It all boils down to “the ask”, doesn’t it? All the phone calls, lunches, meetings, tours, events, trips; all that cultivation, it’s all fun and games until the ask.
People give money because they care about the cause, because they feel a duty to give, because they want to make a difference, but the most important reason people give is because they are asked.
As fundraisers, we build relationships. We get to know our donors through the cultivation process. We listen. We learn how they got involved with our organization. We learn what interests them and why. We hear about their families, the trips they take, and their desire to give back. In this process, we sometimes become friends, and that can be a good thing.
I have something to confess. I am a fundraiser and I’ve been uncomfortable asking my friends for money for the organization I work for. There, I said it.
If a friendship already exists, shouldn’t it be easier? The cultivation process is the same, but it feels awkward to me, like I’m taking advantage of the friendship. So, I decided to do something about it. I became a volunteer for the Dear Neighbor Campaign of the American Heart Association.
If you’re not familiar with the campaign, the American Heart Association asks people to volunteer to solicit their neighbors for donations. Volunteers are given a financial goal and the names and addresses of only a few neighbors. The fundraising kit includes pre-printed solicitation letters, mailing envelopes, reply envelopes, thank you receipts, and a return envelope for all the donations your neighbors make. It’s all very well organized.
I was asked to seek contributions from three neighbors. My goal was to raise $50. I decided, almost immediately, that I would exceed my goal and ask twelve neighbors to contribute, but only the ones who knew me, and that I would match the largest contribution.
Personalizing the letters with a handwritten note, “I hope you will join me in making a donation to the American Heart Association,” off I went to hand deliver the requests to my neighbors and friends (including one who is also a fundraiser).
Of the twelve neighbors I solicited, six made a donation. A 50 percent response rate, not bad! In six weeks, I raised $135 and contributed another $50 myself for a total of $185; more than tripling my goal.
Now of course, I realize in the whole scheme of things, this experiment is a tiny endeavor, hardly worth any serious analysis, but remember my original purpose for doing this. I felt empowered asking my neighbors as a volunteer for an organization I care about, and I followed up with each donor, via email, to ask why they gave.
Every single person said they gave because I asked them. A few also said because they value the work of the American Heart Association. One responded they respected me and were honored to give for that reason. (That was a nice confidence booster!) One woman even confessed that she volunteered last year, but was so afraid to ask our neighbors for money that she just mailed in the contribution herself on behalf of everyone. She was pleased I was taking this on and thanked me for doing so.
Asking is the most important part of fundraising, and so many people are afraid or uncomfortable doing it, especially when it involves friends. If that’s you, I challenge you to challenge yourself. As you’ve just read, even the smallest of efforts can offer professional growth and valuable lessons learned. What lessons did I learn?
Lesson #1: My neighbor’s responses reaffirmed my belief that people do give if asked and because of who is doing the asking.
Lesson #2: Asking friends, neighbors and people you know for money is not difficult. Start small and work your way up to it.
Lesson #3: Take me out of my organization and put me in a volunteer role fundraising for another charity is something I really enjoy. The stakes aren’t as high.
Lesson #4: The fundraiser in my neighborhood who I solicited never responded to my request. Hummm….that could be the subject of another article, “Fundraisers and their own Philanthropy.”
Now back to the ask.
We ask because it’s our job. We ask because we have something to offer and because there is a need. We ask because it’s the only way people will give. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a friend about making a donation to my organization. He’s familiar with the organization and has expressed interest in our mission and work. It was a nice conversation, and while I didn’t officially ask him yet, I opened the door for a potential gift that I think has a good chance of happening.
So be confident. Ask your friends. Ask your neighbors. You might be surprised with the results. And once you start asking, don’t stop.