A New Era of Fundrai$ing is Here

When event revenue disappeared two years ago, Torie Kranze made some major changes at her nonprofit that have led to record-breaking success.

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When St. Louis, Missouri native Torie Kranze became CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana in 2004, she was the youngest person, and one of the only females, to hold the title in the nonprofit’s 53-year history. Twenty-six years later, she’s not only led the Louisiana branch of the national nonprofit through a global pandemic, she’s done so in a way that has made the organization more profitable and more effective than ever before.

The National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana focuses on detection, awareness, prevention and treatment of kidney disease, a disease whose main causes include high blood pressure and diabetes. The organization, like many nonprofits, is tasked with trying to accomplish a lot with a small staff of four based out of New Orleans. Louisiana ranks No. 1 in kidney disease per capita in the country.

“We have over 16,000 people on dialysis, another 460,000 residents that have kidney disease, and about 1,800 waiting for a kidney transplant. So, we definitely have our work cut out for us,” said Kranze. “We are constantly looking for strategies to help us find the best ways to educate people about stopping the progression of kidney disease, which is kind of a tough sell. You know, try telling a person from Louisiana that red beans and rice are not allowed on a kidney diet. It doesn’t go over well at all.”

Like many nonprofits, the foundation scrambled early in the pandemic to make necessary changes to some of its programming. Due to the cost of treatment (dialysis costs about $78,000 per year, per person) much of the organization’s focus has switched to prevention, which starts at a young age. For over two decades the organization’s Kidneys in the Classroom program, for example, has been reaching out to area third- through sixth-graders to teach them healthy habits, including how to prepare meals without salt and healthy activities their families can do.

Before COVID-19, the program was conducted in a gymnasium setting for hundreds of kids at a time. When schools went virtual, the organization worked with the Louisiana Department of Education to bring it up to the necessary standards that allow teachers to insert it into their virtual lesson plans. It was also expanded to seventh- and eighth-graders. The new digital version was designed as an interactive PowerPoint, like an Xbox game that kids play on a big whiteboard or on their computers from home.

To meet new demands brought on by the pandemic, the organization also started a mental health program that helps patients — whether they’re dialysis, transplant or kidney patients — adjust to life after a disaster by managing depression and lowering stress. Another program, Safe Rides with Uber Health, provides emergency transportation for patients to and from dialysis.

But changing and adding programs wasn’t the only challenge of the pandemic. Again, like many nonprofits, the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana received a majority of its funding (about 75%) from in-person events. With lockdowns and restrictions, that funding disappeared overnight.

Unlike many organizations, however, two years into the pandemic, the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana is not only surviving, it’s thriving. In fact, Kranze reports that 2021 was financially the organization’s best year ever.

How is this possible? I sat down, virtually, of course, with Kranze recently to find out and ask her what advice she would give for other nonprofits right now.

 


Did You Know?
Dr. Alton Ochsner — founder of what would become Ochsner Medical Center — was an integral part of the creation of the Louisiana chapter of the National Kidney Foundation and served for a year as its first president.


 

How quickly were you affected in terms of event revenue when COVID-19 hit?

COVID hit in March and our annual big gala was scheduled for April. So cross that out. We had a walk scheduled for April, three golf tournaments in May and June, and bingo three times a week. All of that was suddenly gone. I had to really think, how are we going to keep this foundation running? How are we going to continue to make money and do programs, keep our stuff together and help the patients that we found out very early on that were most impacted by COVID? It really pushed me out of my comfort zone.

The first thing I did was get together with my board with other top leaders in the community and said, ‘OK, let’s look at this as an opportunity.’ I think ‘Don’t panic’ was the mantra of almost all nonprofit leaders at that time and honestly, I was surprised. There were so many new opportunities that just presented themselves. We dusted off our mental health program, a journaling program that patients do with their social worker and family members that was first introduced around Katrina. Our Safe Rides, Uber Health program came about because of all the patients we have that were using public transportation and were scared of the exposure risks from that or even riding with a family member.

On the funding side, I realized I get emails every week talking about grants, but I never had the time to look at them. It wasn’t a priority because all my thinking for the previous years was about special events.

Did you look at what kind of grants were out there and that helped spur ideas for programs, or was it the other way around, you had the set programs and were looking for grants to fund them?

We worked to find grants to support the programs we had or wanted to have, and luckily, we had the money to self-fund those programs, at least at the beginning. It wasn’t something where I threw spaghetti on the wall to see what stuck, it was very calculated how I did it. I would talk to the funders before we went through writing the grant, just making sure that it aligned with their giving priorities at the time, and then we would proceed.

What about the sponsors you already had? How did you handle that?

We went to our sponsors who had already given us money for events, and we just asked them, instead of refunding that money, if we could use it to fund a certain patient program. If they would continue to support the foundation, just in a different way.

Many businesses have been hit hard during the pandemic. Have you seen corporate sponsorship drop off at all?

No, we really haven’t.

What about your in-kind donors for events? How did you keep that relationship going?

Our in-kind donors were restaurants, hotels, shops — businesses that were definitely impacted by the pandemic, and I’m going to credit one of my colleagues for giving me this idea. When we were able to start doing some small events again, we gave them a stipend to come out and participate in the event. It was a way for us to pay it forward for the 20 years that they’ve been supporting us and giving back to the community.

 


Did You Know?
Kidney disease affects 37 million people in the United States and is one of the leading causes of death in the nation.


 

How have these two years compared to years past?

Last year we raised over $247,000 over the year before, and the year before that we were almost $70,000 ahead. Again, I’m going to say that’s because our organization has really looked at different funding opportunity entities. We’ve also increased our staff size, so our capacity for delivering programs and writing grants has increased. We capitalized on the fact that we weren’t doing events and shifted the duties of the staff and different strengths of our staff members and put that to work.

All in all, financially, patient- and program-wise, community involvement-wise, professional health- and education-wise, all those service services and programs have increased in the past two years because we haven’t had to focus on the color of napkins for our gala or signs on a walk route.

You moved so much toward grants. Any advice on how to do that?

Definitely. Look at the Greater New Orleans Foundation, and other similar community foundations. They’ll list their funding opportunities, their deadlines for applications, the review period, and then when the award is made. Look at TechSoup.org, which often offers discounts to nonprofits, on certain programs, like Grantwatch.com, for which nonprofits can purchase a yearly subscription. Also look to your city government. We were fortunate enough to have teamed up with NORD to do our Kidneys in the Classroom as part of their programming.

Do you ever see your organization going back to hosting events like before the pandemic?

I definitely think the hybrid event model is here to stay, there’s a couple things to that. One is to make sure that a person watching an event on a screen has the same experience as someone attending the event. On the flip side, that may mean — and this is how events will change — maybe eliminating award speeches and pre-recording events to watch or put into any part of your social media.

Auctions are going to online experiences, which actually helps an organization raise more money because technology allows you to share the auction with all of your supporters, not just those in a room attending the event. I think we’re going to see a lot of smaller events with a more targeted audience. Probably not the 500 people at a gala-style event, I don’t think we’ll see that for quite some time.

During the pandemic, we’ve really learned to have more individual conversations with our funders, our constituents and people that could be our contributors. These moments, for me, are more meaningful than mingling in a room full of 500 people trying to get my message across, or me standing at a podium trying to get everyone’s attention.

On the corporate side, I’ve found that sponsors that used to send employees to events they are sponsoring are changing their policies. They’ll continue to financially support the organization; however, they really have to assess what their liability and risk exposure is in sending employees to events. That’s one of the reasons you’re not going to see big galas again, for a while at least.

Basically, you’re going to have more targeted, smaller events. I’ve seen a lot of dinner parties, a lot of house parties, a lot of very small cocktail parties.

 


Did You Know?
High risk groups for chronic kidney disease include individuals with diabetes, hypertension and a family history of the disease. Seniors, Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics and Pacific Islanders are also at increased risk.


 

If you’re thinking smaller with events, how do you entice sponsors?

Through the magic of the internet, and websites and social media, a sponsor’s ROI is so much stronger now than having a logo in a program book 500 people get on their chair at a gala. And usually, 410 of those people will leave that program there when they go home.

We’re now able to offer our corporate donors more exposure —highlighting them on certain days on social media, creating links to their company on our website. I’ve got 15,000 people on my mailing list, so if I’ve got an event that’s happening in New Orleans — like the give-back night Kendra Scott is going do in March in Baton Rouge — we don’t just have that as an in-person event at the store, people also have the option to purchase something online to support the organization and the business is receiving much more exposure, and revenue, than a traditional event.

What is your biggest advice going forward to other nonprofit leaders?

My biggest advice would be to look at COVID as an opportunity to retool, update and broaden the way you do events and the audiences you’re targeting for your events. Look to do more outdoor events for the younger population. Look at the leadership that’s in your organization and target certain people to reach out to smaller groups. If one of your board members works for XYZ company and they usually sponsor a table at your gala, ask them instead if they would host a small dinner party where someone from the organization — or themselves particularly — would like to talk about how the organization has changed and pivoted during these past two years, and how their gift is still meaningful and still needed.

Finally, invest and respect your staff. They are on your side. They want the organization to thrive. Use this as an opportunity for them to attend training sessions, learn a new skill, teach you a new skill. Recognize that they have fears. Reassure them by including them in planning for the future and you’ll build morale rather than fear.

 

Kidney Disease and COVID-19

A new link has the Kidney Foundation of Louisiana springing into action

Chronic kidney disease is the most common risk factor for death in patients with COVID-19 worldwide, but the relationship has also been found to work in the other direction. According to recent research published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, those who have had COVID-19 — even a mild case — have an increased risk of kidney damage.

The study found that those who had COVID-19 and did not require hospitalization had a 15% higher risk of suffering from a major adverse kidney event, such as chronic kidney disease, a 30% risk of an acute kidney injury and a 215% higher risk of suffering from end-stage kidney disease. For those who had to be treated in an intensive care unit, the risks of kidney problems increased to seven times greater for a major adverse kidney event, eight times greater for acute kidney injury and a 13 times greater risk of end-stage kidney disease.

“Anybody who gets COVID needs to have their kidneys checked,” said Torie Kranze, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana. “If that doesn’t happen, there’s going to be hundreds of thousands of more people who have no idea that their kidney function has declined due to the virus.”

Kranze said the foundation is currently conducting a targeted program focused on addressing vaccine hesitancy in kidney patients and reinforcing how important it is for kidney and transplant patients to get the vaccine to lessen risk of additional kidney damage.

“This is something we are monitoring closely with doing a lot of educational outreach to our healthcare professionals,” said Kranze, “so that they can educate their patients and encourage them to get vaccinated in the hopes that they do not end up needing access to our services.”

For more information on this, and all of the National Kidney Foundation of Louisiana’s services, visit KidneyLA.org.