How do you ask for funds?
Wise people realise that fundraising is not really about raising money. It is about building relationships. Fundraising is sometimes humorously called a ‘contact sport‘.
It is a process. And if the whole process is done well, it is almost a case of the potential giver volunteering their support because they have been so convinced of the worthiness of what you are doing. That is, the request for money comes as no surprise and the givers have been given ample opportunity to learn about your case and understand its importance. In many instances, they will have decided to give, before they are even asked. The amateur will waltz in with a letter to a large company and expect a big donation on the spot. In reality, few people will part with their money without a lot of prior information and involvement. You probably would not, so why expect others to do so?
This asking process could be described as having seven key steps.
Having defined your constituencies, those with a linkage to your cause, you move to the individual level to identify your potential donors.
This identification step is followed by qualification, working out whether those people you have identified will and can give. This involves research from a range of sources - for instance, watching the paper, finding out backgrounds of potential givers to see what linkages they may have to your cause. You read an article that says a business person used to be part of an amateur opera company and you learn of a linkage for your arts organisation. You see an article on a prominent person in your district and learn that have long supported youth employment. Perhaps they may like to support your efforts here too. It goes without saying that any such research should be conducted tastefully and ethically.
Based on your research into the individuals who may give, you will have selected an appropriate strategy for raising funds. Strategy can operate at the individual level, too, deciding the proper person in your fold to introduce your potential giver to your cause. Remember the old chestnut that people do not give to causes. People give to people with causes. As part of your strategy you will also need to decide what amount to ask for. Fundraising is often said to be the right person asking the right supporter for the right amount for the right project in the right way.
Build the relationship. Let your potential donors come to understand the cause and its significance as you do. Send information, invite them to functions, involve them on committees, ask for their opinions to improve your work.
The actual asking
The main reason that people do not give is mighty simple - they have not been asked! Fundraising according to some is like milking a cow. It is pretty difficult to milk a cow by post or telephone. There is a ladder of effectiveness in ways to ask for money. The rungs are logical if you put yourself in the place of the giver and think how you would like to be approached for a gift. The most successful asking usually comes from a personal visit by a team of two, one of whom is a peer or contact of the donor. The least effective is from an impersonal letter. In between are the personal visit by one person, the personal letter with a telephone follow-up, the personal letter, and the personal telephone call with a letter follow-up.
It is not easy to ask for money. Most of us will have some reservations about doing this. It is worthwhile repeating that you are not asking for something for yourself. It is for your cause, for your community. The donor looks on you as an extension of the values of your organisation.
There are definite topics you must cover in your conversation, beyond the usual opening stages and establishing rapport. Talking about your own commitment to the cause (remembering that you will already have pledged your money) encourages by example. You will be asking them to join you in filling a community need. You will also need to mention your asking figure. American philanthropist John D. Rockefeller jun. gave some valuable advice on phrasing a request for funds, saying "I do not like to have anyone tell me what it is my duty to give. There is just one man who is going to decide that question - who has the responsibility of deciding it - and that is myself." But I do like a man to say to me, "We are trying to raise $4 million and are hoping you are desirous of giving (blank) dollars. If you can see your way clear to do so, it will be an enormous help and encouragement. You may have it in mind to give more; if so we shall be glad. On the other hand, you may feel you cannot give as much ... if that is the case, we shall understand."
Gifts can be made in many forms, not just cash. Some people sign over shares, works of art, deeds to property or gifts in kind from their company. You may also need to talk through the best mode of giving - a certain amount over three years, title to an asset and so on. Although you have spent much time in cultivating people’s interest in the cause, they may still need to think this through, talk to their accountant, their spouse and so on, especially if you are seeking a big gift. Be sure to make an appointment for a second visit if this is the situation.
Once you have a pledge for funds, the process may seem to have ended. It has not. In talking to people about their donations, you will have done a lot of listening and learned much about why they care about your cause. This will guide you in deciding the type of information donors would like to receive about what their funds are achieving. Also ask the donor what they would like most by way of feedback.
Think of a donation as an investment. It is truly your donor’s investment in the future of your organisation and its goals. As with any other investment, people will want a return and some idea on how their funds are performing. Apart from the obvious thankyou letter to your donors, think of ways you can let them know what their kindness is producing. How much closer are you getting to fulfilling your mission? How have they made a difference? This may take the form of an update letter, a newsletter or a personal call or telephone conversation. The old-fashioned word for this is stewardship. Some wise fundraiser once said that if you haven’t thanked a donor in seven different ways, you are not doing your job.
Renew the gift
If yours is an ongoing program, you will probably be speaking to that donor again in the future. A good way to measure your success is by the number of donors who choose to renew and perhaps upgrade their gift the next time they are approached. This attests to your stewardship.