Fundraising 101 From Captain Obvious

Photo by stevendepolo

What I’m about to tell you in this post, my most dearly held fundraising gems, will probably not be new to you at all. So why mention the obvious? Because some things cannot be overemphasized, especially when it comes to fundraising while the clock begins to countdown to the year’s end. Double if you’re the committed cause advocate who can’t yet quit the full-time job while nurturing a nonprofit that’s just started. Read on.

If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.

You’ve probably heard this, because it applies to just about everything in life: raises, promotions, discounts, that one last sweater in your size still in the stockroom. And it applies to fundraising as well. We live in a generous society where there is healthy respect for what the non-profit sector does, and a desire to support organizations that do great things. But you gotta ask.

Answer the question.

“Why should I support you?” Can you answer this question to a donor’s satisfaction? I know that sounds simple. Obvious, even. But you’d be amazed how many organizations do not have a clear cut case for why a donor should part with money to support them, and what concrete outcomes their donations support.

Part of the reason of course, is that you, the visionary, the person who said, “This is ridiculous!” or “No more!” or “Hmmm…” are completely clear about the need you’re trying to fill, and the ways in which the world is going to be a better place when your non-profit’s mission has been fully achieved. You live that mission 24/7. But your donor does not. There’s a huge leap between “I want to solve this problem” and “Can you help me solve the problem?”

This is where you seek out your most honest friends and ask them if they understand the case you’re trying to make. And prepare for some serious self-reflection if they go, “No, I’m sorry I don’t understand how my dollars are going to help.”

“Self Rescuing Princess”

via ThinkGeek

One of my favorite ThinkGeek t-shirts is the one that says “self rescuing princess” on the front. It’s a great sentiment, one that seasoned fundraising professionals live by, and a good reminder that we have to do our own rescuing. Because there are great stories out there of the generous anonymous benefactor, the nonprofit world’s version of Lana Turner being discovered at the corner drug store. But anyone who’s ever fundraised, indeed anyone who’s ever continued to fundraise after the non-profit is no longer new and interesting, will tell you that the majority of your fundraising dollars are going to come from every donor. Yes, cultivate and continue to be awesome so you are worthy of the attention of the George Soroses and Joan Krocs of the world should they notice you. But don’t hold your breath, be the self-rescuing nonprofit.

Many roads.

Are you making it possible for people to give conveniently and as they’re comfortable? It’s a good question because when the majority of your donors give a certain way, it’s easy to forget about the other avenues. It’s good to remember that not everyone wants to give online or knows about #GivingTuesday—that there are probably others who want to give you a plain old-fashioned check, or do matching funds at work, or give through the Combined Federal Campaign.

It’s never to late to ask.

Fundraising is all about relationships. After all, how do you ask someone to support your cause, in any way, if you don’t know them and aren’t comfortable enough to ask, right? Which means that the key to fundraising isn’t money. It’s about building community, and making your donors feel like they’re valued by your organization, and a part of the mission you’re looking to fulfill. There isn’t a substitute for that other than nurturing relationships and building your community. And this is what can be most intimidating to new non-profits. “Where do we start? Who do we talking? How do we do this?” The answer is, “No time like the present, with the people you know, and just do it.”

Which leads me to the first point I started with, you gotta ask.

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