Constantly I hear that fundraising is changing. There are many new things that will alter the way we raise funds. New! New! New! But in the 30 years I’ve been involved with fundraising, and 20 before that where I was doing or responsible for sales and marketing in for profit organizations in the financial and graphic arts industries, not much has really changed. Getting someone to buy-in to what you are selling or promoting is pretty much the same now as it was then.
There is an old saying in fundraising that success comes from the right person talking with the right prospect about the right project at the right price at the right time in the right way. This is as true in for profit sales as it is for fund development.
Identifying all those rights is the true work of fundraising. And, as with most things, there are so many different starting points.
You can first decide that you must raise money for a specific purpose. You would then move to put price and value on that project. And then you would ask who cares? Once you know who cares, you figure out who the right person to open the door and bring the person through.
Or you can start with a time frame. Annual fund does just that–we have these many weeks or this year to raise this amount of money.
The most obvious place is to start at the top–with the people. Who do we want to ask, and who is the best person to help with that prospect?
Choosing your right audience and then framing your message to resonate with that audience is critical. And, as with all sales, the higher the cost the more you have to find what matters to you prospect.
At the lower end, you are focused on your product or service and cost. In fundraising that means telling your prospects and donors what is important to you and your clients, and asking them to support you. While it is best to have an amount in mind, it is pretty general–either based on what they have given in the past or a number (or numbers–chose from A, B, or C) plucked somewhat randomly.
At the higher levels, you may do some research to see who could afford what you are selling, or who would be great prospects to help fund your project, your cause, your organization. And then it is your job to learn why they may want to give and what they expect in return.
To do that successfully, you should be talking with your prospects rather than pitching to them. A few years ago, one my clients was totally frustrated. They had met, several times, with a wealthy prospect–one who had supported the organization at high levels in the past. And at each meeting–as they had at all past meetings–they thanked the donor for taking the meeting and then proceeded to tell them what the organization needed and how much they expected the prospect to give for that purpose. But this time, the prospect was not buying.
I suggested that the next meeting take a different tack. Start with acknowledging their wonderful and important past support and then ask them why the organization mattered to them. And then listen to what they say.
It turned out, that what the organization was pitching did not matter at all to the donor. By asking, they discovered that the family had a high interest in something else—something that the organization was very interested in pursuing. And while it took quite a while, in the end, the donor made the largest gift the organization had ever received and helped to create a critical program.