All posts by Maran Collett

Boost board fundraising with LinkedIn

Take-away: Board Members who LinkIn with staff and each other can raise $ without even asking.

“Who do you know?”

Most of us don’t know who we know. Not really. How would you know that your neighbor’s brother works for the Ford Foundation? Or that your tennis partner’s wife handles sponsorship for Wawa? We can’t introduce our nonprofits to connections we don’t know we have.

Actually, you can.

That’s the beauty of LinkedIn. Type in someone’s name or that of a company, and you can see if and how you’re connected. It’s fast, easy, free and available 24/7. Sadly, it doesn’t occur to some board members to LinkIn with each other, much less with senior staff.

Please do it. Please do it now. Because LinkingIn can increase funding in three important ways:

  1. Identify new prospects: I was looking for prospective donors for a small dance company, and finding surprisingly few. So I typed, “dance” into LinkedIn’s Advanced Search keyword field. Several names popped up, including that of a well-heeled lawyer at a nearby firm. As I scrolled through her profile, I saw dance, listed under Causes she cares about. A board member already knew her, but before my LinkedIn search, had no idea she loved dance.
  2. Find connections to identified prospects: Working for a museum, I LinkedIn with their board, senior staff and several docents. The development team had identified a couple who’d never been through our doors. On LinkedIn, I found they were connected to one of our docents. She invited them for a “behind-the-scenes” tour of an exhibit they’d like. They came, were delighted by the exhibit, the museum and her infectious enthusiasm, and plan to come back soon.
  3. Get info to tailor your proposal: We knew the right car dealership to sponsor the zoo, but no one knew the owner. I found I had only one automotive connection on LinkedIn…my mechanic! I called, forlornly hoping he might know someone who knew someone. He laughed and said, “Actually, I dated the owner’s daughter in high school!”  He said she headed the marketing department. Guided by him, I revised our proposal and pitched it to his amused ex-girlfriend.

Never a cold call!

There’s no need to make cold calls. I’ve raised $100+ million building relationships to undiscovered friends. Encourage your board to find their own hidden donors by connecting on social media.

Who knows? Someday a friendly mechanic may help you get a big grant!



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Give your donor a target, not indigestion

Take-away: Asking for specific gift amounts reduces anxiety, is more fun and gets bigger gifts.

Here’s a recipe for heartburn. You dine at a restaurant where the waiter can choose to slip you a bill for $10…or $10,000. You find an outfit you love … in a shop without price tags. Most of us want to know how much things cost and fear, “if you need to ask, you probably can’t afford it.”

Yet, with the best of intentions, you may put a donor in this anxiety-ridden no-man’s land. To avoid putting her in an awkward position or pressuring her, you say, “Just give what you can,” or, “Could you give a bit more than before?” or, worst of all, “I’m sure you’ll do the right thing.”

DONOR: Hearing this, she thinks, OMG, did I give? How much? Was it $200? $1,000? …

It’s almost impossible for her to feel simultaneously generous and anxious. So she prevaricates, saying “I’m not sure, things have been a bit tight lately, I need to talk to my husband.” Or, she makes a low gift of $200, just to be safe. You leave with a smaller gift than last year or no gift at all.

Here’s an alternative. You’ve done your homework, know her interests and how much she gives to your nonprofit and others. You tell her (briefly) why you care and what inspires you to support this cause. You ask her about her own connection, thank her and provide a framework for discussion:

YOU: “Thank you so much for your donation of $500 last year. You helped provide lunch for 30 underserved summer camp kids. They loved the cooking lessons, and learned to make delicious, inexpensive and healthy meals, which I hope you’ll come taste for yourself. Would you consider making a gift of $1,000 so we can expand the program this year?”

Asking for a specific gift amount is less stressful, statistically yields larger gifts and is flattering, as it shows you’ve taken the time to learn about her and that you appreciate her past generosity.

The #1 reason people give is because of who asked them, not for a tax deduction or to see their name in a program. Whatever the response, asking is a wonderful way to get to know a donor and to engage her more deeply in your cause. Without you, she might not have given at all.

After all, how many reminders do you need to write that annual check to your alma mater?


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Teaching your board to ask; don’t put your toddler on a Harley

Take-away: For practice and confidence, ask donors for gifts before asking prospects.

toddler on harley_original

Asking a new board member to solicit non-donors is like teaching a kid to ride a bike by putting her on a Harley. Not a good idea. Yet that’s just about what we do in fundraising. We tell new board members, “You don’t have to ask our donors; they’re already giving! We need you to bring in fresh blood, new donors.”
Subtext: “Get strangers to give us money.”

You’re afraid it will be awkward, because your friends and associates don’t yet know/care about your nonprofit. Or that it will be uncomfortable, because they may feel you’re using them. Worse, even if they do give when you ask them this time, unless you get them involved in the interim, they probably won’t give next year. So you’ll be back where you started. Except you may feel tongue-tied with some friends, family and colleagues.

Are you squirming yet?

The Golden Ask method of fundraising does just the opposite. I begin by assigning board members to solicit those who are already giving and almost certain to say “Yes!” Sometimes I even have board members solicit each other. This is great practice, because they know they’ll be asking their partner in turn, and become proactively generous as a result. I then assign novice solicitors to ask 2-3 current donors, one after another. After several successful visits, they are thrilled with getting big gifts. These board members are convinced they’re darned good fundraisers. And you know what? They’re right!

Asking donors before you ask prospects has several additional advantages.
1. Donors are your best prospects. It’s easier to get current donors to renew, perhaps even increase, their gift than it is to get someone who’s never contributed to give for the first time. So you raise more money asking donors than you do asking prospects.

2. They deserve it. Taking time to meet with your donors tells them they’re important to you. Remember, there’s no rule saying that because Ms. X has given you $100/year for the last ten years she’s got to do it again. Don’t make the mistake of losing her by taking her for granted.

3. You’ll learn a lot. You’ll learn about your donors’ backgrounds and what drew them to your cause. They may share happy news… congratulate them! They may share bad news or challenging situations, including financial ones. Empathize. Assure them they’re valued partners, not just ATMs. Hold onto these people and you may find they become tremendous champions.
Give your board some fundraising training wheels before they have to make the more difficult asks. It doesn’t mean they won’t bring new donors into the fold later. They’ll just be much better at it when they do.



Image by CindysArt, via

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