Ask Unabashedly

For some reason we live in a society where we feel we have to apologize for asking for money for a good cause.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  And experience has shown me that when “you put it out there” – your volunteers and your donors embrace it.

Several years ago I was working with an organization and we really wanted to “step-up” the fund-raising at our event.  It had been relatively successful, but we felt it could raise significantly more.  Each year we were able to generate lots of excitement and enthusiasm at the event – but we had never figured out how to parlay that energy into financial support.   There was a reticence among some of our volunteers to change the event.  But they all wanted to take it to the next level.  So, at our pre-event planning kick-off party, we decorated everything in green, put out faux gold coins on the table, distributed pencils decorated as dollar bills and passed out monopoly money when people arrived.  And then we stated our purpose was to raise money – and all our efforts were going toward that.   We didn’t say we were “friend-raising” (ps – I hate that term), or thanking our donors, or cultivating new donors.  We were up-front, direct, honest, and there was no confusion of why we were there – to raise money – and yes, to ASK PEOPLE TO GIVE TO YOUR CAUSE!.  Committees were formed for the express purpose of raising money (not planning the menu).  It worked.  It set the organization on a new course – and yes, that year we tripled what we had raised in the past.  

There is one indisputable truth you must remember when you are raising money.   Raising money – whether it is at an event, through an appeal, or face-to-face happens for one reason and one reason only – your cause, the reason you exist, the difference you make in this world.  It has touched people’s hearts.  This is truly the one time in life you can say it is all about you … and mean it! So, that is the ultimate reason you are having a fund-raising event, or any other fund-raising effort.  Because you make our world a better place to live – and you need to raise the money to do that.  So go ahead, – ask unabashedly.

PS – If you would like to learn more about asking unabashedly at your next event click here to check out my Fundraising EventBox.

Mission Matters…

For the past ten plus years my local library has been planning a renovation and addition to its current building.  It is woefully small and cramped and crowded.  In spite of that it provides such an incredible service to the residents in the town and always has. The planned expansion has spanned the terms of many Boards and has had its share of ups and downs.  And there are still hurdles to overcome.  I should know – I am the current President.  As of this moment in time we have the architect, all the town approvals, and over 80% of the funds have been raised.  This Friday at the Library’s Annual Meeting, we will be updating our membership on the status of this proposed expansion – and for the occasion – we created a photographic video which shows the progression of the library from 1926 and concludes with a walk-through of the new building.  It is very exciting.

As I previewed the video, I was struck by the library’s history and the thread that weaves together past, current and future generations.  The original library was built because of “fundraising, some very generous contributions and the efforts of many.”  Today, the new library will be built because of fundraising, some very generous contributions and the efforts of many.  In so many ways, this is the natural progression and mirrors community organizations throughout the country.  Everywhere Boards struggle to do the right thing, to make progress, to build on what has gone before, and to strike out in new directions.  I often think of it as a relay race – with one Board passing the torch to the next and so on, and so on.  We learn from those who have gone before, we add our own mark, and we move the process forward.  And when we have the luxury of looking back over decades of progress we are struck not so much by our differences – but by our similarities.  The common thread is mission.  How we run the race matters – and never losing sight of the finish line matters even more.

Tea With Your Favorite Aunt

Remember visiting with your favorite aunt?  The wonderful smell of her house, how you always seemed to be on your best behavior, listening to stories of times gone by?  There was a magic, an aura and a special bond that was forged between the two of you.  Often over a cup of tea.

That’s what I think of when I think about planned giving.  I don’t think of CRATS or CRUTS or any of those other fancy technical terms.  I don’t think of marketing strategies, or round tables for professional advisors.  And I don’t think of the tax benefits or actuarial tables that excite my many financial planning friends.

I think of having tea with my favorite aunt.

It’s on my mind right now because I’m preparing for a talk I will be presenting on planned giving.    As I think about how to talk with Executive Directors, and Development Directors and Board members of non-profits about planned giving – what I really want to say is go have a cup of tea with your best donors.  Listen to why your charity matters, what has compelled them to give to you for so many years – sometimes not missing a single occasion for decades.  Share your stories and build that special bond that sometimes can only happen over a cup of tea.

Now, I know the marketing and the technicalities, and the tax benefits are all important.  And, to be sure, you best be having tea with the right donors.  But, the gift and the legacy will come about because of the bond you forge and the values you share with a donor.  Along with that cup of tea.

Fundraising is a Conversation

Last night I spoke to the Board of the Montessori School in Wilton.  Almost all of the members of the Board have experience raising funds, along with a strong commitment and willingness to raise funds.  So I was cognizant of not wanting to “preach to the choir” or go into all those fundraising tactics, that – quite honestly – are primarily of interest to development professionals.  What interests a Board member is different.

Volunteers are the backbone of any organization.  And volunteers who are raising funds are  about as good as it gets.  So, what is the one thing that can make a volunteer feel comfortable about raising money?  I think it’s simple.   If you believe that the basic premise of raising money is “people give to people” – then fundraising is a conversation.

The very best fundraisers are people who know how to connect with other people; and connect in a meaningful way.  They are not afraid to share stores, or values or the things that touch the heart.

Everywhere in America people today are raising money – after all, it’s event season.   In communities throughout our country volunteers are working hard to stage galas and walks and benefits of all shapes and sizes.  Many might be worrying about the food they will be serving, getting the right auction items or whether enough people will show up.  This is all important.  What is just as important, though, is how you engage your guests and tie them to your cause.  And my suggestion is to begin a conversation with every guest or participant at your event by asking a magic question.  A magic question is one that brings the conversation around to the services and impact your charity offers.  A magic question explores stories, values and things that touch the heart.   Here are three magic questions for you to bring along and ask at your next event:

1)      How are you connected with this wonderful organization?
2)      What brought you to this event?
3)      Is there anyone you know that has been helped by the work this organization does?

Ask – and then don’t be afraid to share your own story – that is how conversations work.

Once you start sharing, then it is easy to see how “fundraising is a conversation”.  And here is one other secret — conversations that focus on what really matters naturally progress to “how can I help”.  And I think we know the answer to that question.

Ethics…Yawn?

Before your eyes glaze over …  I think it is interesting to note that The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported a new poll by AFP that showed ethical dilemmas are relatively rare in fund raising, and that “the lion’s share of fundraisers – 82 percent — face ethical dilemmas once a month or less.” That may be rare – unless you happen to be facing your monthly ethical dilemma.  But, if we come right down to the matter — I think we face ethical dilemmas everyday in the small, seemingly innocuous decisions we make.   

Recently my co-vice president of Professional Advancement for the Association of Development Officers in Westchester – Paula Barbag – and I put together a luncheon program on “ethics.”  We asked Dr. Gene Buccini to facilitate and came up with a number of situations that could pose an ethical dilemma.  These were discussed at the respective luncheon tables – and then the thoughts were shared among all the guests. The discussion was fascinating, particularly as there was never any real consensus, but a lot of “it depends …” (And, as most of the group was development officers, they seemed to always be trying to find ethical ways to accept the contribution.  No real surprise there.) 

How we behave, and how we receive and present information actually poses potential ethical decisions all the time.  We just happen to make them without giving them a lot of thought.  But, just for a few minutes, I’d like to challenge you to think about a few situations that might give you pause – and possibly present an ethical dilemma.

  • Are you being truthful when you present a hopeful scenario on a grant application, knowing that your organization, like all others, faces some problems that may not be quite as promising as you portrayed?
  • How honest are you when you estimate the proportion of your budget that goes to fundraising and the percentage that goes to programs? 
  • How do you count the number of people affected by the services your organization provides?
  • What if a donor makes unreasonable demands on your organization, such as asking for benefits not accorded to other donors, or even requiring an inordinate amount of time from staff?  What about if it is time they are taking from program staff?
  • What if a donor left your development officer in his/her will – in addition to your organization?  Or what if your organization was excluded and the development officer was not?  Yikes
  • Should a major donor be given special privileges?  When is it ok? When is it considered favoritism?  Consider concierge services at a hospital or the admissions office of a college or university.
  • What if a major donor made a “pass” at a young attractive fundraiser on your staff?  What if the donor was married and the staff member complained?   What if it was at a gala and the fundraiser was dressed provocatively?  Uh-oh.
  • Should the CEO of an organization be given a loan from the nonprofit he/she runs to pay his or her mortgage or debt if the individual were experiencing legitimate financial problems, such as an illness in his/her family?  And he/she has worked there 20 + years?
  • Should you accept a large gift from someone for a purpose that deviates from your mission?  What if it is a VERY large gift with a promise of an endowment?
  • How do you report how much you raised from your event – what do you count, what don’t you count – and do you report net or gross to your Board?  Is that the same number you report to the public?

 Every one of these questions have actually been experienced by people working at or affiliated with a not for profit organization.  And they were pretty agonizing.  There are no “right or wrong” answers, in most instances — or perhaps you think there are.  My favorite explanation of whether or not you are being ethical is:  “can you look your mother in the eye?”    Hmmmmmm ….. Post a Comment … Let me know what you think …..