The key to successful fundraising is knowing your donors.
If you don’t know them, you can’t nurture them.
If you don’t nurture them, they won’t grow.
Simply staring at your bare patch of land waiting for flowers to sprout and blossom doesn’t work 99% of the time.
Why are you waiting to ‘get lucky’ the winds will just blow some seeds your way?
Likely, this won’t happen.
Even if it does happen, the seeds may not take root and grow.
Unless you do something to help them along.
In fundraising, the best way to nourish supporters is to know them better.
So you can give them what they explicitly need, not what you think they need.
You need to engage in “getting to know you” activities so you’re basing your work on knowledge, not just opinion.
Why Don’t Fundraisers Reach Out to Get to Know Donors Better?
There are all sorts of excuses.
Many come from a sense of ‘donors’ being primarily identified that way, rather than as the complex people they truly are. Staff are often afraid of, or at least uncomfortable with, ‘donors.’ Even many volunteers, who aren’t major philanthropists themselves, feel this way.
Have you ever heard (or felt):
- They’re “other.” We won’t relate to one another.
- They’re rich. They’re not like me.
- They’re not rich enough; not worth my time.
- They’ll be offended I’m so insensitive as to try to… (e.g., take money away from someone who can’t afford it; talk money with someone who is sick, grieving or going through a hard time.)
- They’ll think I’m too presumptuous and shouldn’t be talking about money.
- They won’t want to talk to me; they’re fatigued from being asked all the time.
Fundraising — and what constitutes a “fundraising strategy” — needs to be reframed.
Remind folks philanthropy comes from a place of love, not money. It’s literally in the definition of the word (love of humankind). It’s why my guiding philosophy remains “philanthropy, not fundraising.”
It’s not just asking for money (which is still the number one taboo topic in our society, so no one wants to talk about it).
It’s not simply a one-time transaction that’s one and done (which can often feel like a chore).
It’s all the nurturing activities that build up to a point of transformation and growth:
- Sourcing the seeds (identifying potential donors)
- Tilling the soil (serving as an ambassador)
- Working the soil (serving as an advocate)
The Many Hats of Fundraising
I subscribe to the “Triple A” model of fundraising (ambassadors, advocates and askers) developed by Kay Sprinkel Grace, a personal mentor and fundraiser extraordinaire.
If you have people willing to open their rolodexes and/or social networks… make thank you phone calls… write thank you notes… write personal notes on appeals… invite guests to events… encourage friends to volunteer… host a P2P fundraiser… hold a house party… or any number of such activities, you have the raw material you need for fundraising. Hopefully some of the folks who begin as ambassadors and advocates will ultimately become comfortable as askers too. But it doesn’t have to start there.
ACTION TIP: Give board members a list of potential activities and ask them to indicate which they’d be comfortable helping with. You can actually use a similar list with staff members if you’re working within a culture of philanthropy.
- Share organizational messages via email and social media
- Make thank-you calls; write thank you notes
- Write personal notes on appeal letters and invitations
- Use personal networks to identify donor prospects
- Provide prospect intelligence to better evaluate donor potential
- Take donor prospects on a tour that lets your work speak for itself
- Take donor prospects to coffee/tea or other type of ‘get to know you’ meeting
- Open the door; set up a donor advice meeting
- Cultivate a donor prospect at an event
- Represent the organization at public functions
- Connect to opinion leaders who can influence others
- Call or visit public officials to advocate on behalf of clients served
- Call or visit public entities to advocate for government contracts, grants, fee-for-service or other monies
- Circulate petitions to forward the cause
- Visit businesses, foundations and community groups to introduce them to the cause
- Recruit an in-kind service
- Host a house party where staff or clients convey the mission; board member introduces and testifies
If you keep asking people to do things they’re adamantly opposed to doing (i.e., “I’ll do anything but fund raise”) you won’t get anywhere. Instead, begin with what they are willing to do.
Getting to Know You Redux
Beyond donors, you’re also going to want to know individual members of your staff and board teams better too.
Because they’re the most likely suspects to get to know your donors as ambassadors and advocates. And then you can debrief them!
Sit down with each team member individually and ask them generative questions that help you learn what matters most to them.
- What are your hopes and aspirations for the organization?
- If we received $100,000, how would you use it?
- What would be the worst thing about this organization ceasing to exist?
ACTION TIP: Never have lunch alone. Force yourself to eat lunch, or have tea or coffee, with someone other than just yourself daily. Another development team member. A program staffer. A board or committee member. A donor or active volunteer. Someone who frequently shares your social media posts with their networks. Even if you’re not going to your office, do this virtually. This is not a “nice to do” strategy if you want to create a culture of philanthropy. It’s a “must do.” As Penelope Burk discovered almost two decades ago, the number one thing donors want is “show me that you know me.” I suspect that’s a pretty universal human condition.
The “good news” part of this strategy is it’s as good for you as for the people with whom you meet! That’s right. When you talk to other people, you get a dopamine rush. We’re social creatures who crave connection. There’s nothing more natural than this. It’s just that folks don’t think of this as legitimate, goal-oriented work. It is!
Once you get to know folks, the next step is to figure out how to use what you know to create a deeper relationship – one that will be a win/win/win for you, the donor or team member, and the organization as a whole. Lunching and schmoozing is fun. But, of course, you can’t do nothing else. And, yes, ultimately you’re going to want to ask for a gift.
The Elephant in the Room
One reason staff and/or board don’t do a more effective job with any of the fundraising activities – ambassadorship, advocacy or asking – is they don’t feel “philanthropy worthy.”
There are a LOT of nonprofits out there.
And you may wonder if you’re “good enough” for someone to give to you.
It’s a valid question, and here’s the answer:
If you’re doing an effective job, and people rely on you to do that job, then you have the responsibility to fundraise. If you don’t do an effective job, you don’t deserve public support.
You must earn the privilege to fundraise.
Many times people are reluctant to fundraise because, deep down, they feel the emperor has no clothes. They don’t think they’re doing as effective a job as they could. Or they don’t rely much on contribution income, so it’s just something nice to have, like petty cash. Not exactly a compelling case for support.
The bottom line when it comes to fundraising, or anything you do with money, is money has no inherent meaning aside from that we ascribe to it. Money is a tool for what it can accomplish.
ACTION TIP: Take some time to revisit your vision, mission and values so you can make your strongest possible case for support. Why should someone support you rather than another charity? What is different about you? What are your values, and are you reaching out to the constituencies most likely to share those values? What important, valued outcomes are made possible because you exist?
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make the strongest case possible for what philanthropy can accomplish through your charity.
Then, by getting to know people, you can uncover the folks who share your values and have capacity and willingness to make a gift to further those values.
Ready to Put Everything in Place to Showcase Your Values and Know the People Who Share Them?
A good place to begin is with my 7 Clairification Keys To Unlock Your Nonprofit’s Fundraising Potential. It’s simple, straightforward and “clairifying.”
How much time do you spend being genuinely thoughtful about your goals and objectives? And do you take as much time as you would like to think strategically about your plan to achieve these ends? Not just mindlessly editing or tweaking last year’s plan, but really digging deep into why and how you’re doing these things?
Could you use a fresh perspective? Spend a little time — for yourself and for your organization — to dig into the worksheets and exercises in this Guidebook. Refresh your thinking, and refresh your plans. Stop asking so much what your donors can do for you; ask what you can do forthem. You may be amazed at how this little shift in thinking can help you get to your goals with greater grace and much less angst.
Photo by The Creative Exchange on Unsplash