Non-profit organizations are charities. Not-for-profit agencies that provide community transportation are no different. They cannot exist or continue to operate for long without the support of others. Support from the community can take different forms. Volunteers share the gift of their time, effort, and dedication. Tangible, capital improvement donations such as land, offices, or vehicles that often come from large donors like corporations, foundations, or service clubs are often essential in helping non-profit transportation service organizations in the start-up phase. Stable financial support (the kind you can structure your budget around) can be sought out from government (through grants or contracts) or from "community chest" organizations like United Way. As well, there are the financial donations that come from individuals, corporations, service clubs, estates, and others. They can be one time or long term support.
Fundraising can involve all or any of the things mentioned above. Fundraising is proactive. It doesn't wait for someone to come to them or "click" the donate button, it connects with that someone and in someway involves them. It gives them a compelling reason for supporting your worthy cause. They are going to get something in return. For example it might be the fun of participating in a community event, or the sense of purpose and involvement in contributing to a needed project, or in return for their donation they may be provided a valued service. An added bonus of active fundraising, is that it provides the opportunity to inform the public about what you do. Sometimes there are misconceptions that can become a barrier to community support. For example, if your non-profit transportation agency is contracted by the local county or city to provide ADA paratransit service, people might assume (and understandably so) that your organization is part of transit, and therefore does not need support because they believe to be funded by taxes
Non-profit organizations that provide community transportation have some unique qualities that potential donors will find attractive. It is a highly visible, locally provided service that is beneficial to many people in the community. People see the buses on the street, at the hospital, the shopping center. They see the drivers helping clients, enabling them to get out and participate in the life of the community. They may know or recognize users of the service, and may even realize that, down the road... that might be their parents, or even themselves needing that helping hand and assistance in the future. By giving locally, donors know that their contribution is going to effect the quality of life their community.
Examples of fundraising that some non-profit transportation agencies are using can be found in the following list. One organization, Whistlestop from Marin County, California has developed a number of unique initiatives that are featured. "Think outside the bus" is their fundraising motto.
- Adopt-A-Van - Sponsored vans have signage (sticker or wrap) advertising. Easy Lift (Santa Barbara County, California), Good Wheels (Lee County, Florida)
- Bus Charters - Buses made available for excursions, group outings, nursing homes etc. Whistlestop (Marin County, California), Good Wheels (Lee County, Florida)
- Bus Donation Program - Large donors (1/4, 1/2, & full bus contributions) are given recognition of support by names/logos displayed on buses. Calgary HandiBus (Calgary, Alberta)
- Bus Maintenance - Shop facilities and mechanics provide service to other non-profit agencies, businesses, wheelchair accessible vans owners etc. Paratransit Inc. (Sacramento, California), Good Wheels (Lee County, Florida)
- Car Donation Program: Donors receive a tax deduction. OUTREACH (Santa Clara County, California), Paratransit, Inc. (Sacramento, California), SATS (Edmonton, Alberta)
- Consulting - In-house expertise and experience utilized by offering mobility management consultation services. Paratransit Inc.-Innovative Paradigms (Sacramento, California)
- Facility Rentals - Facilities such as boardroom etc. can be rented out. Whistlestop (Marin County, California), SATS (Edmonton, Alberta)
- Wish List - Simple list of specific products or services, large or small that they could really use. Community Tread (Stillwater, Minnesota)
Finally, find ways to give back to the community. An example of which was the "Stuff the Bus" campaign initiated by the drivers at RTA Paratransit in Cleveland, Ohio earlier this year in support of victims of a tornado. If your organization can spare a bus for a day, a similar approach could be used in support of a local food bank.
If you know of other fundraising ideas that are being used or have some ideas of your own, feel free to leave a comment.