As all budding journalists know, every story can be told through judicious use of the 5 Ws: Who? What? When? Where? Why? Here the Nonprofiteer employs this efficient system to tell the story of how reluctant volunteers can become enthusiastic and successful individual-gifts fundraisers.
For most small- and medium-sized organizations, everything about this story is a blank. So here’s a primer on how to fill in that blank.
WHO to ask?: Only two types of people should be asked individually for gifts: people who’ve given to your group before, and friends of your Board members. With anyone else, it’s sheer impertinence: “Hi, nice to meet you, open your wallet.” Ask friends (of the agency and the Board), and ye shall receive.
What to do when your Board members say, “I don’t want to ask my friends for money”? Reply: “You don’t have to ask your friends. Just ask each other’s friends!” So Angela asks John’s friend, and John asks Angela’s. All they ask of their own friends is to come to a meeting, and all they have to do at that meeting is wax enthusiastic about the group and listen while the other one solicits the gift.
WHAT to ask for?: If they’ve given to the agency before, you’re asking for more. You have to make the leap of imagination (from $250 last year to $1000 this year) before the prospective donor can think about making it.
Don’t worry about being too ambitious in your monetary goal. Very few prospective donors are offended by being mistaken for rich people. (Women, though, are more likely to be taken aback than men, so ask for slightly less from women. They’re more likely to say ‘yes,’ so it all evens out.)
If you’re asking a Board member’s friend, ask for slightly less than the Board member gives him/herself, because the first thing the prospect will do is turn to his Board friend and say, “What do you give?” If the Board member doesn’t think the agency’s worth $500, the friend is unlikely to think it’s worth anything.
What if your Board member’s friend is a gazillionaire? (We should all have this problem.) Then prime the Board member to say, “I give $200, because that’s what I can afford. We’re hoping you’ll likewise consider a gift based on your capacity.” Again, few people mind being suspected of success, so if your Board member is prepared to say, “Listen, I know you made a killing last year when you sold your Google stock . . .” his friend is unlikely to want to correct him!
WHEN to ask: The Nonprofiteer is a prompt—some might say premature—fundraiser. As a cautionary tale, she offers the story of how her alma mater took her out for coffee repeatedly to soften her up for an ask, despite her saying, “Guys, I’m a fundraiser. I know what we’re doing here. Just ask me for the money!” By the time they were ready to ask her, she’d been reminded that the school’s investment philosophy would have permitted owning shares in slave-ships, and did permit investing in companies propping up genocidal regimes; and therefore she declined to give, though she wouldn’t have reneged on a preexisting pledge. So don’t delay; get the yes!
“What about cultivation?” you ask. The Nonprofiteer believes that lots of what passes for “cultivation” in individual-gifts fundraising is nothing more than stalling. Don’t hold “cultivation” events and plan to ask for money later; if you hold an event, either get contributions through the ticket price or ask forcefully that night.
All you need to do to “cultivate” people is to demonstrate that you’re thinking about them on a regular basis, and you can do that by forwarding something you think they’d like to read. Better yet, send them invitations to your activities, whether performances or client graduations or river cleanups. People give where they feel they belong, so be on the lookout for “belonging” opportunities. For this purpose, the less special the event, the better. If you do something special for a donor, make it an ask.
One word of caution about WHEN: don’t ask too soon after the last gift. May and June may be two separate fiscal years to you, but your donors probably think (and give) on a calendar-year basis. So they’ll think you bizarre and ungrateful if you respond to their May gift with a June ask.
WHERE?: Over breakfast, lunch or dinner (or possibly bedtime snack). The Nonprofiteer is a firm believer in the power of food to facilitate fundraising. In any case, the advantage of a meal is that it requires the prospective donor to sit still for about an hour, during which time you can a) learn about her; b) educate her; and c) ask her.
WHY?: Why bother with individual gifts? Why not just write some more grants? (asks your Board.) Three reasons:
- Because grants come and go. Institutional funders have the attention span of fruit-flies: this year they’re interested in AIDS but next year it will be architecture. If you’re not the fad, you’re out of luck.
- Because even if they continue to embrace your work, very few foundations or corporate giving offices will give money to support your operations. They want to support programs, the newer the better, often leading agencies to elaborate their programming beyond what their infrastructure can sustain. If you need to pay your light bill—or your employees—you need individual gifts.
- And finally, even if they love you to pieces, most institutional funders want to sustain you while you find broader support. They’re not interested in being your permanent sugar daddy.
By contrast, most individuals give because they’re asked, and what they’re asked for is support for a cause or an agency (not a single program), and once they’ve agreed they keep giving out of habit. So you have to actively offend them before they stop.
So that’s the story of successful individual giving. And if who-what-when-where-why merely piques your interest, you can learn how right here.