Excerpted from How to Raise $500 to $5,000 from Almost Anyone, revised and expanded edition
My friend Susan was the chief fundraiser for a nonprofit in a rural part of the country. In the course of her work, she interacted with a number of major donors.
Before launching a recent fundraising campaign, she sat down with her spouse and said, "I'm preparing to ask a lot of people for a lot of money. If I'm going to have any credibility during these conversations, we need to donate as much as we possibly can." They discussed it and committed $2,500—a significant gift given their economic situation.
Fast forward a few weeks: there she is, sitting with a couple in their living room, discussing the fundraising campaign. When it comes time to ask, she says, "My spouse and I are giving $2,500 to the organization this year. This is a big commitment for us. I don't know what a comparable gift would be for you, but that's what I'm hoping for."
After a moment of silence, one of the donors turns to her and says, "Well, if $2,500 is a stretch for you, then we're in for $100,000."
My friend broke into tears—just so we're clear, these were tears of joy—and her donors were kind enough to offer her a box of Kleenex and a comforting hand.
One of the persistent myths about fundraising is that economic peers have to be involved in the meeting. This notion is built on the persistent fantasy that, to be successful, you need a board of wealthy people who will ask their wealthy friends for money. As this story shows, the peer-to-peer concept isn't based on wealth or the size of the respective gifts; rather, it's based on the fact that both asker and donor are deeply committed to the mission of the organization, and both make gifts that are significant to them.
Maybe you're not comfortable revealing the amount you give. I respect that—but you still need to find ways to inspire and challenge the donor. Here are a few other options that might work:
"As a board member, this organization is one of my top three charitable commitments. I hope you'll consider making it one of your top three."
"For this capital campaign, our family gave the biggest contribution we've ever given—and it felt good. What amount would feel good to you?"
"I thought about how much I would feel comfortable giving, and then I decided to stretch myself a little. We're hoping for a 'stretch gift' from you."
In other words, you're only asking the donor to do something you've already done yourself. This gives you credibility and authority, which makes your request sound reasonable.
The story about my friend the fundraiser has an even happier ending. She stayed in touch with her donors throughout the year, building and strengthening the relationship. When it was time for the next campaign, she called to ask for an appointment.
"Are we going to make you cry again this year?" the donor asked, laughing.
Without missing a beat, she said, "I sure hope so."
Andy Robinson provides training and consulting for nonprofits in fundraising, grantseeking, board development, marketing, earned income, planning, leadership development, and facilitation. Over the past 16 years, Andy has worked with organizations in 47 U.S. states and Canada. He specializes in the needs of groups working for human rights, social justice, environmental conservation, arts, and community development. Andy is the author of several books, including How to Raise $500 to $5,000 from Almost Anyone and Great Boards for Small Groups.