Getting People to Ask for $$
excerpt from Zimmerman Lehman's book, Boards
That Love Fundraising: A How-To Guide for Your Board)
in tough economic times, there is more than enough philanthropic money
to go around. Between 2000 and the end of 2002, for example, when the
U.S. economy was perilously close to deflation, Americans gave away in
excess of $672 billion to charity. Do the math: can 1.5 million nonprofits
survive on an average of $224 billion per year? We think they can. Your
principal concern, then, is not whether donors will contribute; it is
whether you can secure the consistent, imaginative support of board members,
staff members, and other volunteers in planning campaigns and asking for
Are Not Inferior
Many board (and staff) members suffer from a terrible inferiority complex.
They assume that fundraising is a process of going on bended knee to the
donor, asking for the least possible amount of money, and being graced
from on high with a contribution.
Fundraising means getting in people's faces (politely) to let them know
that, if they are not giving to your organization- and giving a significant
amount- they are missing an important opportunity. You should make every
effort to limit use of such words as gift, contribution, and donation
and instead think of fundraising as an investment in a successful community
noted earlier in this book, being a board member of a nonprofit is not
much different from being a board member of a corporation. Board members
and fundraisers are salespeople: you are selling the benefits that will
accrue to the community thanks to the donor's investment. We sell concepts
(a cleaner environment, a healthier population, better-educated children),
not products, but we are salespeople nonetheless. A donor's decision about
whether to give and how much to give is no different from his or her decision
to invest money in corporate stock. When an individual "invests" in your
organization, the "return" is the benefit your organization bestows on
the community- be it cultural, environmental, educational, health-related,
or in any of a variety of other disciplines.
organization provides a service to the community, and philanthropists
pay for that service. It's a quid pro quo arrangement, not tin-cup begging.
Keeping this principle in mind enables you to raise money as boldly as
any business seeking to grow its revenue through sales and investments.
is also vitally important that your organization ask for money in as many
ways as are appropriate. In the next chapter, we review in detail the
fundraising techniques available to nonprofits. It is the rare organization
that is raising money in every way available to it. Whether it is solicitation
of gifts by mail, special events, proposals to foundations, fees for services,
or any of a host of other avenues, chances are your organization is missing
at least one opportunity and probably more.
Need Not Fear Asking for Money
Most board members fear fundraising. All too often the executive director
or development director accedes to this fear. Board members are relieved
of their fundraising duties, and staff members do what they can to solicit
small foundation grants and modest individual contributions. Big gifts?
They never make it onto the organization's radar screen, because the people
who should be doing the asking- the board members- fail to pick up the
bad news: the typical organization fails to identify all of its major
donor prospects. Some don't identify any. As a result, individuals who
could give thousands or tens of thousands of dollars are sent direct mail
letters requesting contributions of $100 or less. The good news: hundreds
of millions of dollars could be gained every year by the simple decision
to pursue major gifts.
understand first that in asking for a contribution to the nonprofit on
whose board you serve, you are not asking for a personal loan. Rather,
you are so enthusiastic about the work of your organization that you want
to give your friends the opportunity to participate in the life of the
organization by making a contribution.
years ago, a member of our consulting firm accompanied the board president
of a legal aid program on a solicitation visit to the managing partner
of a large local law firm. The board president and the consultant described
the good work of the legal aid program and emphasized the importance of
support from law firms. The managing partner listened politely to the
pitch and replied: "Thank you for your presentation. I love the work that
legal aid does. To tell you the truth, I'd much rather work for legal
aid than for this stuffy downtown firm. Unfortunately, I have a big mortgage
and two daughters in college; considering the salary you could pay me,
I couldn't possibly work for you. And I'm so busy I don't even have time
to volunteer at legal aid. The least I can do is give you some money!"
managing partner wanted to demonstrate her respect and affection for legal
aid. She couldn't do so by working, or even volunteering, there, but she
had an option: a financial contribution. Money in this context is not
an end; it is a means to connect with an organization that excites the
Fear and Loathing of Fundraising
Let's look at the fears that keep us from raising funds. In our experience,
the most common fears are rejection, embarrassment, and the quid pro quo.
Rejection is the fear we encounter most frequently: "If I ask a colleague
for a contribution and he or she says 'no,' then, like the wicked witch
in The Wizard of Oz, I will melt into the floor, never to be heard from
convincing you not to fear rejection, it's useful to think of a vacuum
cleaner salesperson going door-to-door. If that salesperson goes to thirty-five
houses and sells ten vacuum cleaners, was that a good day or a bad day?
It was a fine day, even though twenty-five of the thirty-five prospects
said no! The fact that many people will say no to your solicitations is
not the point. What matters is this: if you do appropriate donor research
and approach prospects intelligently and respectfully, enough of them
will say yes to make your efforts worthwhile.
about embarrassment? We noted earlier that the most important tactical
consideration in fundraising is access to the prospective donor, yet most
folks are terrified to ask intimates for contributions. Why do we fear
asking the people who are closest to us? Some folks think that fundraising
is embarrassing, obnoxious, and invasive; asking for a contribution, they
believe, is trading unethically on a friendship.
odd, isn't it? We live in a capitalist society, yet the most embarrassing
subject in our society is money. Many of us were taught as children that
it is bad form to inquire how much someone makes, or to estimate how much
someone is worth. Board members have transferred this prohibition into
the fundraising realm- where it does not belong. Again, we are giving
people the opportunity to feel good by helping an organization that is
doing important work. We mustn't let embarrassment about money get in
third fear we often encounter is the quid pro quo: "If I ask a friend
for a contribution to my organization, what's to stop him or her from
asking me for a contribution to his or her favorite organization six months
from now?" The answer? Nothing at all. But talk about a poor reason for
not doing the fundraising! Your friend may or may not give to your organization;
you may or may not give to your friend's. The sun will come up tomorrow.
In our many years working with nonprofits, we have never heard of a friendship
destroyed by Person A asking Person B for a philanthropic contribution.
If you-the board member/solicitor-view fundraising as empowering and ennobling
rather than invasive and obnoxious, you will succeed. Fundraising techniques-
which we discuss later- can be learned with relative ease. The real work
is convincing you of the validity and decency of the fundraising enterprise.
the complete book.
2007 Zimmerman Lehman.
information is the property of Zimmerman Lehman. If you would like
to reprint this information, please see our reprint
and copyright policy.