From the pages of In Business magazine.
Nonprofit fundraising was never in Jodi Sweeney’s wheelhouse until a philanthropically minded CEO at a Chicago law firm set her on a new course. One Friday, he told her he had a different plan: He wanted her to take over the company’s foundation, which at the time needed serious attention. “I knew nothing about fundraising or nonprofits!” Sweeney recounts, but he told me to “figure it out.” So, Sweeney contacted as many women as she could find who were running good corporate giving groups in Chicago and asked for help. They agreed, teaching her the ropes and sharing fundraising tips.
A year later, Sweeney’s efforts had so impressed the CEO — whose firm was now reeling from a serious financial down- turn — that he asked the young paralegal to represent the firm by visiting as many nonprofits as possible and teaching them how to fundraise. “And that’s exactly what I did,” she says, crediting the many women who helped her help others.
Sweeney moved to Madison 35 years ago and has been launching or advising dozens of nonprofits ever since. Among her long list of accomplishments here, she is the founding member of the Madison Junior League and started the Foundation for Madison Public Schools before launching her own capital campaign consulting company, The Sweeney Group.
Yet her role as founder/president of 100 Extraordinary Women (100EW) may be her most rewarding. “Years ago, I decided I needed 100 unconnected women to each give $1,000, which is a huge first-time gift,” Sweeney acknowledges.
Since then, 100EW has supported dozens of projects statewide that she says women care about — from a YWCA in Janesville to public libraries.
Over the past 18 months, she and her husband, a retired Madison attorney, have been funding and perfecting the 100EW website (https://100extraordinarywomen.com) and platform to make giving even easier.
This fall, it debuts nationally.
IB: Explain 100 Extraordinary Women.
Sweeney: It is a proven online funding platform celebrating the power of women coming together to fund specific nonprofit programs they believe in. We help non- profits raise $10,000 or $100,000 by finding 100 (or more) unconnected women willing to donate $1,000 each.
I work with nonprofits that have never done a campaign before. They’re often scared to death yet committed to millions of dollars in capital improvement costs that they are convinced they cannot raise.
IB: How does 100EW work?
Sweeney: The website makes it really easy. A woman can donate $1,000 as a lump sum or pledge it over five years — $200 a year, or monthly payments of just over $18. For some people, that’s the cost of two cups of coffee! That’s why this works. I consider it very specialized crowdfunding. It is not Kickstarter.
IB: And only women can participate?
Sweeney: Yes, but men can give in honor of a special woman. I’ve given in memory of my mother or in honor of my daughter or granddaughters to teach them about philanthropy, and their names will forever be associated with the projects.
IB: Is there a cost?
Sweeney: A nonprofit pays $100 and has to find the women from its own donor base. Also, it needs a core group of women committed to orchestrating the campaign. There is a system to this. We provide the methodology, the tools, the website, and help them with social media, but we don’t do the work.
IB: What advice can you offer nonprofits applying for funds?
Sweeney: Be very specific about the organization’s needs, how the money will be used, and identify not only the correct donors to approach, but also a core of volunteers to ensure its success.
I’ve never seen a bad nonprofit and love their passion, but in general they need to realize that individuals with financial resources are asked every hour of every day for money. If a particular individual is interested in funding education, or the arts, don’t ask them to help cats and dogs!
IB: Why is the 100EW model so successful?
Sweeney: Because it speaks to what women are interested in and makes philanthropy affordable. It’s worked in Milton, Evansville, funded a performing arts center in Westby … you go into these communities and say they’ll raise $100,000 (or more) from 100 extraordinary women and they look at you like you’re crazy! Yet in Sparta, Wisconsin, 108 women committed $1,000 each to a library project! It’s never failed. We also encourage women-owned businesses or groups to challenge others through our website, as well, because challenge grants work!
IB: What’s on the 100EW site now?
Sweeney: The Humane Society of Southern Wisconsin currently has 115 women pledging $1,000 each; Home of Our Own, or HOOO (New Glarus) — a mixed-use housing development for seniors, the developmentally disabled, and low-to-mid in- come professionals — is at 75 percent of its goal, and the Ridgewood Pool in Madison just launched its campaign. Most of these have reached their goal within six months, and when they do, we celebrate!