April, 2016
Brian Watson, Founder and CEO of the Opportunity Coalition

These remarks proceeded a presentation from guest speakers Katie Benhke and Kristin Strohm, Co-Founders of The Starboard Group

Whether it’s a little church bake sale, a large benefit party, or a nationwide Presidential race, the need to raise money for a project or a cause is ever-present and all around us.

In fact, while many of you may think that I work in commercial real estate, I would suggest that I’m actually nearly a full time fundraiser, as I’m raising capital with investors about 75% of my days are spent meeting with lenders and equity partners for our different deals.

It’s wonderful to go out and build a building but if you don’t have any capital to do it well, you’re not going to be too successful at it.

Every single day I am meeting with people both in the United States and Internationally to talk to them about investing in commercial real estate.

Raising capital is truly an art form much like anything else and it’s something to be learned and it’s something over time that you can get good at.

I read a book that said, you need to spend ten thousand hours at whatever it is you do before you become an expert. Now, I know some parents in the room may have spent ten thousand hours asking their kids to pick up after themselves, so I don’t know if you’re an expert there, lord knows I haven’t been an expert at asking my kids to pick up after themselves.

Depending on your age, location, and how willing you are to give out your email and physical address, studies show that many Americans are solicited for funds up to 150 times a year.

Many non-profit organizations spend 30-50% of their organization’s time and resources specifically directed at fundraising – and some small orgs spend up to 70% of their efforts fundraising.

There are about 25,000 non profits in our state, over 50% of those had annual budgets of under $25,000.

Katie and Kristin from Starboard Group are here this evening to chat through all of the ins and outs of Fundraising 101 and well as what that looks like specifically in the political space here in Colorado in a big presidential election cycle.

Before they come up, I have just a couple of thoughts that will help place this evening’s conversation in context:

Number 1: Fundraising is better when it’s about relationships

What do I mean by that?  Donating money is a sign of trust. Someone is willing to open up their checkbook or wallet or savings account because they believe in the person, project, or cause that they are engaging with. This trust is usually always built on a real relationship – whether it’s a personal friendship, a family connection, or a well known reputation.

-       To show the power of fundraising that grows out of trust from personal relationships, let me share with you a story about my experience in the Middle East…I’ve seen this principle played out throughout the world… in their meetings they want to talk about faith, family and politics, in that order and you better be able to handle that kind of discussion because during that time they’re seeing if they can trust you. 5% of the conversation is actually about business. If you don’t get to business that means that you failed in the other three categories. Once they get to know you, the speed of trust to a transaction is absolutely phenomenal.

-       Fundraising can also be about social relationships of trust and connectivity as well. I think back to a perfect recent example of this, which was truly a fundraising phenomenon: The ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” – do you remember this from the summer of 2014? Did you know this challenge raised $115 million dollars for ALS research? We’ve never seen anything like it. What drove it? Relationships: friends publically challenging other friends to do something socially awkward and chip in for a greater cause.

All fundraisers will tell you that the best thing you can do with donors is to build a lasting relationships with them. Regular follow ups, phone calls, thank you events, etc. are proven to nearly double the chance of these donors giving again – because they didn’t just have they’re check cashed and forgotten. Instead, they feel a part of really making the vision a reality; which leads me to my…

Second Point (Number Two): Fundraising is better when there is real “buy-in” for donors

While relationships are the key to building trust, having a real sense of “buy-in” for donors is incredibly important.

Donors need to see the actual power of their contribution and tying an actual project or need to their dollars is incredibly important. Rather than having their investment go into one big pot, how much greater is that buy-in when it is earmarked to specifically complete a specific project, or be the solution to a specific need. Donor dollars turn into real work which turns into real benefits.

This is also important at a higher level. Donors will find that they will have a “good return on their investment” if they know that they are giving to a cause that is socially responsible, or environmentally responsible, or in general something that is greater than themselves, that will last longer than themselves.

Often people in this world are looking for change and being a part of something larger than yourself, something that will outlast you and have a significant impact.

We’re about to send out a fundraiser for the Bay Root Innovation Center. As you know we have built several incubators here in the United States and we have seen the power and impact on that.

I was recently in Bay Root and I know several Americans do not like Bay Root, in terms of our involvement there. In Bay Root the unemployment rate between 20/30 year olds is over 25%. They’re having a major brain drain because there is no opportunity and people say, why live here when I can go somewhere else?

One thing we’re doing in our philanthropic efforts is to create business incubator centers around the world. Places where people can get good job skills and have a positive impact.

If someone has that cause that is bigger then themselves, something to have an impact on, they may be more inclined to be disenfranchised and do things that may be negative to society versus positive.

So we are launching the Bayroot innovation center, it’s a block from the American Bay Root University. With donations we want to create this innovation center so the Lebanese can go out and achieve their dreams.

If you want to have an impact in this world, start with one life and this center will impact many lives for the better.

We’ve all heard the stats and studies about the U.S. being the most generous nation on earth, both individually and politically. That’s a truth that each of us in this room can be proud of and can help carry on effectively.

In all our endeavors, let us always remain people-driven and never merely fundraising dollars or financial benchmark driven – or else we’ve missed the whole point: to use these funds to spark ideas, organizations, and people willing to go out to empower others and to provide new opportunities for a much brighter future.

Please join me in welcoming this evening Katie Behnke and Kristin Strohm…