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