People to Ask for $$
excerpt from Zimmerman Lehman's new book, Boards
That Love Fundraising: A How-To Guide for Your Board)
Bob Zimmerman and Ann Lehman
in tough economic times, there is more than enough philanthropic
money to go around. Between 2000 and the end of 2002, for example,
when the U.S. economy was perilously close to deflation, Americans
gave away in excess of $672 billion to charity. Do the math: can
1.5 million nonprofits survive on an average of $224 billion per
year? We think they can. Your principal concern, then, is not
whether donors will contribute; it is whether you can secure the
consistent, imaginative support of board members, staff members,
and other volunteers in planning campaigns and asking for money.
Are Not Inferior
Many board (and staff) members suffer from a terrible inferiority
complex. They assume that fundraising is a process of going on
bended knee to the donor, asking for the least possible amount
of money, and being graced from on high with a contribution.
Fundraising means getting in people's faces (politely) to let
them know that, if they are not giving to your organization- and
giving a significant amount- they are missing an important opportunity.
You should make every effort to limit use of such words as gift,
contribution, and donation and instead think of fundraising as
an investment in a successful community enterprise.
noted earlier in this book, being a board member of a nonprofit
is not much different from being a board member of a corporation.
Board members and fundraisers are salespeople: you are selling
the benefits that will accrue to the community thanks to the donor's
investment. We sell concepts (a cleaner environment, a healthier
population, better-educated children), not products, but we are
salespeople nonetheless. A donor's decision about whether to give
and how much to give is no different from his or her decision
to invest money in corporate stock. When an individual "invests"
in your organization, the "return" is the benefit your organization
bestows on the community- be it cultural, environmental, educational,
health-related, or in any of a variety of other disciplines.
organization provides a service to the community, and philanthropists
pay for that service. It's a quid pro quo arrangement, not tin-cup
begging. Keeping this principle in mind enables you to raise money
as boldly as any business seeking to grow its revenue through
sales and investments.
is also vitally important that your organization ask for money
in as many ways as are appropriate. In the next chapter, we review
in detail the fundraising techniques available to nonprofits.
It is the rare organization that is raising money in every way
available to it. Whether it is solicitation of gifts by mail,
special events, proposals to foundations, fees for services, or
any of a host of other avenues, chances are your organization
is missing at least one opportunity and probably more.
Need Not Fear Asking for Money
Most board members fear fundraising. All too often the executive
director or development director accedes to this fear. Board members
are relieved of their fundraising duties, and staff members do
what they can to solicit small foundation grants and modest individual
contributions. Big gifts? They never make it onto the organization's
radar screen, because the people who should be doing the asking-
the board members- fail to pick up the ball.
bad news: the typical organization fails to identify all of its
major donor prospects. Some don't identify any. As a result, individuals
who could give thousands or tens of thousands of dollars are sent
direct mail letters requesting contributions of $100 or less.
The good news: hundreds of millions of dollars could be gained
every year by the simple decision to pursue major gifts.
understand first that in asking for a contribution to the nonprofit
on whose board you serve, you are not asking for a personal loan.
Rather, you are so enthusiastic about the work of your organization
that you want to give your friends the opportunity to participate
in the life of the organization by making a contribution.
years ago, a member of our consulting firm accompanied the board
president of a legal aid program on a solicitation visit to the
managing partner of a large local law firm. The board president
and the consultant described the good work of the legal aid program
and emphasized the importance of support from law firms. The managing
partner listened politely to the pitch and replied: "Thank you
for your presentation. I love the work that legal aid does. To
tell you the truth, I'd much rather work for legal aid than for
this stuffy downtown firm. Unfortunately, I have a big mortgage
and two daughters in college; considering the salary you could
pay me, I couldn't possibly work for you. And I'm so busy I don't
even have time to volunteer at legal aid. The least I can do is
give you some money!"
managing partner wanted to demonstrate her respect and affection
for legal aid. She couldn't do so by working, or even volunteering,
there, but she had an option: a financial contribution. Money
in this context is not an end; it is a means to connect with an
organization that excites the donor's imagination.
Fear and Loathing of Fundraising
Let's look at the fears that keep us from raising funds. In our
experience, the most common fears are rejection, embarrassment,
and the quid pro quo. Rejection is the fear we encounter most
frequently: "If I ask a colleague for a contribution and he or
she says 'no,' then, like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz,
I will melt into the floor, never to be heard from again."
convincing you not to fear rejection, it's useful to think of
a vacuum cleaner salesperson going door-to-door. If that salesperson
goes to thirty-five houses and sells ten vacuum cleaners, was
that a good day or a bad day? It was a fine day, even though twenty-five
of the thirty-five prospects said no! The fact that many people
will say no to your solicitations is not the point. What matters
is this: if you do appropriate donor research and approach prospects
intelligently and respectfully, enough of them will say yes to
make your efforts worthwhile.
about embarrassment? We noted earlier that the most important
tactical consideration in fundraising is access to the prospective
donor, yet most folks are terrified to ask intimates for contributions.
Why do we fear asking the people who are closest to us? Some folks
think that fundraising is embarrassing, obnoxious, and invasive;
asking for a contribution, they believe, is trading unethically
on a friendship.
odd, isn't it? We live in a capitalist society, yet the most embarrassing
subject in our society is money. Many of us were taught as children
that it is bad form to inquire how much someone makes, or to estimate
how much someone is worth. Board members have transferred this
prohibition into the fundraising realm- where it does not belong.
Again, we are giving people the opportunity to feel good by helping
an organization that is doing important work. We mustn't let embarrassment
about money get in the way.
third fear we often encounter is the quid pro quo: "If I ask a
friend for a contribution to my organization, what's to stop him
or her from asking me for a contribution to his or her favorite
organization six months from now?" The answer? Nothing at all.
But talk about a poor reason for not doing the fundraising! Your
friend may or may not give to your organization; you may or may
not give to your friend's. The sun will come up tomorrow. In our
many years working with nonprofits, we have never heard of a friendship
destroyed by Person A asking Person B for a philanthropic contribution.
If you-the board member/solicitor-view fundraising as empowering
and ennobling rather than invasive and obnoxious, you will succeed.
Fundraising techniques- which we discuss later- can be learned
with relative ease. The real work is convincing you of the validity
and decency of the fundraising enterprise.
you are interested in ordering the complete book, please click
2004 Zimmerman Lehman