by Jim Eskin
Have you ever noticed that people who are fearless about virtually everything else they need to face in life are terrified of asking for a gift for a favorite cause? It doesn’t need to be that way. Most of the fear stems from not knowing what’s involved in fundraising.
Professionals and volunteers alike can and should take comfort in the truth that most of fundraising is based on common sense. There is substantive research to guide us and most of the best practices are intuitive. You will be rewarded for trusting and following your gut.
Here are 10 lessons from the common sense school of fundraising:
Lesson No. 1: Reach out and touch them. If you want someone to love your non-profit or organization, show that you love them first. That starts with learning everything you can about them. The fundraising process typically starts with a “discovery visit” during which we learn about donor motivations.
Lesson No. 2: You have to ask. Here’s a guarantee: Your chances of getting the gift go way up when you ask. It’s astounding how much the solicitation is put off waiting for the so-called perfect moment and circumstances. There’s never a perfect time. After a relationship has been developed and the prospect has been satisfactorily introduced to your cause, don’t delay. Countless gifts are forfeited because organizations waited too long and death, divorce, financial setbacks, relocation and other factors closed the door of opportunity. And the most successful solicitations are made face-to-face, especially so for larger gifts. Fundraising expert Jerold Panas likes the analogy that you don’t get milk from a cow by sending it a letter.
Lesson No. 3: More contact = more money. The more quality contact we have with donor prospects, the more money we’re going to raise. This means intentional interactions, not randomly bumping into people at a banquet or other large events. In fundraising, the essential ingredient for success is cultivation — forging a personal and emotional bond with the donor prospect. Needless to say, getting time with people — especially those who give larger gifts — isn’t easy and requires tact and plenty of persistence.
Lesson No. 4: Listen and ye shall receive. Sure, being able to articulate the case for support helps, but listening skills are even more crucial to fundraising success. Listening makes our donor prospects feel appreciated, valued, interesting, and respected. It draws us closer together. Listen closely, and the prospect will tell us when, what for and how much to ask for.
Lesson No. 5: Gifts from individuals rule. Sure, we want to pay attention to corporations and foundations, but individuals account for about three-quarters of the America’s vast $350+ billion a year philanthropic enterprise. A winning strategy targets and emphasizes gifts from individuals (who also tend to make decisions more quickly).
Lesson No. 6: Give a number. We live in a world of price tags. Philanthropy is no different. Ask for a specific amount. Make an educated guess on the amount based on what we know about the prospect’s giving capacity, interest in our cause, and gifts to others.
Lesson No. 7: Thank 7X. Fundraisers should love saying those two precious words — thank you! It is both the right and smart thing to do. It’s a proven way to get donors to do what we want them to do next — give again, give again sooner, and give more.
Every gift must be acknowledged and thanked seven different times during the year. This might take different forms — a letter, a phone call, a private lunch, a public event involving many donors, a mention in a publication, a story on the website, and so on. The donor deserves it. And it sets the stage for our next solicitation.
Lesson No. 8: Tell a good story. Stories are a powerful force in fundraising. They can entertain and educate at the same time. Sure, we want to share impressive facts and figures, but it is stories that make a personal connection, convey memorable information and move the donor to act. Let’s face it, we’re in a world of communications overload, in this communications whirlwind, stories are a necessity for grabbing and holding attention.
Lesson No. 9: Fundraising is fun. Emphasize the first three letters in fundraising —
F-U-N. If you don’t enjoy asking for the gift, it’s very likely the donor won’t enjoy being asked. Remember by asking for their help you’re enabling the donor to become a better person and improve the world. That’s a joyous achievement.
Lesson No. 10: The giving starts here. Think about it. Why should the people you’re asking give, if you don’t yourself? Lead by example. Make a personally significant gift before you ask others to give.