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.


Barometer or Board Member

June 24, 2014

I’ve mentioned this on some level before (More About Using Board Members) but I thought I’d speak here in a little more depth. I have found board members and advisory level volunteers to be great barometers for how my organization is viewed publicly. Often these people will tell you what they really think when someone else will not. They will also do so in such a way that includes advice as to what you can do to improve.

Beyond simply invaluable feedback your board is often your best connection to the community. Your largest donations often come from a board member’s connections and your board member’s solicitations. If you are a small or large organization using your board members to help you engage and raise money from the community is one of the best things you can do. Because board members are volunteers their opinions to the public lend a great deal to your reputation. If they as a non-staff community leader say you are a great organization many will believe you are.

What ways are you using board members to advance your mission? Have you found them to be significant assets to your organization? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.


Engaging Board Members & Volunteers

March 4, 2014

Lets talk a little more about getting donors (and board members) involved in your nonprofit. I think that it is important that we do not take a too narrow view of fund development. Every nonprofit has a lot of different needs that vary from simple volunteer tasks like sorting or answering phones all the way to creating an IT infrastructure, crafting a marketing campaign, or advocating on behalf of the organization. Wouldn’t it be incredible if a nonprofit started to view volunteers, donors, and board members all with the same value? How often have the lines been blurred between all of these different areas? A good nonprofit will learn how to use these vested individuals in greater depth.

A reader wrote a great comment in response to my posting, Using Board Members to Fundraise. I think that you can change “board member” to “executive volunteer” and get the same result.

“My claim is that to maximize your board’s effectiveness (at fund raising or whatever else) the organization needs to look at things in reverse. ‘Who are my board members, why are they here, and how best can we use what they bring?’”

This represents a profound shift in thinking. What would happen if a nonprofit really thought this way? I think that it would result in some incredible partnerships, new programs, and increased donations.

I really liked the questions that were asked in that post but I might rephrase the question just a little bit. I think that if a nonprofit can really use it’s board members greatest skills they would get a lot further. But, I think that it is important that in doing this they do not lose track of their mission. So my rephrase would be, “Who are my board members, why are they here, and how best can we use what they bring to further the mission of the nonprofit?” Maybe that redirection to connect the volunteer work with the nonprofit’s mission is what makes a good fund development staff member.

One last thing. When you start down the path of engaging volunteers in their passions and their skills start small. It is going to take time to create the working relationship between your nonprofit and that specific board member or volunteers. I have known a lot of volunteers that come in really excited and want to do 100 things and they don’t end up doing 1. But the most profound impacts that I’ve seen have been board members that came in to do 1 or 2 things and followed through. Make sure you sit down and talk with this volunteer about what they can do and what they want to do. Before you do anything else go back to your organization and talk to them about what the organization needs to do to be able to use those skills and abilities. Make sure to follow up with the individual (in person or by phone) and talk about how the partnership will work and what the organization is doing to support their work. Continue to check in to thank them, see what kind of additional support this volunteer might need, and see how the project/task/involvement is going. If they want to engage in a deeper way or do some additional things make sure that it will not stop them from being able to finish the task they are on. You can tell them the organization is not ready yet or the need is greatest with the work they are doing right now. Only tell them that if it is true. Explain to the volunteer why you are not ready yet.

Do you have any examples of using volunteers well or and comments? Let me know I think we are starting a great conversation on this topic. Be sure to read the comments as some really insightful things have been said.


I’m Not Here to Raise Money

August 18, 2008

Have any of you heard this sentiment from a board member, “I’m not here to raise money?” What do you think of that? I’m always a little bit frustrated when board members say they will do anything for an organization except raise money. Yes, I certainly think they raise the profile of your organization in the community (last week’s post) as I wrote about last week, yes I think they help you understand how you are perceived in the community and can be invaluable in crafting your message. But, if they are not willing to raise any money what are they really doing?

I have often found that in terms of running programs and providing good services that board members traditionally cannot speak with much experience. Usually program staff can speak with more experience regarding their programs than anyone else. And if your board member is not there to support the mission or program of your organization or raise your community profile what is the board member there to do?

This is probably more of an opinion column than I usually write but I’m very curious what your thoughts are. What value outside of fundraising do your board member serve?


Would You Like Fries With That?

August 13, 2008

Apparently I’m learning a lot in my new job because over the last few months my posts have reflected lessons learned at work. Well for your reading enjoyment I am adding another lesson I learned: serve your board members. I used to treat board members simply as kind-hearted community volunteers. But I was surprised when I realized I have not gone far enough in my valuing board members.

We need to serve our board. When they attend a meeting we should bend-over backwards to make them feel at home (etc. get them a glass of water or a cup of coffee when they arrive). The experience they have will translate to the caliber of organization they see you as. If they feel like you know how to treat them they will be more willing to bring their friends. Board members want to show off their work. If you can be a place they’d like to show off it will do great things for your organization.

If your board members are bringing their friends they are more willing to recruit new board members, they are more connected and willing to give themselves. What has your experience been with your boards? Have you found that serving them makes a difference?


The Immediate Thank You Call

July 21, 2008

How many of us have started a 24 hour acknowledgment letter process and stopped making a quick thank you phone call immediately after (or on the same day) that a gift is received? I have been shocked at how well received I am when I call a donor just to say thank you. Sometimes I’ll hear surprise at a quick response or learn a little tidbit about their giving that I would have never learned in a letter or email.

More than anything else a personal thank you call means more to you from a real human voice instead of in a letter.  We still need to follow up the call with a quick thank you letter including a little reference to the conversation you had on the phone, but the phone call will make a huge difference. I find that a two minute thank you call does more to secure a second gift than anything else.

In fact, the ability to thank donors should be one of the most important things to your organization. If you are good at thanking donors you will be good at keeping and upgrading them too. You could build your entire development plan around acknowledging and thanking and be extremely successful. If a donor feels cared for they want to grow their involvement. Also thanking donors is one of the easiest things for board and executive staff to do. If you want to get your board involved in the fundraising process this is a great way to get them started.

Do you call donors immediately when you receive a major gift? How has that helped your nonprofit?