I’ll start with the blunt notion that raising money is NOT for everyone. Although being in the nonprofit sector can seem glamorous at times as we get to coordinate fun parties, meet tons of people and sometimes get sneak peak exclusive tours to preview our silent auction items, it’s not always fun and games. At the end of the day we will need to raise a lot of money to keep our operation’s doors open. It takes a talented person to be able to spend their career engaging companies, individuals and select groups to donate money to a charity of choice.
I spend my days building relationships. I get to meet new people, learn about their passion and see if my organization is a fit. This means that I am trying to find a connection to our organization. Luckily we all need to breathe to live… so everyone has a connection to what I’m raising money for. When I am first introduced to someone or their organization that they are with, I immediately try to set up a brief time for us to chat. By this “chat”, I am basically referring to a listening session. I make it as convenient as possible, even if it means I’ll be driving 45 minutes away to meet with them. However, this person you are meeting with has limitless potential so we should, as fundraisers, go out of our way to make it convenient to meet with this person.
This person could be the head of a company (large or small), could be involved in various service groups that designate charitable dollars or have a family that is committed to giving back. These are things that you can’t tell just by meeting someone. Therefore you need to make sure you are giving this person time to see if they are a match for your work.
When I sit down with someone, I am trying to learn as much as I can about them. Seeing as I work for the American Lung Association in California, I am listening to hear about any lung health issues that may have affected themselves, their friends or family. I am paying attention to their preferred method of transportation to hear if they are interested in cleaning up and improving the quality of California air. I am trying to figure out how they determine which nonprofits they support and why. I am also paying attention to their position on tobacco usage, as most people initially assume that all the Lung Association does is focus on smoking prevention. As soon as they are done speaking, I’m able to tweak my information pitch to them according to their interests. Before I do any talking though, I make sure that I am asking engaging questions to keep the conversation going.
Whenever I forget this, a little birdie reminds me that I am at this meeting to listen first and foremost. We have two ears and one mouth to make sure that we are using them accordingly. How am I going to know how they can support my organization if I am not asking the questions to learn about them? How am I going to figure out how to best, eventually, ask them for money if I don’t know what makes them want to give?
After all of this, there should never, ever, ever be an “ask” for a financial donation at this same time. Right now you need to focus on building the relationship. Try engaging them in some other way such as (a) are you interested in joining us in this fundraiser or (b) would you want to sit in on a committee meeting to learn more about something going on within the organization. Try to engage this person without asking them for a donation, but make sure you are sharing information that makes them walk away wanting to learn more.
When you get back to your office, hand-write that thank you letter for them giving you time out of their busy schedule. Tell them how much you enjoyed learning more about them and add something personal that you remembered. Pop it in the mail and away it goes.
… then you wait for (a) them to engage you in the next steps of learning more about your organization or (b) it’s about 3-4 weeks later and you are ready to follow-up asking to continue the conversation or finding another way to get them engaged. Building a relationship does not happen overnight and asking for money takes some warming up. Then you continue this same process until you feel that the time is right to make the official pitch for money, engagement, serving on your Board of Directors, etc. that you think is the best match.
I, personally, enjoy the fact that I get to meet tons of new people and learn all about them. This past year I have made new friends, workout partners, dog lovers, and have a large network of professionals that can connect me to nearly anyone in the community. The reason is because I truly got to know these individuals because I asked them for anything. We got to the point to trust and that’s when I opened the doors to see if they could financially support my organization.
So there you have it… It’s about meeting new people and listening. It’s about getting to hear other people’s stories and building relationships. It’s about having fun and waiting for the right time to ask for support.
Now what are you waiting for? Go out and invite someone to coffee…. It all starts there!