The Fundraising Committee: Reflecting on a Year – Part I

Abigail HarmonThis year, I started a series as the chair of the fundraising committee (click here to read the first few articles) of a small nonprofit.  Some months there were concepts that would not be appropriate for public consumption – even without names. And during other months I realized that not everything we discussed was interesting enough to write about.  Hard to believe that could happen at a fundraising committee, but true.

But as I reflect on the past year (during which we accomplished many of our goals) there are two interesting themes that continued to surface at meetings as well as the conversations in between. To dive deep into the subject and offer details, I have split the ideas into two posts. Look for part two in a couple of weeks. And for today, consider:

The Direct ask vs. the Soft ask 

Throughout the year we have had discussions about the way to ask prospective donors for money. And we often refer to it as the hard vs soft “ask.” I am, unsurprisingly, an advocate for a direct and frequent “ask.” It came up when we discussed:

  • a letter. I recommend placing the ask it in the first few paragraphs (David will say it should be in the first one but I often prefer to start with a story) and again at the end.
  • email follow-ups Email follow-ups are easy for you and easy for donors so why wouldn’t you send a couple to follow up on an annual appeal letter? (Side note: anyone who should be stewarded as a major donor should never be sent a general email appeal unless they are not responding in other ways). Ideally, you have the capability to remove prospects who have already given this year, but if not, graciously thank those who have already given in the first sentence.
  • personal asks. Personal asks are not an intrusion if the person feels connected to the organization and has been appropriately stewarded. I suggest you assume that if they are considered a major donor at your nonprofit, they are probably considered a major donor somewhere else. And you can be sure that they are having a personal conversation and directly asking for a sizable donation. Who do you think this donor will feel more connected to in the future – the person who set the meeting or the person that was hesitant to set anything up?
  • annoying donors. Sometimes you will get the message across without ever speaking to the person. While I recommend everyone make the calls and meet with the prospective donors – I don’t want to annoy somebody so much that they begin to dislike the organization. After a couple of unreturned voice mails, what can you do?
    • Send an email asking if they would be interested in meeting (make sure there is a subtle link to donate in your signature)
    • Send a survey created for this purpose via email and/or mail. Ask for their preferred methods of contact as well as questions about the organization that you would have asked during a meeting (ask for advice – not just money)
    • Send a personalized update through mail or email (depending on the prospect’s preferences) with a handwritten note hoping you can get together soon.

The point is to engage the donor and ask for a gift. But if they won’t speak to you, encourage ways they can give without a meeting.

You may have noticed that I did not give voice to the soft ask. While I appreciate the sensitivity that gives voice to that point of view, I have found that the push for a softer ask often comes from fear. Fear of upsetting or annoying someone, fear of being laughed at for the outrageous sum for which you asked, fear of hearing no, or fear of the unknown. Fears that may come true, but really, so what?

I’m sure it’s not the first time you have heard no or were laughed at and it won’t be the last. How you react to each situation will be the true test of whether your ask, and your campaign, will be successful.