“The Ask”—Fundraising Tips
August 7, 2012
Fundraising with Authenticity and Power
by Carola Barton
Years ago after speaking to a community service group about a non-profit I was working for, one of the audience members told me that I could sell sand in the Sahara – not a new figure of speech, but the comment stayed with me because, in fact, I hadn’t been trying to sell anything – simply to tell the story. In my experience those who are best able to create the desire to give, whether of financial resources, time, connections or ideas, are those who have taken the story of the organization and its beneficiaries into their own hearts and learned how to share this understanding with others.
Whether you are a board member, volunteer, or staff member of a non-profit, the following are some questions and ideas which may help with the art of fundraising.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Why are you involved? Why this organization as opposed to the many other opportunities for service which are available? What aspect of this work is especially inspiring to you?
- What story do you personally have to relate that will “put a face” on the mission? Stories are how we remember – we tend to forget bullet points and statistics.
- Have you contributed generously (whatever that means for you personally)? This is the only way to communicate true conviction.
Why do most people give to charitable organizations?
Because someone asked them!
Ideas to help you to enjoy the experience of raising funds:
Why do most people give? Because someone asked them! When you ask, you are giving your friend/colleague the opportunity to participate in something greater than himself. People will most likely think more of you for this, not less.
Each potential supporter is a person like yourself – at this moment you are most likely on someone else’s list. Treat this person as you would like to be treated – with direct communication, good information, and as a partner working for the greater good. You have the privilege of asking; your partner has the privilege of giving and experiencing the associated good thoughts and feelings.
Funding a nonprofit organization is nearly always seen as an investment by the funder. When an organization asks for a gift —”Please give us a grant to accomplish such-and such an outcome” — the organization, whether it knows it or not, is seeking a one-sided exchange of values. In contrast, when an organization seeks an investment — “Please invest in our organization so that together we can accomplish such-and-such an outcome” — it invites the funder to share responsibility for the desired outcome. By changing the paradigm, the organization alters both the perception of the request and the manner in which investors and organizations are treated, becoming the most desirable relationship, which is a partnership.
Solicitation teams are often best, such as Board and staff member – each has a different perspective and together can address issues in a holistic way. Many times Board members or volunteers feel uncomfortable with perhaps not having all of the organizational details available to field questions, but the staff member will have them. The volunteer has the advantage of doing this work without compensation, and may have high prestige in the community.
Funders want to believe that they are valued,
that their resources are well-used and appreciated
and that they are making a difference
Speak to what the investor wants and needs, not just on what the organization does. Funders want to believe that they are valued, that their resources are well-used and appreciated, and that they are “making a difference”.
Worthy causes alone — “feed the hungry,” “shelter the homeless,” “care for the sick” — do not raise money. Presented as abstractions, they often raise more questions than they answer. People give to people and like to know the story and specifics.
Investments are requested; they do not just show up. And yet this fact often is the hardest one to accept. We will do practically anything to avoid asking for the money. Sitting with a prospect after conversations preparing for this moment and having worked hard to make a compelling case for support, many will hesitate to say, “We’re talking about $50,000 a year for the next five years. Can you do that?” It’s also good to give a frame of reference: “Several others have recently given $25,000 to this superb organization and we are hoping you will do the same”. If something not specified, the risk is that the investment will be far smaller than is actually possible for the investor.
Through the process, you will have the opportunity to connect with interesting people, and they will have the same with you, all in the service of a mission you are passionate about —isn’t that terrific? A win for everyone!