Making “The Ask”

November 30, 2015

I think that making “The Ask” is most people’s number one fear in fundraising. But in my experience making “The Ask” has been one of the easiest parts of fundraising. It does not have to be a scary or frustrating thing at all.

Many nonprofits make the mistake of spending all their time planning “The Ask” and no time cultivating and stewarding their donors. The key to making a good ask is proper preparation. Your donor needs to know who you are and have a relationship with you in order to make a good ask. Make sure that you are taking time with your donors individually and as a group to talk with them about who you are and who they are. Know what specific areas they are interested in, why they give, and why they give you your organization. Know when their birthday is or when they get a promotion. Send them a card, make a short phone call, send them an email, all these things are part of proper cultivation and stewardship.

When you get to the point that you have a relationship with your donor making “The Ask” is simple. You should know specific interests of your donor, where else they give their money (and approximately how much, see my article on prospecting), and their past giving as a result of your cultivation and conversation. You are not uncomfortable in relating with them because you have a track record. So all you have to do is ask. Ask for something specific and reasonable and you know interests them. Make sure you are thanking them for their past giving, volunteer work, etc. If your ask involves a sponsorship, grant, or proposal make sure that you have all that information to give them. I have found that many times donors are waiting for “The Ask” to come and that making a good ask is more of a compliment to them. Everyone likes to be asked.

Agree?  Thoughts?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog

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The Art of Phone Follow Up

November 25, 2015

Follow up calls use to be the least favorite part of my job. It can be a lot of mental work to sit down with a list of phone numbers and make call after call after call. But, the more I started to make follow up calls the more I started to like them.

How else can an organization keep in touch with a large number of constituents in a short period of time? You might say I can reach thousands of donors via email, direct mail, or blogging (if you read an earlier post). I think those are great tools but none of them are as personal as a phone call. Before I go on don’t use phone follow up as your strongest platform for solicitation. Especially for your major gifts program it is important that you meet in person with your donors.

Before starting your phone follow up make sure you have all the information you will need to answer questions within immediate reach. Have all the phone numbers, names, donor statistics (do your research before your phone call), and program details. Then rehearse a few times what you are going to say. I have often found that it takes a few messages or conversations with a few donors before my message is really polished. It is important that you speak plainly. Do not try and be smarter or more articulate than you naturally are. Donors know when you are reading a scrip or if a message is not your own. Ask questions while you are on the phone don’t do all the talking. This is a great time to learn why someone gives to your organization, how they first found out about you. This kind of conversation helps your future solicitations because you know more about what interests a donor has.

If you have a really long list of people split it up. Get a few board members to help you make calls. Set aside time to make these calls. Plan ahead a few hours every day for a week or set aside an entire afternoon to make calls. One final pointer is a little bit corny, so forgive me, but I have found that it does make an actual difference. Donors can tell by the tone in your voice if you are smiling, frowning, or bored when you are on the phone. I am not sure what it is but if I am having a conversation with someone, especially after I have said the same thing 15 times before, a smile on my face creates a better message.


If Its Not Broken

November 23, 2015

I’ve worked in three very different fundraising shops in my career and have found that they all have done things very differently and raised very different amounts of money. I know we have all looked enviously at other organizations and how well they can raise money and lamented why people are not knocking down doors to fund our programs. But the truth of the matter is growing a fundraising program takes a lot of work.

It is important that you rejoice in the fundraising strengths of the organization that you work for. I worked for a children’s hospice that was closely tied to a professional hockey team and they raised most of their money from hockey enthusiasts and businesses that wanted to align with that organization. I recently worked for a social services organization that had fantastic grassroots support. Currently I work for an organization who’s development program has great connections but is still relatively young. Every one of these nonprofits has it’s own strengths.

I want to take a moment to encourage you to improve on what you are already doing well. If you have great community support learn how to maximize it. If you are connected to a sports team then see what kinds of partnership things you can do to raise more money. I’m a huge advocate of trying new programs and having a well-rounded development office. But, don’t forsake your strengths as you continue to improve. Take a close look at what you are doing successfully right now and find ways to grow your successful programs. Once momentum has begun with a program you can often raise a lot more money improving it than starting over and trying to build momentum again in another area.

What are you doing well?  How can you grow what’s currently working?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog