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Getting a leg up on fundraising

Nonprofit leaders in York hear tips on 'Smart Fundraising to Advance Your Mission'

Every time you’re trying to raise support for your nonprofit and a potential donor says no, “that ‘no’ just gets you closer to ‘yes,’” Tom O’Connor said.

“If I’m getting a lot of nos, that means I’m having a lot of conversations,” added O’Connor, executive director of York County’s Leg Up Farm.

And that means he’s at least engaging with people who might be able to help his cause, O’Connor told some 60 area nonprofit leaders last week.

O’Connor and Jennifer Hitz, Leg Up Farm’s development director, provided some tips on “Smart Fundraising to Advance Your Mission” in a session Thursday at the Bon-Ton Corporate Center in east York.

Since its founding by Louis Castriota Jr. nearly 20 years ago, Leg Up Farm, a nonprofit therapy center for children with special needs, has been a model for how to reach donors, said officials from Leadership York, which hosted the seminar. Leadership York trains nonprofit board and staff members.

Leg Up Farm serves more than 700 children a year, providing more than 20,000 therapy appointments annually, and has a budget of $3.3 million and a staff of 37 full-time and 13 part-time people, plus nearly 250 volunteers.

The session at the Bon-Ton center was designed to help nonprofits more effectively advance their mission by learning pros and cons of fundraising.

Here are some do’s and don’ts, according to the two officials from Leg Up Farm.


1. “Really get to know your donors, take advantage of any opportunities you have,” Hitz said. “You just never know how someone may connect with your organization. Even if it’s a donation of labor, or time, not just a donation of money, all of that can help your organization.”

2. Consider other ways to use your business facility, perhaps for groups that could rent it out in the evening or on weekends, the two said.

3. How about merchandise? Does your organization have a way to sell pens, T-shirts and other items with its name and logo on them in a way that’s cost-effective? It could provide income, O’Connor and Hitz said.

4. Partner with other organizations where possible. “The goal is to focus on what you do well,” O’Connor said. If there’s an agency that specializes in a field that is complementary to yours, it may make for a good partnership.

5. Overall, be persistent … but don’t be annoying.

“Make it easy for the donor to say yes,” O’Connor said. Give thanks and recognition that is tailored, prompt, creative, sincere and ongoing. It has been found that you must thank a donor seven times before it truly registers with them, the two said.


1. Don’t be afraid to get out there and get to know your donors or potential donors, Hitz said. And “be with them, don’t get ahead of them, don’t get behind them, make sure you’re at the same pace” in terms of what sort of involvement they would like to have with your organization, she said.

“And if you don’t know what that pace is, ask some questions so that you are on the same page, and you’re headed towards the same goal.”

2. Stay upbeat and positive, and “don’t internalize rejection,” O’Connor said. Never forget that it’s about your organization and its mission, not you.

3. Don’t limit your organization by having only a select few people who can describe the special services you provide. Everyone who is part of your team should be able to describe what it is you do and why that’s important, O’Connor said.

4. Don’t overlook potential donors. York County has some well-known wealthy families, Hitz pointed out, but “there are so many people who make up our community, and young people today are really philanthropic.” So be in touch with them as well, she said.

5. Don’t assume you know what donors want. Ask questions and listen to their answers, the two agreed.

Put it in writing

Another idea was suggested by Carolyn Warman, executive director of Leadership York. She said she asks her board members to write thank-you notes to donors, “so the donor gets to hear from somebody else.”

David O'Connor
Dave O'Connor covers York County, manufacturing, higher education, nonprofits, and workforce development. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at

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