When all else fails, there is one fact that convinces me I am in the right line of work: I enjoy asking people for money. Apparently, that puts me in a strict minority among the rest of the world’s inhabitants. They say that asking for money ranks just behind speaking in public and death on a list of peoples’ least favorite activities.
A little fear can be a good thing. It keeps you sharp, aware of what is happening, and forces you to operate at the top of your game. Too much fear, though, is a hindrance to effective solicitations. Development professionals and volunteers must equip themselves with a method for quieting their fear and remaining focused on the goal at hand.
The first weapon a solicitor has against their fear is knowledge. They should develop a comprehensive awareness of the organization, its history, and the specific project for which funding is being sought. The development office should have this information prepackaged and available for anyone soliciting funds on behalf of the organization. Solicitors should have access to the organization’s senior staff for any questions left unanswered by the material.
The other side of this point is knowledge of the prospect. This should focus on two areas: their capability and their inclination. Both of these motivating factors can be evaluated through personal contact with the prospect’s peers and other leaders in the community. This research need not be conducted by the solicitor, but may have been conducted through a feasibility study or some other formal process.
There are a great many ways to research someone’s capability, particularly if they are a public person or have their wealth invested in public companies. While this is helpful, a person’s inclination to give to the organization often influences their decision more than their capability. Determining someone’s willingness to support a particular organization can only be determined through subjective conversations and interviews.
Some trepidation will be alleviated once the solicitor is armed with comprehensive knowledge of the project and a good understanding of why this prospect is worthy of attention. Unfortunately, that does nothing to abate the natural fear that accompanies asking someone for a large contribution. This dread centers primarily on the fear of rejection; with good cause, too, as many solicitations do not yield the requested commitment.
Handling this fear depends upon the attitude of the solicitor and their ability to maintain a proper perspective on the task. People dislike asking for money because they have convinced themselves that they are imposing upon someone and forcing them to do something they would rather not. The opposite is actually the truth. People are typically generous, and are more than willing to field requests for a gift to an organization they support.
The attitude that will most likely yield success requires turning a central tenet on its head: the solicitor is not asking for a gift, they are giving a gift. The gift the solicitor is giving is the opportunity to participate in the life of the organization at the highest possible level. This attitude is borne of pride for the organization and its goals. The entire solicitation should center on the idea of presenting a rare opportunity to join a worthy endeavor. This exclusivity will make the cause all the more attractive to the prospect and will communicate the importance of the request.
The most basic reason for someone to make a major contribution is because they believe their gift will change other peoples’ lives for the better. Solicitations rarely fail when the volunteer or staff person is able to communicate that feeling. Sincerity sells, and the ability of the solicitor to convey their faith in the project is a critical aspect of success. If the solicitor truly believes in the organization and the campaign, that will come through in their presentation.
This sincerity has its roots in the solicitor’s sense of pride about their work. If they believe, deep down, that the mission and the project are critical needs, they will have a much easier time asking others to join. That strong sense of pride yields a level of comfort that counters the natural fear of asking for money. Then the meeting becomes simply friends asking friends to support an organization about which they both care deeply. That is not a dreadful task, but an opportunity to be embraced.
I continually find myself representing wonderful organizations, performing critical work to improve their community. I sit with a dedicated staff member and an impassioned volunteer as they outline their vision to a good friend who shares their optimism and dedication. After several minutes of making the case we arrive at the reason for the meeting, “Steve and Judy, we would like the two of you to consider a pledge to the campaign of $20,000 per year for each of the next five years. How does that sound to you?” The pause that follows is as exhilarating to me as anything I experience in my professional life. The positive answer that often follows makes me glad, and proud, to be a fundraiser.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of North America's most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.