In May 2000, 30-year-old Caroline Boudreaux of Austin, Texas was a successful TV advertising sales rep. Yet she remained unfulfilled. To find herself, she took a year off to travel around the world with her best friend. In a small village in India, Boudreaux was invited to the home of a local family that had taken in over 100 orphaned children. She was shocked by squalid conditions she witnessed there. Clothing in tatters, absolutely filthy, most kids were malnourished. All were desperate for love and affection. The contrast with her own life was so stunning that she was moved to found the Miracle Foundation on Mother’s Day in 2000 to transform the way orphanages are managed throughout the world, beginning in India.
Last year, the organization raised $2.2 million, the best it's ever done. This may not sound like a lot of money compared to many of the nonprofits Inside Philanthropy covers, but it goes a long way in a poor country like India.
So how does Boudreaux raise the money?
Well, like so many funders, she pulls all the levers she can, including hitting up wealthy philanthropists, rallying small donors, and chasing foundation grants.
The major donors, Boudreaux told IP, are all-important right now, and she spends a lot of time cultivating them. “It’s about me reaching out to high-net-worth individuals, sitting down having a meeting with them, and telling them what we do and what we’ll do with their money." Boudreaux said the foundation's biggest backers are individuals in Austin and New York who "totally" believe in this work. She's had particular success with entrepreneurs, who like the Miracle Foundation's focus on boosting the organizational capacity of promising orphanages.
Meanwhile, smaller donors have become a bigger piece of the picture as the foundation expands and its online presence grows. “The bigger we get, the more website donations we’re starting to get," Boudreaux said.
Like many newer nonprofits, the Miracle Foundation doesn't do direct mail. But here's a surprise: It doesn't do major events, either. "I don’t get galas, wearing a fancy dress, everybody wearing a tux," Boudreaux said. "I mean really, this is what we do for the poor? It doesn’t make any sense to me."
Instead, the foundation does house parties. Boudreaux explained: "Oftentimes, our donors will invite us into their homes and invite their friends. We’ll go to their homes, explain what we do, and it’s a very informal, nice way to do it.” Between 10 and 50 people usually attend these parties. The connection between raising money in a warm, homey environment and the work of the foundation is not coincidental. “It’s all about getting children a family environment," Boudreaux said of her group's mission. "I love that we do things in homes, which drives home that families are what every child needs.”
As with quite a few of the nonprofit leaders we've talked to, Boudreaux sees huge value in connecting donors, or would-be donors, to her group's work in a hands-on way, and Miracle Foundation often brings people over to visit the orphanages in India. A result of these trips is more passion on the part of its supporters.
Since the need in the orphanages is ongoing, Boudreaux really appreciates donors who give steadily over time. Multi-year commitments from major donors are critical, but so is the stream of smaller recurring donations, which Boudreaux called "really powerful, because I am able to count on it. We have a lot of pushes to get monthly supporters." Like any fundraiser, Boudreaux loves the "walk-ins" — donors who give money out of the blue, although that money has obvious limits. She said a donor "might read this article and send a one-time check. That’s great, but we can’t count on them."
Boudreaux made the familiar point that the real key in succeeding with donors is to understand that "it's all about relationships. It’s all about people. Because I have relationships, people trust me with their money. In nonprofits, you are betting on the jockey. Look at the leader if you want to know whether or not a nonprofit is good or not. Donors ask how much money is going into the program; for us, it is 85 percent.”
Foundation grants made up just 7 percent of the Miracle Foundation's revenues in 2015, which is not uncommon for organizations like this. But Boudreaux sees the foundation in a strong position here, since "we’re a very metric-driven organization," and "grantors love metrics."
A focus on metrics has also enabled the Miracle Foundation to do well with corporations, and it has relationships with corporations like National Instruments and Whole Foods.
“People want to make a difference, but business people want metrics," Boudreaux said. "They don’t want their money to go into a black hole. They want to know that the program is working."
As for the Miracle Foundation's metrics, Boudreaux explained its approach. "The way that we developed our methodology was by being able to measure where children are when we get there. When we start working in an orphanage, we measure the children’s height, their weight, their hemoglobin. What is their school ability? We have those benchmarks and then we can continue to take measurements so we can show donors that their money is really working for the betterment of children. It took years, but we have a lot of kids in college, now.”
Sustainability is a big question in the nonprofit world these days, and Boudreaux said that this is a tough piece for the Miracle Foundation. "Our biggest challenge in fundraising is finding a sustainable revenue stream. We have not cracked that code.”
Still, the Miracle Foundation has been growing, and it's now given 2,000 orphans in 22 orphanages better childhoods in environments that are more happy, healthy and loving than is typical of many orphanages. In turn, that translates into disadvantaged kids who grow up with more opportunities to succeed.
“If you ever really wanted to make a difference in a person’s life, this is the opportunity to do it,” Boudreaux said.