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When You're Fundraising By Accident

August 21, 2005

(Aug. 22, 2005) The AFP Greater Austin Chapter's 'Accidental Fundraiser' program was no accident. It was developed on purpose to help those individuals who suddenly find themselves with fundraising responsibilities.

Ari Pettigrew, a fundraiser who now serves as the chapter's administrator, recalls having to teach herself about fundraising after several years of working in volunteer management. 'I was given the responsibility to raise funds and managed to make it work,' she says. 'But I'd always thought that it would have been nice to have received a basic overview about what fundraising is all about from a professional.'

Seeking to fill that void, the chapter created The Accidental Fundraiser program in 2002. The one-day session was developed for people in the charitable sector--volunteers, program managers and executive directors--who weren't fundraisers by training, but suddenly found themselves tasked to raise funds. It provides a comprehensive overview of the major aspects of fundraising--ethics, grant writing, annual campaigns, major gifts and stewardship.

The response has been overwhelming. The chapter offers the session twice a year, and nearly every program has been packed to capacity with some people being turned away. 'We see a lot of people come back and bring additional members of their staff, so there's clearly a strong need for this kind of training,' says Deirdre Anderson, president of the chapter and the director of development for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Texas. 'I have seen some of my own organization's staff at the program, which will only help our overall fundraising efforts in the long run.'

Free of Charge

One of the biggest selling points of The Accidental Fundraiser is that it is provided free of charge to participants.

There are a couple of reasons for this, according to the chapter. Austin has a nonprofit resource center--the Center for Community-Based and Nonprofit Organizations based at Austin Community College--whose mandate is to provide free or low-cost training. The center provides the facility and online registration materials, the chapter provides the speakers and the participants bring their own lunch. Thus, the costs are very low. 'We spend about $20 in office supplies and give out a couple of fundraising books for each session,' Pettigrew says.

The chapter also uses the program to attract potential members who might want to join AFP. The chapter tracks the people who attend The Accidental Fundraiser and who participate in other programs that the chapter does charge for. 'The program has become a recruitment tool and is responsible for several new members in the past year alone,' Anderson explains.

Generating Goodwill in the Community

The chapter markets The Accidental Fundraiser primarily though the community college's listserv, as well as through emails, word-of-mouth and announcements on the chapter website. 'The center has been a great partner with us,' Anderson says. She also notes that members of the AFP San Antonio chapter have served as presenters.

'We see The Accidental Fundraiser as a way to reach out to the nonprofit community in Austin beyond just the fundraising profession,' says Anderson. 'It's all about generating goodwill and hopefully a few new members.'

For more information about The Accidental Fundraiser, contact Ari Pettigrew at (512) 457-8145 or

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