In life, there are stark realities no one wants to face. Your child’s growing interest in skydiving, for instance.
When it comes to fundraising, I’ve identified the most inconvenient truths in my book, Fundraising Realities Every Board Member Must Face. In this space, I’ll abbreviate six of the most challenging.
1. Those Who Ask Must First Give
Say, an investment-savvy friend of yours drops by. He’s all excited about an upcoming IPO. “This is the surest thing since Facebook,” he pants, “You gotta buy it.”
Liking easy money as well as the next guy, you log onto Stocks R Us and ask how many shares your pal has bought. “Oh, none yet,” he demurs, “but I think you should load up!” With that ringing endorsement, you log off.
It’s the same with fundraising. Before you can hope to persuade a friend or colleague to support your cause, you have to believe in it yourself. And nothing—not even time spent volunteering—shows conviction better than a generous gift.
2. Your Case Must Be Airtight
If a potential donor asks you, What is your organization’s purpose? you need an answer—a ready one.
Why are you seeking funds? Why now? Why should I give to your group in particular? Who will benefit? How will you know?
The answers to these questions should roll off your tongue. And they will if before setting out to raise money you think through the rationale for your campaign in a “case statement.” In essence, this is your organization’s sales pitch, its reason for being.
A case statement tells donors and prospects who you are, what you’re trying to accomplish, and why. It describes your history and purpose and plans. But most important, it offers compelling reasons to invest in your particular cause, right now, and who will benefit.
3. Individuals Are Your Target
Here’s the math. In the United States there are just over 105,000 private foundations, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics. These include everything from the Carnegie Endowment to DoSomething.org.
In addition, there are an estimated 2,700 corporate foundations with household names like Bank of America and Coca Cola.
Sizable numbers to be sure, but they pale in comparison to the estimated 140 million adults who each and every year send checks to their alma maters or local museums or community hospitals.
It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that of the billions contributed annually to charity, roughly 85 percent comes from individuals—90 percent if you include bequests, which come from individuals, too.
As a result, it’s wise to focus most of your attention on individuals. Unfortunately, too many fundraisers ignore hard data and spend a disproportionate time chasing corporations and foundations.
4. Resist the One-Size-Fits-All Approach
Fundraising has many misconceptions. Near the top of the list is this one: “If we ask person for the same amount, our job will be a cinch.” All it takes to raise $100,000 according to this wrongheaded thinking is to ask 100 people to give $1,000.
Not going to happen. First, this one-size-fits-all “strategy” ignores reality. Not all of those 100 people will give. In fact, you’ll need to approach three or four prospects to secure one gift. Second, not everyone will contribute $1,000, which means to achieve an average gift of $1,000, you’ll need gifts of far greater amounts. Third, asking for $1,000 in effect limits those who could or would give $5,000 or more.
Keep in mind what Irving Warner, a seasoned fundraiser, said years ago:
The man who suggests you need 1,000 contributions of $10 each for your $10,000 project:
- Knows arithmetic.
- Thinks he’s given you a brilliant solution.
- Won’t give more than $10."
5. Swallow Hard and Cite a Figure
Say you’re approached by a co-worker and asked to pitch in for the comptroller’s wedding gift. The first question you typically ask is, “How much you have in mind?” or “What’re others giving?” What you’re seeking is a frame of reference
The same dynamic plays out when you approach would-be donors. They want a sense of what you’re looking for or what their peers are giving. Are you talking $500, $5,000, or $50,000, they want to know.
You need to be specific. To many solicitors that can be unnerving. Heck, it’s hard enough to ask for “any amount you can give” or “whatever you can afford,” but the temerity of naming a number—that’s like asking “How much you make a year, bud?”
But if you’ve done your homework—which is to say you haven’t plucked a figure from thin air—then you won’t upset your prospect, especially if you phrase the request tactfully: “We’re hoping you’ll consider a gift in the range of $50,000” or “Will you consider joining me in giving $25,000 to this worthy cause?”
Far from insulting your prospects, your citing a figure will remove the mystery and put them at ease and in a position to consider your request.
6. Get Personal
How can you make your project personal for your prospective donor? That’s a question you always need to ask prior to paying a visit.
Say you’re raising money for Alzheimer’s research. For lab scientists, Alzheimer’s is all about genetic markers, neural connections, and blood diagnostics. But for your prospects it’s something else entirely. It’s hope that they and their family will be spared the debilitating disease.
Or, perhaps your local library needs to raise money for Wi-Fi and added shelving. Those things are important but they’re impersonal. What you’re really selling is the opportunity your library offers to young minds, a place that teems with ideas and stokes curiosity.
You can make this same “human case” for colleges, museums, hospitals, for virtually any organization. But to do so you have to know your “product” and your prospect. What are your specific aims, how do they relate to the community at large, and what about your work will particularly interest this person?
Connect those dots and you’ll secure the gift.
David Lansdowne is the author of Fundraising Realities Every Board Must Face, from which this post is adapted. He has spent his professional life in the nonprofit sector, serving in a wide variety of development and administrative positions for educational, cultural, and health organizations throughout the United States.