Secret No 1
The Right Volunteers
Volunteers must be the ones who ask prospects for big gifts. This is not a job for staff not even the executive director. It is certainly not a job for consultants.
Some organizations with few or no staff have dreamed of hiring someone to look after fundraising for them. Re-evaluate! Staff can fill in grant applications for government, foundations, and some corporations. Staff or consultants can handle direct-mail campaigns. It is even possible (if expensive) to pay people to make telephone fundraising calls.
Appeals to major individual prospects, however, must be led by volunteers. A staff person may accompany the volunteer on a visit to an individual prospect, but should never take the lead role. There are several reasons for this.
First, donors expect to be visited by volunteers, not staff. As one donor said, If the organization can't get a volunteer out for the 15 or 20 minutes it will take to talk to me, they are in big trouble, and I'm not throwing good money after bad.
When staff people ask for donations, it looks too much like they are asking for their own salary and often, they are! Volunteers convey sufficient distance to keep the focus where it belongs: on the work the organization will accomplish with the donors' money. In rare cases, where a senior staff person carries a great deal of prestige, he or she can be involved in a fundraising presentation. A university president or a dean, a bishop or a respected rabbi, a scientist or a noted journalist, for example, may be exceptions to the rule.
In addition, face-to-face solicitation often depends on personal contacts. At a forum I helped organize on major gifts, philanthropist Lyman Henderson talked about who can ask him for a donation:
It must be a personal approach by someone we know. And the credibility of the appeal is going to be very much dependent on the credibility of the person we know, and the degree of friendship or the degree of prestige or whatever, that that person has.22
Other people have said much the same. For his book Mega Gifts, Jerold Panas interviewed people who had given donations of over $1 million. Here's how one of them described the importance of who asks.
George Pardee tells how having `the right' person call on him can make the difference:
Don't let this frighten you away. Many people assume they don't know anyone who could be a major donor. As you will see in this book, most people have more contacts than they realize at first. Further on, we'll explain how to work with people you don't know, and develop new contacts.
However, everybody has a limited number of existing contacts. If you depended only on staff people to use their contacts, their lists would quickly be exhausted. Fortunately, every volunteer brings his or her own circle of friends, and each new volunteer brings more contacts.
Finally, face-to-face fundraising takes time. It does not make sense to pay people to do what volunteers can do. Although the rewards are very large, volunteer labour is still more cost-efficient. In this era, all nonprofits have to be highly cost-conscious.
Despite my strong conviction that this work is best done by volunteers, there may be exceptions to this rule. I write this reluctantly, fearful that some novices will see this as an excuse not to follow the more difficult, but more effective route of volunteer leadership.
A volunteer who knows the prospective donor will almost always be the best door-opener. If you don't have such a volunteer, however, the choice comes down to approaching the prospect now with a staff person or waiting until you can find the right volunteer. In some cases, the group's need is so urgent that it just can't wait. In others, the chances of finding a good volunteer (even after reading the rest of this chapter) may seem low. If that is your situation, begin the process with staff but use the most senior staff person you have. More research, more homework, and more visits will almost certainly be required to achieve success.
But in an article devoted to taking a contrary view of accepted wisdom, US fundraiser Michael F Luck writes:
One way to be an effective peer fundraiser is to become well known in the community. This is accomplished by being active in the community getting on boards, helping other nonprofits and socializing. The bottom line is: If you do not have social events in your home for people in the community, they will not invite you to theirs.24
Is there a role for consultants?
Consultants can be of great help, but they can't do it for you. The are not for every organization, either.
As solicitors, consultants invite even more controversy than staff. Prospects may see them as mercenaries without real loyalty. Despite many honourable consultants with outstanding records of public service, the behaviour of a few unscrupulous individuals has led to understandable concerns. This is especially a problem if the consultants are paid a commission based on a percentage of the total raised, or if they contact prospects on the group's behalf. Ethical consultants are paid according to the amount of time they work, and they always stay behind the scenes. They must not act as your `sales representatives'.
Although I am writing this as a self-help book, I am also head of a consulting firm. To avoid a conflict of interest in answering this question, let me turn to Lyman Henderson:
A fundraising company will:
It will not:
Professional fundraising companies are particularly valuable in one-shot appeals, where you have neither the time nor opportunity to build up experience and expertise. They are also excellent when an organization is starting out on the campaign trail. In these cases they can be worth their weight in gold. But they would be the first to say that their value is in the relatively short term while they train your volunteers to do the job themselves. Are you too small to interest a fundraising company? Why not ask them? They'll soon tell you whether they're interested or not.
It is essential to build up a professional approach and method in fundraising. If you are new to the game, you can follow the twisted trail of trial and error (if you survive long enough) or you can recruit or hire experienced help. Having tried both, I strongly recommend getting a consultant on board even if you have to pay for it.25
To get a list of consultants, contact:The Canadian Centre for Philanthropy
1329 Bay Street
How many volunteers do you need?
You need volunteers to do several different tasks. Depending on your situation, these may include:
In small organizations, the same volunteers will do all these different types of work. This is easiest to administer, and makes sense when there aren't many people. In addition, it saves a lot of formal research if a volunteer who knows the potential donor well handles all the phases. That may not always be the best way, however.
If your current volunteers are overworked or don't feel competent to do some part of this, you may need to recruit others with special skills. Many grassroots groups find that their volunteers and board are very committed to the cause, but don't approach prospects directly because they are too busy or because it makes them uncomfortable.
It may be appropriate to divide the tasks according to special abilities. Someone who is good at research may not be good at asking directly, or vice versa. Or someone who is good at asking may be too busy to handle the other details.
At least ten volunteers are required. Below that number, it is hard to sustain enthusiasm. It may also be hard to keep up the momentum if one or more volunteers drop out for personal reasons. It is possible to succeed with fewer volunteers but it is harder.
What would be a good job description for a volunteer solicitor?
The volunteer solicitors you need must be willing to:
Why is it better to have volunteers work in teams of two?
Have your askers work in pairs. Two people should visit each potential donor.
This does mean it will take more volunteers than if one person visits alone twice as many. The results are worth it, however.
It is tempting to skip this stage. Some inexperienced people let the volunteers decide for themselves if they want to team up. This is a bad idea. Here is how one fundraiser learned the merit of visiting in teams:
One prospect taught me the value of taking along a co-solicitor. He was a master of dramatically and unexpectedly changing the subject. Just when I thought he was ready to hear an important point or was primed to respond positively to my donation request, wham! off he went on an unrelated topic.
Match the teams up carefully, if you can. There are various ways to do this. Hints for matching include:
How much time will this require?
Each visit will take from twenty minutes to an hour. (If the volunteers stays longer than that, they're visiting their friends, not making a fundraising call.) A few prospects may require a second visit, or even a third.
A volunteer team will need time to plan a strategy before visiting. Allow a little more time to make notations in the file after each visit. Add in a little travel time to and from each visit. Altogether, it may take five to ten hours for this segment.
Add to this two or three hours for a post-campaign session to share lessons learned, to evaluate and to celebrate. Include the three hours for training noted above. We're now up to between 10 and 22 hours.
If the same volunteers are involved in identifying potential new donors, an additional two or three hours each will be needed.
Researching the prospects is important, particularly if you are approaching people you don't know very well, and even more so if you are looking for very large sums of money. The amount of time for research is harder to estimate. An hour or two is often plenty for covering the main points for an average prospect. However, when the prospect is well known or exceptionally generous, research can continue to uncover useful information for much longer days and days. But that is rare for a grassroots group.
Where can you find volunteers?
There are people in almost every community who would be willing to help you raise money. Many organizations are surprised to discover how easy it can be to line up volunteers.
Start with people who already know your organization. They are already supporters, and have a good understanding of your purposes. It will take less time to convince them of the need or to educate them on your work. They may need training on how to ask for a big donation, though. Begin with:
Some groups are hesitant to bring in `outsiders'. Self-help groups, for example, may feel that no one else can understand the situation the way they do. Sports groups think that people who don't participate (or drive their kids to practice) will not care as deeply. Cultural groups may suspect that people not steeped in the intricacies of their culture won't communicate in the same way.
All that may be true, but outside people can still be useful, even if sometimes in a limited way. Often, outside people are interested and supportive. Discovering how to include them can be energizing and liberating.
Care should be taken in opening your group up to new volunteers, of course. Don't ask them to do too much too soon. Don't give them too much power before you have developed trust.
Here are some examples of outside people who would be particularly useful to recruit to help with major individual donations:
Help volunteers overcome the fear of fundraising
Most of us believe that we don't know much about fundraising. And many of us are afraid of it.
Ask people for money? Not me! No way!
Sound familiar? There is a solution: get them `hooked' on fundraising.
Many people find they get hooked on fundraising. They cite a number of reasons leading them to feel this way:
Remember: You're not begging: you're offering an opportunity.
It is easier to recruit volunteers if you remind them that the prospective donor is not going to be forced to do anything unpleasant.
The goal is to build a long-term and positive relationship with supporters who may give again and again over many years. Offer prospects an opportunity to fulfill their own best intentions. Contributions make a difference in people's lives no small benefit!
Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest known for his many books on spiritual journeys, tackled this very topic. Fundraising is proclaiming what you believe in, he said, and doing it in such a way that you offer the other person an opportunity to participate in your vision; precisely the opposite of begging People only invest money in people who know how to make money grow not in people who say they have nothing, who will start begging again next week Ask for money standing up, not bowing down.29
Neither guilt, embarrassment, harassment, pressure or any of the other negative reasons to give have any place in this kind of fundraising. The goal is not to extract money from unwilling victims by any means necessary. This is not the place to try to squeeze money from a rock or a turnip. At best, that gets money for today, and makes future fundraising much harder. At worst, it backfires immediately.
Some people are amazed to discover that this approach works! Here's an example of what happened when a tenants' rights group approached a slum landlord. The story is told by the board member who made the visit:
He didn't own any property where we were organizing. I knew he owned some really foul buildings in another part of town, though. I took some pictures in our neighbourhood, and took a community leader from that neighbourhood with me. We talked for a long time about irresponsible landlords, run-down properties, crisis in public housing and the like.
Don't do what feels wrong.
Some volunteers feel a prospect would only give as a personal favour. This certainly happens. However, it does not build a long-term relationship between the organization and the donor. It is seldom worthwhile.
Some volunteers feel they will be obliged to give an equally large gift to some other cause the prospect supports. This too happens. It is the organization's job to make this less likely, by keeping the donor excited about the work and pleased to be thanked so thoroughly.
Don't send any volunteer to ask for a donation from someone they don't want to ask. Some people are willing to ask strangers, but never someone they know. Others feel the exact opposite.
For more information on how to proceed once you have recruited them, refer to the chapter on how to train volunteer solicitors.
The next step is to identify potential donors. This may involve work by volunteers as well as staff (if you have any).