Victoria Dandelion Society, a Case Study

History Started by Reverend Al Tysick in the late summer of 2011, the Victoria Dandelion Society registered as a charity October 2012. Victoria Dandelion Society (VDS) is very much a grassroots charity, founded and run by a single man who has made it his mission of over 30 years to care for Victoria’s homeless community; better known as Rev. Al’s street family.

Frontier was brought in early on to help grow the donor base, at the time consisting of mostly Rev. Al’s friends and close contacts in the community. As VDS was a fairly new charity, it gave us the opportunity to implement best practices from the get-go rather than working backwards to implement fixes to processes already underway.

Game Plan Following a fundraising audit and plan, we set up systems best suited to today’s world of fundraising. This meant a strong focus in online giving. As a foundation for that, we built:

  • a brand new website
  • an email program
  • a Google AdWords Grant
  • a direct mail program

The new and improved website, renamed from dandelionsociety.ca to hopeliveshere.ca, provided a strong foundation to foster online giving with clear messaging in Al’s unique voice and a visual outline of the work VDS does in the community. Donors, current and potential, are able to see where and how their dollars are put to work and observe their impact on the ground.

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The email program keeps donors informed and engaged with Dandelion Reports, online appeals, stories, and messages from the desk of Rev. Al. The purpose of sharing this information in such a personal voice is to demonstrate the tangible impact donors are making by supporting the Victoria Dandelion Society. Donors are known to give up to three times more to charities that show the problem being solved and where their dollars will go.

We also set VDS up with the database SalesForce.com (which we recommend to nearly all our clients) to ease the tracking process of online giving. Additionally, Stripe paired with our own customized donation system made gift processing a breeze for donors and helped us avoid the dreaded donation form abandonment.

Results

Donor cultivation was also an area we wanted to emphasize. We gradually grew the direct mail program, slowly increasing the number of mailings per year. Over the Christmas period we ran acquisition pieces in the Times Colonist. The uniquely small size of VDS allowed us to really personalize their appeals. Take the monthly donor program for example:

  • Monthly donor program runs every three months
  • Monthly donors are fondly known as ‘Al’s Pals’
  • Every monthly donor appeal letter is handwritten and personally stamped!

As a fundraising tool, this works incredibly well as this level of personalization shows donors that you notice and value them which makes them feel connected to your organization, which means they’re more motivated to support it. It certainly worked for VDS as we grew from two monthly donors to 125 monthly donors in under three years.

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Our cultivation and acquisition efforts were rewarded when donor numbers grew from 141 in 2011 to 2,582 in 2014. In 2014, VDS welcomed 1177 new donors compared to 2011 when they had all of 90 new donors.

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The results truly speak for themselves with a revenue jump of $22,389 to $244,576 in three years. It’s humbling to see a small organization that directly impacts the local community experience such rapid growth in the few years we’ve been privileged to work with them. From starting out with under 150 donors to over 2,500 is no small feat for a grassroots organization like Victoria Dandelion Society.

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They also saw website revenue jump from $28,672.80 to $40,418.10 (up 40.96%!) in two years. Not only did their revenue increase but their number of gifts went up by 42.64% (258 in the 2013-2014 period vs 368 in the 2014-2015, to mid April).

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It’s wonderful to see that a clear and simple online giving strategy combined with a strong print program has really worked beautifully for VDS.