At a recent volunteer meeting for an animal care organization, the leaders were talking to volunteers about how to raise money. Their 10th anniversary is coming up this summer and everyone wanted to do something special. The financial goal was defined ( and increased) , the venue and date were chosen, now they needed to bring in funds. The nonprofit has done some really impressive things; part of their success is in other groups wanting to replicate the program in other cities and states.
The head of the parent nonprofit got up and talked about how important this effort was and is, and although the program is part of a larger organization, this project needed to have its own income and fundraising. He is an amazing person, but he used language that floated above the heads of those in the room, phrases such as ‘collective impact fundraising’.
Then a woman got up and told people how to raise $250 in one week: that each volunteer ask members of their personal circle, significant other, family members, co-workers, neighbors and friends to each donate a small amount, anywhere from $10 to $50, until each person got close to their goals of money raised.
I Was Watching the Audience
But in looking at the faces of those in the audience, it was clear a fundamental concept had been overlooked: that is that the vast majority of people would rather cut of their own foot before asking for money, whether from a stranger or someone they know. There can be many reasons why people feel this way, but until that basic issue is addressed, fundraising efforts are always going to be tough.
Maybe it is a cultural thing, maybe it is personal; I know I felt the same way when I started in development: “What, ask someone for cash? Isn’t that like begging? No way, what else can I do for the organization?”
But I have found that if this hurdle can be overcome, fundraising is a whole lot less hard, less painful and more successful that people think. The way to do this is to frankly address why there is hesitation or nervousness. I would have really liked it had one of the speakers asked the assembled group the following question:
“Who here is afraid to ask for money? “
To ask someone to fundraise, we have to provide some tools and training to overcome this fear. Part of the fear can be in not knowing what to say, how to open the conversation and options for answers depending on how someone may respond.
· Provide some good, short opening lines;
· Have some key facts about the work and what the funds will go toward ready;
· have some short statistics about the impact the organization’s work has had and what is coming up;
· Think of ways that the work being done has some connection to the person being asked.
Then let people practice on one another, do a little role playing. Be the asker, be the askee, be the person who says no. The questions and answers are always less scary once they have been asked out loud, the first time, the second and third times. It has been said that practice makes perfect, and while that not may always be true, practice does make things less frightening.
But Isn’t It Begging?
How many development directors are out there cringing at that statement?
Regardless of what you call it, fundraising, advancement, development or resource acquisition, the bottom line is that the organization needs money to function. For many, for most, nonprofits, the way to get those funds is to ask for it, directly.
Remind your volunteers they are not asking for the money to have a mani-pedi or get the newest video game, but to make a tangible difference in how our world operates. I believe that most people want to make a positive difference; supporting an organization that does something important is a way to allow that to happen, their gift is a conduit to change. Tell them that.
Instill some pride and joy in your volunteers that you are asking to raise funds for you: give them the ammunition to show how the ask is not the big scary monster that many fear. It takes courage and commitment to do something uncomfortable, and if the worst thing that happens is that someone who is asks says no, that is eminently tolerable.
What If They Say No?
How many development directors are laughing at this question?
No is a frequent word in fundraising, we get it all the time. And while it can sting, it can’t hurt. Many people have to say no all the time; I am one of them. As I seem to be one hundreds of mailings lists, I receive requests for funding daily. There are gifts that I would love to make, but can’t. But the ask lets me know who is out there and what they are doing; and hopefully some day I will be able to say yes. But for now, I have to say no.
As someone who asks frequently, I know how no sounds and feels. So does the person who will be asked. This is the second part of the conversation: show your volunteers how to get a no with understanding and grace. Making the person who turns down a request feel better about it goes a really long way.
Put The Shoe On the Other Foot
Anyone looking at this has been asked for money, and have said both yes and no. You know how you feel when you are approached one way or the other, a way that makes you feel ok, and ways that don ‘t. This is the information that can be so helpful when training others to fundraise for you.
Ask your fundraisers what they like and dislike when they are approached; then let’s use this information to tailor the way we ask others.
Be thoughtful and supportive of how you ask your volunteers to fundraise for you. Be sure you listen to their concerns and hesitations, and find ways to address them. Nice big concepts and valuable missions in our communities don’t get the support they need without someone asking for money.
Offer skills and tools, teach confidence and pride for your fundraising volunteers. As the old saying goes, if you don’t ask, it is a for sure no.
Need some help creating your volunteer fundraising program? We’d love to help, call any time 310 828 6979.
image credit: http://www.gailperry.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/girl-begging.jpg