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Interview with Fundraiser Andrea Kihlstedt

Andrea Kihlstedt, author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps, recently spoke with her publisher about fundraising. GuideStar has published excerpts from Ms. Kihlstedt's book (see the links below), and we're pleased to be able to share her additional thoughts with you.

Your book has an ambitious title—How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps. You're saying it can really be boiled down to 10 steps? I'm skeptical.

I worked with organizations on capital campaigns for over 25 years. Early on, this kind of awe-inspiring fundraising seemed hugely complicated to me. But gradually, as I worked on campaign after campaign, I came to see that they're really based on simple concepts. To the extent you can stay focused on these prescribed steps, your success will be more likely.

There's a lot of conventional thinking when it comes to fundraising. What "truisms" should be cast aside today as antiquated?

I'm not sure we should cast aside truisms but some things are happening that are changing the way people function.

When I began, people had more time to volunteer. Their lives were more stable and they expected to work for the same company and live in the same community for most of their lives. And the word "community" meant a geographic area or neighborhood.

It doesn't take hard research to see that these things have changed. Today in many families both partners work full-time. In small and mid-sized communities, many of the businesses aren't locally owned. And many people have stronger ties to their Facebook communities than their next-door neighbors. All of these changes have consequences in fundraising. They lead to less active volunteer involvement, giving that isn't restricted to the community, and less loyalty to specific organizations. Today it's as easy to feel great about a gift you make to an organization in Somalia as it is to your local hospital. And, funny enough, many organizations raising money through the Web make you feel even more connected than ones in your hometown.

Social media—do you see it playing a substantial role in tomorrow's big-dollar campaigns? How?

I have a hunch that over the next few years, the space between crowd-sourced fundraising methods and capital campaigns will shrink. When I look at fundraising platforms like KickStarter or DonorsChoose, I see the principles and systems of capital campaign fundraising laid out remarkably well for small individual drives. Teachers can raise money for their classrooms through DonorsChoose and artists can run their own little campaign campaigns through KickStarter. Traditional campaigns haven't yet figured out how these new platforms fit in, but within a couple of years, I'm sure they'll be incorporated into every campaign.

Most organizations, at one time or another, have launched a major gifts campaign. As a percentage, how many do you think succeed in raising most of their goal? And what's the leading reason, generally speaking, for those that fail?

There's no way of knowing how many major gift campaigns fail. But I'm quite sure when they do fail, it's for two reasons: 1) They haven't communicated clearly the real difference a donor's money will make in the lives of others, and 2) They haven't found the courage to ask people face to face for specific gifts.

Is there a nickel's worth of difference between the sexes when it comes to philanthropy?

Research shows that women give more generously and more publicly. But personally I haven't found that to be the case. Generous people give generously whether they're male or female. If anything, the gender differences are becoming less distinct as women play a more equal role in society.

Along the same line, tell me the differences you perceive between today's donors and, say, those of 15 years ago.

I encounter more wealthy young people than I did 15 years ago. It's not uncommon today to meet people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s who have made a ton of money. Many of them are risk takers. They're impatient, keen on seeing results, and excited about innovating. To them, traditional campaigns are boring. They're more interested in investing in social good than outright gifts. That said, I have been involved in campaigns where wealthy young donors have been heart-stoppingly generous.

Everybody and his brother is afraid of asking. I realize there are workshops and role playing but I'm in a hurry. Tell me the best QUICK way to overcome fear. And please don't pull a Nike and say, "Just do it."

Speak from your heart and only ask for gifts when you're fully committed to the cause, which means you've made your own gift first. Your commitment will carry you through your fear.

When you ask someone to give, you have to be ready to have a serious and personal conversation about you we believe in. That sort of intimacy requires courage.

You've consulted with organizations for nearly 30 years. Tell me the worst piece of advice you ever gave to an organization—something that still makes you cringe today.

I've given my fair share of lousy advice, but probably the worst is when I've encouraged clients to be too cautious. In my early years, I was so keen on successful campaigns that I was too timid and conservative. It would have been wrong of me to suggest foolish risks, but big, bold ideas, if supported by excellent people, have a way of attracting remarkable resources.

What's your favorite philanthropy quotation?

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." Anaïs Nin.


© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers

interview-with-fundraiser-andrea-kihlstedt_Andrea-Kihlstedt.pngAndrea Kihlstedt has written two books on capital campaign fundraising and a third on Asking Styles. She cofounded Asking Matters, an invaluable resource that teaches people how to ask for donations in a natural way that complements their own personal Asking Styles.


Topics: Fundraising