Let's face it. Fundraising is not about money. It's about people.
It's about the right person
asking the right prospect
for the right amount
for the right program
at the right time
and in the right way
That's alot to get right. And, you can’t get fundraising right unless you have thought about a great many things. That definition comes from the University of Phoenix School of Philanthropy, and I couldn't agree more.
Unfortunately, many nonprofits, particularly smaller nonprofits and start-ups, operate without thinking things through. In other words, they operate without a fundraising plan. When someone has an idea for an event or a campaign, these organizations simply put together a host committee or volunteer group and go for it. They may send out a letter here and there, and do some donor meetings, and when the bank account seems to be low, they often go into “panic mode” and race around trying to find cash to keep the doors open.
So, to avoid this fate, let’s briefly look at this definition and dig a little deeper into who and what is:
The right person: People give to people, not to causes. Many donors give to the person who asks. These donors give because they respect the person who is asking for the gift. They believe in the solicitor — often a volunteer— and comply with his or her request. They give because they have compassion for the population your nonproﬁt serves. For many nonproﬁt organizations, the Board of Directors is the primary source of volunteer solicitors. Every board member should be involved in fundraising in some way. The role of staff is to assist board members to find their niche in fundraising; then train them and support them in their fundraising assignments. Whether board, staff, or volunteer solicitor, the person making the request should ideally know the potential donor. This is the best and most effective form of fundraising. If someone knows the prospect, it’s a good bet they are the right person to make the ask.
The right prospect: Private contributions in 2015 totaled more than $323 billion. Individuals gave most of that — about 73%. An additional 8% came in the form of bequests from individuals. Foundations and corporations account for the remaining amount. So, more than 80% came from individuals. Not the government, not corporations, not even foundations. Individuals. If you want to build a sustainable fundraising program, it would be wise to concentrate on individuals. Why? Because that’s where the money is. That’s not to say you should completely neglect those other sources. They are an important part of your fundraising makeup. Just don’t make the mistake of relying too heavily upon them. The answer to the question “Who is the right prospect?” is usually an individual name, even if they are part of a corporation or foundation. The specific names and details, will vary, of course, depending on how the prospect got engaged with you and who is making the request (The right person).
The right amount: The right amount depends on many different factors, the least of which is how much you need, or how much your goal may be. The right amount is the right amount for the prospective donor. Everyone has a different capacity to give. The only way to truly find out what the right amount is for a specific donor is to get to know the donor. The more information you have about the prospect, the more intelligent you can be in figuring out the right amount.
The right program: Donors don’t give to programs or projects. They give because they want to help the people who are served by those programs and projects. Donors don’t make donations to build buildings, even though many buildings bear the names of donors. Donors give to support what goes on in the building. So, in deciding what is the right program you want a donor to support, think more about the people being served. What changes in behavior can a donor emotionally connect with? Was someone homeless before who now has a home? Were they hungry and you fed them? These are the things that get people interested in making a donation. Make the right emotional connection with a prospective donor, and you will have found the right program.
The right time: There are better times in a prospect’s life to make a request for a donation than others. There are better times of year. Some dates and cycles are simply better than others. Once again, it goes back to the prospective donor. Did they recently have a windfall? A big tax return? Might be a good time to make a request. Did they have a death in the family or lose a job? Might be better to hold off with that request. Choosing the right time to make a request is never easy. The important thing to remember here is that you should never expect the donor to fit into your time table. Just because you need the money now is not a sufficient reason for someone to give now. It may just be inconvenient or ill advised. The right time is always when then donor is ready to give, not when you are ready to make the request.
The right way: The most important thing you can do, as someone who is fundraising, is to build deeper relationships between your prospect and the organization you are fundraising on behalf of. Because relationships matter, don’t rush your fundraising asks (unless your charity is in dire straits). Harvey Mackay famously wrote a business networking book called, “Dig Your Well Before You’re Thirsty.” That’s good advice in non-profit fundraising as well. Raising money is hard enough… it’s doubly hard when your first contact with someone is an ask for money.
A better strategy is to, as often as possible, make your first a non-monetary ask. Build relationships with your prospects – ask them to come to a free event, read your case for support, sign-up for your newsletter, volunteer at your office. Get them involved (or at least have one introductory conversation about your charity that is not based on seeking a donation), then ask them to give. Build relationships that last, whenever possible. People like to know that their donation is doing something specific and concrete. If at all possible, ask them to contribute to help do something specific, even if it is only to help you reach your own personal fundraising goal. For example, “Would you contribute $50 to pay for 25 meals for the homeless?” or “I’m trying to raise $1,000 for the Boy Scouts. Will you donate $100 to help me reach that goal?”
The number one reason that people don’t give is that they were never asked. Don’t let not having all the right things in place lull you into “analysis paralysis.” At some point, you just have to get out there and ask. The more people you have doing that, and the more people you reach with your requests, will ultimately determine how successful you are in raising funds.