door to mine was destined to be filled to capacity. The state's leader on the Colorado Health Benefits Exchange was presenting a critical update. As the 80 chairs in my breakout room were borrowed to supplement the overflow next door, I began my presentation on Engaging Your Board in Sustainable Funding to a rousing crowd of twelve people.

About half of my audience of twelve were board members, the rest were EDs or CEOs of large behavioral health organizations. They were grappling with the same questions: how to get the board engaged in the long-term sustainability of the organization, how to attract business people with a true commitment to the mission to serve on the board, and how to free up enough time on the part of the CEO to cultivate individual donors.

Yet people don't come to my sessions asking what more can they do. They usually, to be honest, come pointing fingers. "My board this or that." "Our CEO this or that." "Our development director this or that."

When presented with a step-by-step proven system for engaging and developing relationships with individual donors, and ultimately building long-term sustainable funding and new committed board members, it's hard not to get the point: if we really want those great boards and all that private money, we have to do the work!

By the end of the session, one CEO commented quizzically, "This stuff is really good. We could actually do this."

"Yes, yes," I replied knowingly. "But it takes work and focus."

With the constant financial juggling act these board members and CEOs face, I can see why so many opt for hearing about the new state or federal program. They have to focus there, I understand that. That's where the majority of their funding comes from.

Even if the ratio were as high as 98% public money to 2% private contributions, I believe that only when these vital organizations truly focus on growing that 2%–even by 1%–by tapping into the hearts and minds of the committed individuals right in their own communities, who in turn will very naturally engage others, will they have the critical mass of support needed to sustain their work and ultimately fulfill their missions.

Does your organization have a goal and a plan for increasing support from individuals in your community? I'd love to hear what you've done to tackle this and any metrics you've established.




Engaging the hearts and minds of people is always the tough part, the part that is easiest for even leaders to ignore, as your remarks demonstrate.

I'm reminded of the conflict between those who do what is "urgent" in the moment, and those who are also able to build and accomplish things that are "important" for the longer haul, as well. Certainly, what you're talking about is "important" work. In fact, if you wait until it becomes urgent, you've waited too long!

The comment on the value of your session is no surprise. The exercise of developing and living an organizations values genuinely is a benefit of your process that is nearly as important to the organization as the funds it will raise--if they'll only do the work.

Terry Axelrod

CEO, Benevon

Terry Axelrod


Terry Axelrod is founder and CEO of Benevon. She has more than thirty years of experience in the...

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