Feb 15

Fundraising Starts With Asking, Always

Tons of talk and reports recently about fundraising, especially in our current economy, and the story-lines surrounding turnover and trouble finding, hiring, and maintaining strong Directors of Development at many nonprofits across the country.  Recently, I was asked from the perspective of someone not “in the biz” as it were (i.e. not a Professional Development/Fundraiser Gal by job) but was struggle to way her way in helping raise some cash-olla for a friend’s cause.

Asking for money is tricky. No one likes to do it. Whether you’re looking for someone to buy a ticket to a gala, give during a pledge drive, borrow Five Bucks because your local watering hole is having it’s “Buy a Beer, Ride a Pony” Special Night…. most of us loathe the idea of asking another human “Could you spare a donation?”

Tons of articles, books, seminars, and speaking gigs cover this topic -and I’m in that category of someone who has preached the Gospel of the Ask time and time again. But no matter if your ask is for a nonprofit’s recent campaign or a friend’s special night out, fundraising comes down to some basic understanding and beliefs that can help you take the fear out of the fundraising.

1. ASK! – The most obvious is what was sometimes miss. People get into such a panic over asking that they technically really never ask.  We dance around the ask, or only give a “suggestion” of an ask with something like:

“Should you think you can help in this effort, consider a donation.”

Okay…. I’m considering it…. zzzzzzzzz….

That isn’t asking. That’s saying, “hey think about this.” You’re like Chris Farley interviewing Paul McCartney on SNL. You’re not asking anything!

2. Ask First, Context Second – You know why you’ve scheduled a meeting with the Chief Marketing Officer of Vandelay Industries. SHE knows why you’re there too, believe me. Companies, especially big companies and those who are social active in your community, are fully aware of what a “fundraising meeting” looks and sounds like. No need to mask it or wait until the then with the not-so-dramatic “…and so I came here to ask you to support these efforts I have talked about for the last hour.”  Umm..no.  Come in, sit down and say, “I’m here to ask you to give  to [blank] and invest again in your community.” Boom. Negotiations (which is what this is) should begin at the beginning. And conversations can only be creative and point/counterpoint style if a base is established.


This is not a Donor. Don’t Treat Donors Like One of These.

3. Donations are Investments, not one-time checks in envelopes – If you treat your donors as ATM machines, that’s what you will get… a impersonal box that sends out some money for you, but will never “support” your efforts – it will just decide “yes” or “no” in terms of helping for that one time. Make your supporters aware of their importance well beyond moving the fundraising thermometer image on the website.  Donations are investments into your cause, your mission, and into you. Whether you are asking on behalf of an organization or just on behalf of an event you are doing alone, YOU are the connecting point between gift and event/mission/impact.  You have to commit to being that connection ongoing. Asking can’t be considered a one-shot action or a list that get checked off and discarded.  Money should not be the test of how much power or sway a gift allow for someone/something to have on your event/mission; but those who jump into the pool should be communicated with and updated in a way that gives them comfort about their investment.

4. No Sally Struthers Style Asking, Please – Loved her on All in the Family but please.. don’t take on the role of Meathead and ask for support like an out-of-work Daytime Soap Opera star.  Dramatic asks don’t move the needle for support as you might think. Especially corporate sponsorships.. these groups look for business answers to “why should we invest in this?”  Media impressions, attendance numbers and dignitaries planning to attend, and sponsor benefits (like logo placements, stage announcements, complementary tickets, etc.) will factor in decisions, not a play on heart strings.  Even an event, for example, to support a friend by raising funds to pay a hospital bill won’t make people support by focusing on the melodramatic and the ultra-emotional. Say to friends and family, “We need your help with [Name]. The bill is more than he/she can manage, and we can be there to help him/her through this tough time. Just $10 from each of you and boom.. bill paid.”  Sadness and sympathy are often suggested as way to connect your potential donor to your cause. I disagree and instead suggest…

5. Think ROI. No not that one. This one – Return on IMPACT.  Investment looks to a return, so this language is common and understandable by those with dolla-dolla-bills.  When moving this concept into nonprofit fundraising, it’s good to bring this language into your discussion. Familiarity will open discussion lines sooner and quicker. A marketer from a corporation understand ROI, and will appreciate your thinking in this way. But the difference between investing on Wall Street and investing on a project from a nonprofit on Main Street.. is impact. Wall Street investments yield more money, profits. Investments in nonprofit yields impact on people, places, community. Tell the story of impact. Connect investments to the outcome desired. It isn’t just to hit a fundraising number; it is to showcase the inevitable success once investors like the one you are in front of can see and experience.  If you raise money without this impact return, you will raise one time but not have a partner. Remember, people don’t give to causes. People give to people. Connect, share, partner, and communicate. Causes can’t do that on their own. YOU, however, can.

Toughest thing about Fundraising… is asking. But once you realize that EVERYONE involved in the potential transaction (you, the potential donor, the others invited to the meeting, the event organizers, your friends n’ family) gets what this is and what it is going to be asking.. then an ask can be less of a pain and more of a story of activation. Donors are looking not just to give, but to support. That support starts with you. Support them in their decision to give.

Now, while I have you here.  Do I have an investment idea for you…. ~DK

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