I got this question recently and it’s a good one for people who are newish to fundraising.
It’s a multi-layered question, really.
On the surface is “how do I ask for money from strangers and get it?”
Underneath it, there’s more.
I haven’t met anyone in fundraising who LIKES cold-calling, so I sense stirrings of discomfort and anxiety underneath this question.
So, what is this question REALLY about? What was the asker wanting to know?
Don’t ask strangers for money: Start with warm contacts
My first response to this question was “Why are we talking to strangers?”
Yeah, who remembers ‘stranger danger’ from growing up?
It’s not a great idea for kids to talk to strangers, and not really a great idea for fundraisers, either.
Seriously, why are we thinking about approaching people we don’t know when there are plenty of perfectly good prospects all around us just waiting to be asked?
Think about it from the donor’s point of view: someone you don’t know asks you to give money to a cause you know nothing about. How likely are you to say “yes?” Not very. There’s no sense of trust that they’ll do a good job with your donation, plus you have no idea what they do anyway.
Instead of talking to strangers, let’s talk to warm contacts. It’s easier and you’re more likely to get a donation.
What are warm contacts?
They’re people who are already in your sphere of influence that you just haven’t thought to ask yet.
They’re already participating with or supporting your organization in other ways.
- Program participants
- Board members
- Past volunteers, Board members or program participants
- Personal contacts of any of the above
- Your personal contacts
- Friends of current donors
- Lapsed donors
Until you’ve exhausted this list, don’t ask strangers for money.
Go after low-hanging fruit
Another way to think about this is with the concept of low-hanging fruit.
You see, you can climb all the way up into the tree to pick apples, or you can stand on the ground and pick the fruit hanging from the lower branches. Or you might be able to pick up the really ripe ones that have already dropped onto the ground.
If you climb the tree, you’ll need a ladder and it’s a bit more dangerous.
Staying on the ground is faster and safer, so why not start there?
What’s YOUR low-hanging fruit? Where can you easily get new supporters for your nonprofit, especially if you’re asking for money online?
Example: Meals on Wheels
Let’s look at a very practical example – one that is in the news right now.
If your nonprofit has been relying on lots of government money, you too may be feeling like you want to puke about now.
What you need to do is increase the amount money from individual donors so you can lessen your reliance on government funding. Or work to replace it all together.
If you work for Meals on Wheels, how can you find donors fast?
Having done this, I can give you some first-hand insight.
1. Start with volunteers. I know, I know, they give their time (and a lot of it!) – ‘we can’t ask for their money, too.’ Yes. Yes, you can. And some of them will give it. Not all, so don’t expect that. At Smoky Mountain Meals on Wheels, it’s common for a volunteer to come in from a run and hand over a big check to support the organization’s work. Part of the reason they do that is because of the impact of meeting the meal recipient personally and getting a good look at their living conditions. It’s heart-breaking in most situations. I think the other part is that the staff does a GREAT job of thanking their volunteers and appreciating their dedication. Meaningful gratitude, my dears, builds loyalty.
2. Ask civic clubs to help. Going out to talk to your local Rotary clubs and chamber groups is a great use of your time. You can spread the word about your work, recruit a few volunteers, and definitely gain some new donors. The key is a well-crafted talk with a solid Call to Action at the end. Pull the heart-strings then show folks how they can get involved, and you’ll get some takers.
3. Visit your top churches. Meals on Wheels isn’t a faith-based organization, but its work is biblical, and it’s the kind of work that lots of churches can get behind, especially in smaller communities. Look at your list of donors and find the churches (bonus points for you if you already know who they are!). Call and ask if you can speak at a service/women’s group/men’s group. Tell them your story and end with a good call to action. Invite them to get more involved – volunteer, donate, or help spread the word. Chances are good that the Meals on Wheels Ideal Donor Prospect is sitting in the pew and will want to do something to help.
4. Do a social media campaign. Smoky Mountain Meals on Wheels did “12 Seniors of Christmas” a couple of years ago, telling the stories of seniors on their waiting list. And was it powerful! In less than 2 weeks, they raised over $12,000 just on Facebook! Another week later, the total soared past $20,000. Why? It was moving. It was hard to read those stories and ignore them, knowing those folks may not be eating regularly right now. Because the campaign was done on their Facebook page (which only had a couple of hundred followers when this campaign started), it was easily shared. And it got shared. A lot.
5. Get your Board involved. Ask your Board members to bring their friends by for a tour of the kitchen, which is impressive! When you stand in a tiny commercial kitchen and think about the hundreds or thousands of meals that are prepared each day, it makes you want to whip out your checkbook. Ask Board members to bring their friends to go along on a ride to deliver meals – it’s the ultimate prospect experience!
I could go on and on. The point here is that you CAN raise money from non-government sources. It takes some effort, but the rewards are HUGE.
Goose vs golden egg
One underlying issue that I heard in the “how do we ask strangers for money” question was “how do we get money fast because we’ve already tapped out everyone we know?”
I think what’s really going on here is that “We need money. Now.” And it feels a little desperate.
I get it that sometimes you ARE in a situation where you need income fast. But you have to be careful – desperation stinks and donors can smell it.
If you show up desperate, you’re not likely to get donations from anyone, much less strangers.
So, no matter what’s going on, don’t focus on the money. Focus on the donor instead.
Ask yourself if you want the golden egg or the goose that laid it. If you go for the goose, then keep the goose well fed, the golden eggs will always be plentiful.
Don’t try to grab the money and run.
Fundraising is an ongoing activity and if you want to fully fund your budget, you must commit to keeping your donors happy.
That means you need to share stories of lives being changed. Commit to regular communications.
Focus on a healthy goose, not just the golden eggs she produces.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line here is that you DON’T have to ask strangers for money.
In fact, it’s not a great idea.
Go after warm contacts instead.
Inspire them. Tell them your story. Then invite them to join you in changing lives.