I often get asked by start-up nonprofits how to raise money. The panic of making budget seems to make raising money impossible without knowing someone rich and famous like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.
But fundraising isn’t impossible. It can an incredibly exciting adventure. Here is a simple plan I recommend to my clients. It can get you off to a good start and keep being used for years to come. To keep it easy, I implore them to “Get R.E.A.L.”
The basic model I use for asking is the acronym R.E.A.L.: Research, Engage, Ask, and Love.
RESEARCH: The first step of research is to find out how much you need to raise. This may seem obvious but my experience is that most groups never put a specific dollar amount on their need.
Once that need is determined, it’s important to research how many gifts you’ll need. If you’re attempting to raise $100,000, the knee-jerk reaction will probably be “We just need to find 100 people that will give us $1,000.” As nice as that seems, decades of fundraising experience show that that simply isn’t how it works.
One of the most helpful tools is a gift grid. A free online version can be found at sites like Blackbaud.com. Long-standing common wisdom shows that you’ll need at least one gift equaling 10% of the total. The next two should equal 5% of the total, etc.
So, to reach your goal of $100,000, you’ll need at least one donor to give a minimum of $10,000. Experience shows that you’ll need to have 4 or 5 prospects to achieve that gift. Work through the grid until you have names of prospects for each level.
As you’re building your prospect list, you’ll want to continue your research. Google can be an incredibly helpful tool. So can your board members and a development committee in the form of a peer review committee. You could invite these people, remind them of your cause and fundraising goals, and ask them to go over the names of prospects.
One simple method of doing this is conducting what I call a “cpi screening”: rating each prospect on capacity, philanthropy, and interest.
- Does the prospect have CAPACITY—are they financially able to make a gift?
- Are they PHILANTHROPIC—are they generous with their money. You need to be a good steward of your resources, if the prospect can’t make a worthwhile gift or doesn’t have a track record of giving you would be better served seeking donations elsewhere.
- Are they INTERESTED in your cause? You can find this out by looking at other causes they’ve supported and by asking people close to your organization.
Have the people on the committee assign a score of 1-5 for each category—1 being lowest, 5 being highest. This is tool can be useful because it removes individual personalities from the prospect rating process and makes it feel more objective. You should promptly visit anyone scoring 12 or more.
But watch for those with high scores in the first two categories and some inclination to your cause. While you can’t make someone more wealthy or generous, but you can have a chance at making someone more interested in your organization. Which brings us to the second step, engage.
ENGAGE: I like to think of this as the dating part of the relationship. It’s important to get to know your prospects before you “pop the question.” While you’ll certainly want to share the story of your cause, take time to get to know them—listen to their story, discover their interests, hear their goals. If the prospect has c and p then here’s where you work on i.
ASK: The number one reason people don’t give money to your cause is that they are not asked. Even if you skip the prior two steps, you’ll still reach some level of success by consistently executing this one.
If you’ve done the first two steps, this step will be quite fun. You’ll already have the odds in your favor. You know that they are predisposed to saying “yes” and you’ll have had time to shape the ask around their passions.
I recommend asking people for gifts spread out over a period of time: i.e. “$1000 a year for three years.” This both shows you consider your cause important enough for a substantial investment and it saves you from having to ask them again and again.
LOVE: I originally called this step Live/Like/Love. This is easy if the prospect says “yes” when you’ve asked. You simply need to be sure to thank them about seven times before you ask them again.
But fundraising is all about relationships. The work really starts if they’ve said “no.” The big thing is to not burn any bridges. If you made it all the way to the ask, you had good reason to believe they’d say yes. The timing simply might not have been right. If you keep in touch with them, they just may give in the future. People will remember you if you’re exceptional at handling a “no.” And refusing a request can be so difficult, they’ll be grateful for your composure.
Listen to Marc’s Audio Interview – Hear Marc elaborate on the “Get REAL” system for asking for donations, strategies for recruiting and developing a strong board, tips on how to make new contacts and more.
Ask Without Fear – Marc’s book that outlines this fundraising strategy, including practical examples. An easy to read book that you can put into practice to feel more confident asking for donations.