The name of the game in fundraising is asking for money.
Yet so many people avoid it like the plague.
That’s a real problem when it’s part of your job.
Maybe it’s one reason why lots of people struggle with raising money – they avoid the parts that are actually the most fruitful.
If this is you, don’t worry.
I was like that, too.
Here’s my story
When I was a young Development Director, I was a shy fundraiser. I didn’t want to look someone in the eye and ask them for money.
It felt scary to me because I’d never done it before. I was afraid I’d say the wrong thing, and I saw “people with money” as different from me.
So I got really good at fundraising from behind my computer.
First, I went after grants. I worked hard at finding good opportunities, building relationships with foundations, and writing proposals. Somewhere around the 9-month mark, I hit my stride and started getting lots of grant money.
Next, I tackled direct mail. I got really, really good at writing appeals, segmenting my list, and bringing in the big bucks through the mail. We started doing heavy acquisition in the Fall, and from mid October to mid January, all I did everyday was open the mail and process donations. It was the most fun!
We managed about 2,000 thank-you letters a week! I had a team of volunteers every day to help get those letters out. Again, tons of fun.
I had a very successful annual fundraising event and when I look back on it, I laugh. It was a sit-down dinner for 1,000 people. Crazy, I know. But we raised a LOT of money (about $65,000) so it was worth the chaos.
With all this, you’d think I’d be riding the wave of success, right?
Not me. I sensed we had a capital campaign coming in a few years, and I knew that if I could start cultivating major donors, they’d be ready to make big gifts when we needed them.
The only problem was that darn fear of being face-to-face with donors and asking for money.
It really held me back.
The good news is that I did eventually overcome it.
What I know now is that it’s a common problem.
And one that you must solve, just like I did, if you’re going to seriously raise the money your nonprofit needs to operate, keep the staff paid, and keep the programs running.
The truth is this: your best potential for big donations is not grants or events. It’s individual donors.
Individual people give more money across the board than foundations or corporations or anything else.
So why are so many people averse to asking when that’s the best source of big money? What are the beliefs that are keeping so many fundraisers stuck?
Let’s explore that.
The 5 myths
Here are 5 common myths that you may be believing that make asking for money hard for you.
1. Everyone will give to us. This is a common belief among passionate founders and Executive Directors. They’re incredibly passionate about their cause, so they think everyone will be, too. What happens is that they wind up talking to lots of the wrong people. And when you ask the wrong people for money, the answer will always be “no.”
When we get clear about our ideal donor and create a profile of their likes, dislikes, values, and behaviors, we can use that profile to go find more people just like them. Ideal donors believe in your nonprofit’s mission. They want to see you succeed. When you ask an ideal donor for money, chances are good they’ll say “yes.”
Talk to the right people and asking for money gets easier.
2. The mission speaks for itself. Lots of people think that because their organization is a nonprofit with a compelling mission that people will give. I think that’s why so many folks start their elevator speech with “We’re a 501c3 nonprofit that provides….” That’s a boring way to start! Thinking that people will give just because you have nonprofit status or because you have a worthwhile mission doesn’t work.
What does work is having messaging that inspires people and moves them to give. You must have your story ready to tell, focusing on the need your services meet and how you’re changing lives. If you don’t, and you ramble on with jargon and insider language, or even worse, if you stumble over your words because you’re winging it, you’ll turn off your prospect. That means no donation for you.
Watch this 6-minute video where I talk about how the right words can make asking for money easier.
Figure out what to say that’s interesting and compelling, no matter the situation. Nail your elevator speech. Be ready to talk about your nonprofit’s impact. Have a story to share. When you have the right words ready to share, asking for money gets easier.
3. Just tell a story and they’ll give. Not necessarily. Yes, you need to tell a story. But you need to also talk about the need to put your story into context. For example, you can talk about one family that’s struggling to put food on the table and how you helped them with an emergency food box this week so their kids don’t have to go to bed hungry. Then when you share that they are one out of 500 families who are struggling, and that you can help more families with the support of your donor… well, now your donor has an idea of what you’re really trying to do.
Be ready to share your numbers and talk about how you’re changing lives. When you know your numbers and can share the number of lives you’re changing and how many more are left to help, asking for money gets easier.
4. When there’s a need, people will give. Most fundraisers think they should ask for donations whenever they need money. Wrongo. You should ask for money when people are ready to give. You see, fundraising isn’t just about you and your need to keep the lights on. It’s also about your donor and what their philanthropic goals are. Most people give because they want to make a difference and change something in the world. When you focus on building relationships with donors, you’ll start to realize that donors are really partners in your work. This is why updates and consistent communication are so important.
When you are focused on the money, your donors become ATMs. You show up with your hand out, asking for money, and you don’t really care how they feel. From a donor’s point of view, that feels really yucky. After a while, they’ll stop giving. To avoid that, provide your donors with feel-good contacts – emails, notes, photos, stories, and video that make them feel really good about giving to your nonprofit. THAT’S what will make the difference.
When you change your thinking and start to see the donor as more important than their donation, fundraising will change for you. Take care of the goose, and you’ll always have golden eggs. And the goose wants updates and info about what’s happening with the last donation they made. Connect with donors regularly and provide them with the info they want, and asking for money gets easier. Because they’ll be ready to give when you do.
5. If people have money, they should give. This one is based on the concept that those who have much should help those who have little. Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. Just because someone has lots of money doesn’t mean they’re automatically charitable with that money. Lots of wealthy people don’t give to charity. At all. Instead of going after rich people, target people who are most likely to care about your cause, regardless of how much they can give. Invite your current donors and supporters to bring their friends into your donor family. Chances are good that they will care about your cause, too.
Don’t worry about how much money they have or don’t have. When you focus on the people who care about your nonprofit’s impact, asking for money will get easier, because they’re already bought in. And the more they care, the larger the donation will be. So fan the flames of their passion for your work!
The good news here is that if you’re a shy fundraiser like I was, you can change that. I did. I developed my skill and built my confidence, and asking for money got easier. It took some time, but it was worth it. And hey, if I can do it, you can do it.