Oftentimes, a non-profit group will ask for donations via a direct solicitation. There are literally dozens of books about this type of charity fundraising, so I’ve limited this article to an overview of different solicitation approaches and notes on common mistakes to avoid.
Think about doing something different than you’ve done in the past. Consider offering something extra on top of your donation request. For example, consider doing some type of donor recognition with an item like a wall plaque or a personalized brick during capital campaign drives.
Don’t be afraid to vary your pitch from time to time. No one wants to hear the same tune over and over again, so make sure your message changes with the times.
Bottom line: “You need to ask for donations, so why not do it right?”
Donor Solicitation Tips
In charity fundraising, direct solicitation takes many forms:
Direct mail request
Fundraising letters are mailed to some combination of supporters, businesses, residents, potential constituency, etc. Mailings can vary from a simple postcard to an elaborately crafted, multi-page letter spelling out a group’s positions while also supplying a donation envelope or postcard.
Maximize results with this type of approach by focusing your efforts on building (or buying) a database of potential supporters and directing your efforts at these targets exclusively.
Personalized e-mail request
Similar to direct mail, a message is distributed to either a limited number of previous supporters or to a qualified group of potential contributors. The best messages are those that spell out a need, offer a solution of sorts, and create a sense of urgency via a call to action.
Avoid sending unsolicited, generic e-mails to large groups of strangers (aka spamming). Keep your e-mail lists private. Don’t provide “spam food” for others.
This is the premier tool in direct solicitation. Building your donor list is the second most important thing to do. The most important is to ask it to support your cause.
Remember the pyramid of donor potential and don’t waste your best prospects with a phone call. Make the call to the wealthy only to set up an appointment to discuss your group’s unique value and donor recognition program.
Like the other types of direct solicitation, work from a list of potential supporters, not a telephone book. If you are light on names, consider swapping lists with an organization of similar ideology.
Phone solicitation works best if you have a phone script, but only refer to it, don’t read from it. Make the phone call a conversation while getting your message across. Don’t try to force a pledge. Personally, I don’t like this form of solicitation. To me, it’s just another telemarketer asking me to part with my money.
I receive an average of three telemarketing calls per day, usually at dinnertime or kid’s bedtimes. None of these people have a relationship with me, nor will they ever establish one through those methods.
Always work from a list of known supporters or from a list of people familiar with your organization. Otherwise, you’re just another annoying telemarketer.
Group pledge drive
These involve getting people to sign pledges supporting a large cause from within their own group. One example would be the United Way type of fundraiser where an organization seeks pledges from amongst its members toward their own group donation goal. Another would be a capital campaign for a new building at a private school.
Personalized pledge drive
Here, someone is raising funds for self-promoted cause. Oftentimes, these involve a individual raising money on their own to achieve a goal. Examples would include someone soliciting funds for a self-rewarding event (pay for trip to World Youth Congress, etc.) or an individual getting backers linked to a bigger cause (pay ten cents a mile to back me in the bike-a-thon to help fund The Special Olympics).
Voluntary network of supporters
The best way to a steady revenue stream is to build one of these. Often seen in causes like public television or animal rights movements, they usually involve a central rallying point with emotional significance. Your best source of new volunteers is by asking your existing volunteers to recruit additional help.
This approach involves raising money by selling the rights to sponsor an event or some portion of it. Sponsors receive signage rights, prominent mention in event literature, and many other forms of recognition. This is widespread in the sports area and closely imitated elsewhere with many companies now sponsoring things like charitable golf tournaments, etc.
Personal sponsorship within an event
A further subcategory involves sponsoring an individual while they participate in a group fundraiser. These range from backing the efforts of a bicyclist within a local MS event to participating in The March of Dimes. This approach works best with either a noble cause, a challenge goal, or a strong personal connection.
This involves approaching large companies either for group appeals or for a straight donation to a cause. Many publicly traded corporations have a person or department responsible for community giving and philanthropic efforts. Find out who that person is and be prepared to tell them why your cause is worth their time and money. Make sure you offer to include their company name in any advertising or public acknowledgement.
Usually, this involves writing a proposal and presenting it to a decision-maker for approval. These grants could be from philanthropic groups, foundations, corporations, or governmental bodies. Often, they are tied to clearly defined expenditures or portions of an overall solution such as a grant for a new computer system for an organization.
Auction of donated goods
Here, a group will raise money by asking supporters to donate items that can be resold to other supporters or to the public. Items auctioned can range from fine art to leftover clothes. This method works best when tied to an auction of an ?exclusive? nature with restricted access and where refreshments are served.
This type of fundraising involves building a supporter base through signing up new members and collecting dues. It’s used by organizations ranging from the PTA to the NRA. Works best when tied to strongly supported group goals. Consider small monthly dues with a discount for annual payment. Give visible membership recognition such as bumper stickers, T-shirts, or member cards. (Think merchant discounts on the back of the card.)
Neighborhood canvassing approach to fundraising. It works best if you?re either a known local cause, part of a national or regional campaign, and can provide documentation of your membership within a certain organization. Drawbacks include resentment of intruders, laws against, permit requirements, and limited success rates.
These can vary from appeals for disaster relief to telethons targeting specific diseases. As with any fundraiser, the appeal must contain a call to action while creating a sense of urgency. Strive to overcome inertia as well as objections. Consider hiring a professional copywriter to craft the message to ensure getting the maximum response.
Charity Fundraising – Common Mistakes
Wearing out your donor base
Hitting up the same group of people repeatedly without giving feedback on previous results or accomplishments will have this effect. Avoid this problem by communicating the need and how it was met through their generosity. For best results, give specific results and mention tangible community benefits linked to previous giving.
Not expanding your donor base through community involvement
By working with other groups within your community, you expand your range of potential supporters.
Consider partnering with another organization whose supporters will be likely to support your group as well. Be sure to add everyone that you interact with to your contact database.
Not saying thank you
If people don’t feel appreciated, they are less likely to make a donation again in the future. Take time to create a personalized message conveying your appreciation. Thank your biggest donors in person or with an award.
Not giving feedback on results and what funds were used for
Make sure everyone knows that the goal was met, that it was exceeded, that “x” benefits resulted from “y” contributions. Consider publishing a formal capital campaign report. Don’t be afraid to provide full financial disclosure of your organization’s results. Prominently feature your biggest contributors with a profile, an interview, or other special recognition.
Not making them feel good for giving and want to continue to give
People not only want to be thanked; they want that appreciation to be known to others.
Publish your results in a nicely bound limited edition and distribute copies to major donors with their thanks embossed in gold on the cover.
Think of another ongoing recognition method such as framed certificates of merit, pictures of them accepting an award from your organization (ready for hanging in their office of course.)
Not enough publicity
Make sure that your fundraiser gets media notice. Your donors will also like the fact that others have heard of your program in the news. If your cause is worthy of your time and other people’s money, isn’t it worth pursuing a bit of extra publicity? Take the time to issue press releases, contact radio stations, write articles for the newspaper, and so on.
Not enough uniqueness
Define what sets your group apart from similar organizations. Get the message across that your group has a valuable voice that needs to be heard in community dialogue. If you are just like everyone else, then why should a donor be interested in supporting you? Take the time to craft a mission statement that speaks from the heart.
Growing stale in approach
Don’t be afraid to shake things up a little bit. It’s easy to ignore a group whose fundraising technique is so basic and unvaried from year to year that they don’t even have to open your letter to know what it says.
Make the need more real by making it vivid. Think of the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life” and paint a picture of how the world would be different without the efforts of your organization. Jimmy Stewart would have been great as a fundraiser!
Not asking for it – the best time is right now!
Finally, the biggest mistake that many capital campaigns make is by not asking for it. If you want monetary support, be bold and seek it out. If you don’t ask at all, then you’ll never get what you want.
Don’t shy away from approaching that potential major donor because everything isn’t perfect in your pitch or your past performance.
Instead, make a list of potential objections and then write out the answers to those roadblocks ahead of time. If you wait until everything is perfect, someone else will have their ear (and their check) before you take action.
Charity Fundraising – Summary
Don’t be afraid to ask. For a salesperson, the worst that can happen is hearing “no.” For a direct solicitation, the worst that can happen is to actually “know.”
You’ll find out immediately if your potential supporter believes in you enough to support your cause. If their answer is no, work on honing your value proposition and don’t be shy about asking for referrals anyway. Ask for a “top this” challenge letter to show others.
When you directly approach a person or an organization, you’ve at least created or increased their awareness of your non-profit group and its goals. A “know” oftentimes becomes a “yes” sometime in your charity fundraising future.