A great volunteer, George, once told me and a group of young volunteers why he loved to ask people to give. He said when he asks for a gift the organization wins because it can serve more people. The people we are serving win because we can provide better services. Most importantly the people I ask for a gift win because they have an opportunity to participate in their community.
People want to participate in and improve their communities and community development corporations are in an ideal position to provide citizens such opportunities. While fundraising may seem like a foreign skill to learn, you actually already know everything you need to know to solicit contributions. It is all about communications, human relations, and good manners.
Think of a circle; once you get on you keep going around. You want to have a circle of communications with your contributors, so your contributors stay with you from first gift, to thank you, to you keeping your promises, and to their giving again.
From the beginning be clear in your request, whether it is for volunteer time or for a gift. Let your potential contributors know:
- What problem are you addressing?
- Why are you the organization to address these problems and needs?
- What successes can you point to that gives them confidence in your capabilities?
- How will gifts make this happen?
- Will gifts pave the way for other funding?
- What are all the ways they can be involved? Give them a clear description of volunteer, sponsorship, and giving opportunities, including giving levels.
Then keep this circle of connection, involvement, and giving intact. Acknowledge every gift promptly. Regularly communicate with contributors and prospective contributors to inform them of your accomplishments, new opportunities to participate, and how others are involved as volunteers and contributors.
When I was working with volunteers to solicit gifts for the music program at a church, we established one rule about who to solicit. If the family had an interest in the music program, one of us met with them. This proved successful when a young couple with very young children came forward and gave the lead gift for the campaign in response to one of our volunteers meeting with them. We would not have asked them for that amount, but graciously accepted their gift. Follow the interest!
It all begins with building relationships with people. You want to make connections and build relationships for the life of your organization. People like to participate with organizations - as volunteers and contributors - where they feel involved and where they relate well with others involved. More and more people give to where they volunteer and where they spend their time. The first steps to the gift and the solicitation are getting people involved in your events and your meetings.
Volunteers are vitally important to cultivating and soliciting prospective contributors. Organizations can expand their reach by encouraging their volunteers to connect with people in their network of friends, neighbors, family, and business. The best cultivation and solicitation calls are made by volunteers; followed by an employee with a volunteer; followed by an employee going solo.
When you meet with prospective contributors, here are a few thoughts to get your discussion started and to lead the conversation as to how they will participate with their gift.
- What is your connection to our work?
- How do you typically decide which organizations to contribute to?
- What do you expect from the organizations you give to?
- Do you have suggestions on how we could improve the information we provide you?
- Would you encourage others to give to us?
- What is the greatest joy you have had from a gift you made? Why?
Do what it takes to make the other person comfortable. Good manners answer all the detail questions we have. From how many times do I need to meet someone before I ask for a gift? Do I write, call, or meet in person? Remember, simple courtesies go a long way. When in doubt ask if this is a good time to speak with the potential contributor about a gift and about getting more involved with your organization.
And always, always acknowledge every gift. It is the beginning of a long-term relationship and the next gift.
Rita Fuerst Adams transforms charitable and philanthropic organizations at the heart of social change into professionally run, better funded, effective organizations. For more than three decades, and throughout the U.S., Rita has served charitable and philanthropic organizations with operating budgets of $1 million to $1.5 billion and resulting campaigns ranging from $1 million to $450 million. Her experience includes working with causes in education, youth, the arts, community and economic development, historic preservation, health care, international relations, and professional and civic affairs. http://rita1st.com/