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When It Comes to Fundraising, Volunteers Get It Right ... and Sometimes Wrong

3_things_volunteer_fundraising.jpgNot all volunteers are alike, of course, but many share misconceptions when it comes to fundraising. I could point to several dozen as I do in my book, The Busy Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising. But here, I’ll focus on three that rear their heads time and again in my training sessions with boards and committees across America. 

Staff aren’t always the right or the best askers 

As our sector has become more professional—especially in higher education, health care, and large arts organizations—we’ve increasingly given the job of asking to our fundraising staffs.  

As a result, I’ve heard volunteers express relief when an organization’s first development director is hired, saying now they won’t have to go out and ask for money. 

But this isn’t the case. In truth, our donors would rather speak with a volunteer. It’s even better when that volunteer is accompanied by a member of the staff. 

Your fundraising officers, if you have them, may be thoroughly trained in asking and have a reservoir of facts and information about the organization. But these advantages pale in comparison to having you, a volunteer, do the asking. 

First, as a volunteer you bring a particular passion and perspective to the conversation. It’s not your paid job. You don’t have to show up, yet you do. Your involvement lends great credibility to the organization. 

Second, asking for money isn’t about personal eloquence or voicing the right words. It’s about relationships, respect, and influence. It is the rare staff person who travels in the same social circles as his or her prospective donors. 

Finally, in the mind of the prospective donor, a fundraising officer is paid to ask. In fact, his or her livelihood is tied up with getting a “yes.” You on the other hand are in the unassailable position of having nothing to gain from your visit except the satisfaction of furthering a cause you believe in and the joy of having another person join you in the organization’s work. 

You’re every bit as effective in asking as the fundraising officer. And, as a team, the two of you are all but unstoppable. 

All volunteers need fundraising training specific to their organization 

Sometimes you may want to slide out of a training session by letting staff know you’ve already been schooled in asking by other organizations. Although your prior training may have been superb and many of the principles could be the same, you still need training in how to ask for this particular organization. 

First, you need to know the case for support. Why should someone support this cause? Training will let you test approaches with fellow volunteers in a safety zone so you’ll have more confidence when you try them for real. 

Second, you don’t want to be caught with your facts down. You need to know how many clients your organization serves, when it was founded, what the budget is, and the overall objectives. You also need to be able to articulate the vision. You can’t learn these things in someone else’s training session. 

Third, you need to know the answers to tough questions. You may have to respond to objections, and it’s best to have those answers handy. 

If those reasons aren’t enough, you’ll get to know your fellow solicitors better as a result of this training. It’s quite possible you’ll identify the right person to team up with to make your calls more effective. 

As I’ve said elsewhere, the most important element in any solicitation is to be yourself, to converse naturally. But by no stretch does that mean flying by the seat of your pants. 

We have no right to prejudge a donor’s willingness or ability to give 

Year after year I’ve sat in meetings during which potential donors were being identified and reviewed, and over and over I’ve heard volunteers say: 

  • “Oh, they can’t give. They don’t have any money.”
  • “Them? They’re paying off a pledge to their university, and they won’t be able to give.”
  • “Their daughter’s wedding is next month. They’ve got to be tapped out.” 

Why do we insist on crossing names off lists before we’ve ever introduced the idea of giving to the people we’re deleting? 

Think of the consequences. You risk offending someone who may want to be asked.  And you miss the opportunity of connecting a person with your organization, even if this isn’t the right time for him or her to give. 

Years ago, when I was the volunteer chair for an educational drive, my steering committee and I hit the fourth year of a five-year campaign. We were drained. 

We debated whether to continue asking in a very personal way or to surrender some potential donors to direct mail and telephone. We even discussed whether it was necessary to call on everyone if we reached our goal before contacting all of our prospects. 

Then Diane, one of our steering committee members, related this story. In her hometown there was a gala dedication of a new cultural center. With her husband away, Diane invited a friend to accompany her. The friend hesitated and said she wasn’t interested. Sensing something was wrong, Diane gently probed. It turned out the woman was resentful because no one had ever asked her for a gift to the new center, and she felt their campaign leadership had assumed she couldn’t give. 

This sobering story helped us stay the course, exceed our goal, and reach out to more than 90 percent of the people we had been assigned. 

Only a donor should tell you whether he or she can give. 

Kay-Sprinkel-Grace.jpgThe preceding is a guest post by Kay Sprinkel Grace.  In addition to The Busy Volunteer’s Guide to Fundraising, from which this post is excerpted, she is the author of The Ultimate Board Member’s Book, Over Goal!, and Fundraising Mistakes that Bedevil All Boards (and Staff Too)Grace has received Stanford Unversity’s highest award for volunteer leadership service, the Gold Spike, and in 2013, she received the Henry A. Rosso Award for Lifetime Achievement in Ethical Fundraising from the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.
Topics: Fundraising Volunteers GuideStar Newsletter