Steel Yard: fund a day’ appeal

Exhibited by
February 26, 2010
Medium of Communication
Direct mail
Target Audience
Single gift
Type of Charity
Arts, special interests
Country of Origin
Date of first appearance
December, 2009

SOFII’s view

Every now and then we see great fundraising ideas that can be easily adapted and adopted by other nonprofit organisations, particularly smaller ones, and we just love to share them with you. This example is particularly useful as it shows a small organisation raising money imaginatively to cover its general running costs. The Steel Yard knew they had a funding shortfall for 2010. They calculated that to be USD 131 a day, so they appealed to a small group of donors to fund ‘a day’ of Steel Yard. Simple and effective, this fundraising campaign engaged donors and raised US$35,000 within one month.

Drake Patten had the bright idea of selling philanthropy by the day and wrote the first draft of the letter. Christina Sciullo is the designer who brought the concept to life vividly. Tom Ahern edited the letter slightly so that it was quicker to read.. See Tom’s critique of this mailing at his blog, here.

Name of exhibitor

Drake Patten and Tom Ahern.

Summary / objectives

To help fund operating expenses for 2010.


The Steel Yard is a small industrial arts organisation in Providence, Rhode Island. Although small, it is influential and serves as something of a national model for cities hoping to reclaim and reuse contaminated ‘brown-field’ sites. At the Steel Yard, a defunct steel fabrication plant, artists have at their fingertips major equipment for metal-working, jewellery making, glass casting and ceramics, as well as affordable studios to rent. There is an undefinable quality about the place that everyone notices, especially at one of the Steel Yard's fiery, joyous public events. The Steel Yard needs a substantial amount of donor support and is just beginning to create that base. The mailing list is in the hundreds, not the thousands.

Special characteristics

In the worst economy since the Great Depression, the Steel Yard was working on a major capital project and wanted to expand its activities. As is the case with many arts organisations, the Steel Yard was hobbled by a persistent operating deficit that only donors’ generosity could end.


Cheap: donated graphic design, written in-house.


Less than two weeks after the mailing was sent to a relatively small list of students, artists and friends, the Steel Yard had ‘sold’ 139 days at the donated price of $131 per day. One donor bought a day each month for a year. Other donors banded together to buy a week. Some donors picked specific days they wished to buy (to honour a birthday, say). Within a month, $35,000 in donations had arrived at the Steel Yard in response to the buy-a-day mailing.


It worked for a small charity with little direct mail experience and a small list of prospects.

Visit the Steel Yard website here. If you want to say hi, or for more information about the campaign, please feel free to send Drake Patten an email at She’d love to know what you think.

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The mailing pack.
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Two page letter and reply form (both well worth copying).
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A montage of images from the Steel Yard and their Metalhead camp gives just a taste of the potential for their ‘fiery, joyous events’.

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