Got The Look: Fashion Shows Work, But Fundraising Constant For Nonprofit Leaders

The recent YWCA Metropolitan Chicago fashion show is an example of a successful type of fundraiser.

The recent YWCA Metropolitan Chicago fashion show is an example of a successful type of fundraiser.

Designer Prabal Gurung apparently said it best in a recent New York fashion show: “There has always been a strange sense of antagonism between fashion and powerful women, a belief that women must sacrifice femininity to gain power, authority and respect, and that fashion especially is too frivolous for serious women. “

This is not the case for nonprofits looking for fundraising avenues.

At the recent 6th Annual New Look of Leadership event for the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago,  scores of local influencers and leaders demonstrated you can be high powered and high fashion at the same time. And they also proved that a good fashion show is still a solid way to raise money.

At the recent 6th Annual New Look of Leadership event for @YWCAChicago, local influencers and leaders demonstrated you can be high powered and high fashion at the same time. #womenleaders

“We want to rethink what fashion can mean,” says Dorri McWhorter, CEO of the YWCA, that serves more than 200,000 women and girls each year with support and services for Safety & Wellness, Education & Training and Economic Sustainability.

As the largest provider of sexual assault support services in the state of Illinois, offering crisis intervention, counseling, prevention education and medical and legal advocacy services the YWCA also offers a Child Care Resource and Referral program offering services to families seeking childcare and a variety of support resources for childcare providers.

“We also work to create a cultural shift away from inequity,” McWhorter says, whether that is racial or gender-based.

The recent spring fundraiser fashion show attended by more than 200 saluted women in tech leadership including Teri Bax, founder and CEO of Women Tech Founders; Raquel Graham,  CEO, Roq Innovation & Founder, NEKZ™ & HEADLIGHTZ™; and Sara Granack, vp, corporate communication, CDW.

Others walking the runway included Dr. Sonat Birnecker, founder of Koval Distillerieis, with 175 distilleries in the U.S.;  Jennifer Deas, the founder of Glowout; Amy Guth of WGN Radio; Syreeta Harris Strickland, director of investment banking at William Blair; Carolyn Leonard, founder and CEO of DyMynd, and Anna Valenica, the city clerk of Chicago, who each modeled the newest spring looks at the iconic Macy’s store on State Street.

Fashion shows are an historic way for nonprofits to host fundraisers, with multiple sites offering tips on how to create successful fashion shows.

Read Take The Lead Co-Founder and President Gloria Feldt on fashion in the time of #MeToo.

Fashion shows are an historic way for nonprofits to host fundraisers. #nonprofits

With a crowded marketplace of deserving charities, nonprofits and causes, the enduring task of fundraising for non-profit executive directors and their volunteer boards is facing new challenges.

According to Forbes, “The Peer-to-Peer Fundraising Thirty, which ranks the 30 largest U.S. P2P campaigns, found that these campaigns raised nearly $1.45 billion in 2017, down 6.6 percent compared with 2016. This decline continues a trend among the top 30 programs, which have seen their collective revenues drop each year since 2012.”

Fundraising as a key part of the job for executive directors of smaller agencies is considered very stressful.

“For charitable nonprofits, fundraising can be both a blessing and a nuisance. While fundraising helps organizations bring in new supporters and fans, it also never ends,” writes Joann Fritz in The Balance.

While fashion shows are a staple, “new approaches such as online fundraisingsmartphone based techniques such as text-to-givesocial media fundraising, and email fundraising have come on strong. Even large event-based fundraisers, such as marathons, walk-a-thons, and bike-a-thons, have been magnified through crowd funding using digital tools.” Fritz writes.

Direct mail remains the chief driver of individual giving although digital fundraising grows each year exponentially. Even more important has been the rise in multi-channel fundraising. Fundraising campaigns now include many elements and types of media. Also, donors often are motivated by one kind of approach, say a direct mail letter, but then use their computers and phones to make their donations,” according to Fritz.

While many of the non-profit staff working to raise funds are women, the top leadership are not mostly women.

While many of the non-profit staff working to raise funds are women, the top leadership are not mostly women. #womeninleadership

“A 2014 poll of 650 American women who work at nonprofits — conducted by The Chronicle of Philanthropy and New York University’s George H. Heyman, Jr. Program for Philanthropy and Fundraising — found that 44 percent believed their organization favored men over equally qualified women for leadership positions. In addition, women who worked at a nonprofit with $25 million or more in assets believed the organization put more effort into making connections with influential and wealthy men in the community than it did their female counterparts,” according to MissonBox.

“The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that female CEOs at nonprofits with budgets between $2.5 and $5 million are paid 23 percent less than males in the same position. More than 57 percent of female nonprofit leaders would like to become a CEO someday. Those women who didn’t want the top job typically cited long hours and stress as the reason,” according to MissionBox.

“A recent study by GuideStar, whose report was based on computerized analysis of Form 990 returns for nearly 75,000 nonprofits, found, fewer than 20 percent of the top executives of organizations with budgets of $25 million or more are female.”

Still, the audiences at many fundraisers and participants in fundraising events are likely majority female. And many women love a good fashion show.

Read more on Take The Lead Partner Love Over H8 founder and fashion entrepreneur.

As Mika Stambaugh, founder and president of The MAS Ink said at the recent YWCA event where she was emcee, “We can think about how we leverage fashion as a platform.”

And the platform can literally help organizations raise money.

About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon