(Photo by J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia)
“How to Give” is a monthly column by local philanthropy wizard Lansie Sylvia. In it, Lansie answers readers’ questions about millennials, philanthropy and engaging the next generation of givers. To ask her a question, tweet @FancyLansie.
THIS MONTH’S QUESTION:
How do you get started asking people for money when you’ve never done it before? I just joined a new giving circle that invests in progressive groups and I want to raise $1,500 to contribute to it. I’m having a hard time starting conversations about giving and social justice, especially with my stingy and not-politically-hip relatives.
You’re making your first fundraising ask! Congratulations! I wish there was a cute object I could bronze and gift to you. Maybe a phone since it’s likely you’ll be doing much of your pitching and nudging via cell?
There’s a lot to dig into here, the first of which being that you’re starting your “asks” with your family. That is a natural place to start (even startups often call their first round of funding the “friends and family round”) but given your particular circumstances, I might hold off for a bit. Here’s why: Asking for money can feel really scary, so you’re going to want to build up your confidence with small wins.
Secondly, you’re raising money for a group that then redistributes it to other groups. That’s a harder sell for most people — most individuals want to be as directly connected to their giving as possible. Which brings us to the third challenge — you want to raise money for a “political” cause with your not-politically-hip relatives.
I’d argue that all giving is political in some sense, but we’re living in Trump’s America, where everything feels extra-divisive and lacking in compromise.
Weirdly enough, it doesn’t change my advice, but I do acknowledge that this climate is still really new to all of us, so proceed with caution, empathy and deep breaths.
Fundraising is equal parts inspiration and persistence. Yes, you want to dazzle the person you’re speaking to with an authentic, moving narrative, but then you also need to get them to actually give you money. Even the best, most well-intentioned people are busy and forgetful, so it’s likely that you’ll need to follow-up with people multiple times to secure the gift.
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Make a spreadsheet mapping out everyone you’re asking, contact info, when you’re asking, how much you’re asking for, when you’re going to follow up and the final donation amount. This will also help you to map trends. For example, did people respond better to phone calls, emails or an in-person ask?
Connect yourself to the cause.
People give to people, so you need to connect yourself to the cause you’re supporting in a very direct and obvious way. Be specific. Talk about the moment you knew you wanted to get involved. Was is a specific news story? Did you hear someone speak and it moved you? Talk about that moment and then connect it to how you found, and invested in, the cause you’re supporting.
Write a script.
It’s easy to get flustered when asking someone for a donation, so it helps to start with a script. For me, the easiest way is to format it as a Q&A, which helps mimic the flow of an actual conversation. Start with general questions and then add specifics based on the people you’ll be speaking with. I start with these:
- Why did you become involved with this organization?
- What does this organization do?
- Why is it different from other organizations?
- How much money do you want and what is it going to?
- What’s in it for me? (i.e. how does the gift benefit the life of the donor)
Then you want one to three sentences to answer each question. No more than that! Keeping it short will force you to get to the point and will help you memorize each point.
Remember what I said about being really obvious? Here’s another place to practice it! Use the words “you / your” and “because” to make very clear connections. For example, “Your donation provides books for kids, because learning can’t wait” or “I’m asking you to join me in saving this pit bull because innocent animals deserve love.” It may seem obvious to you why the cause is important, but making it explicit leaves no room for misunderstanding and makes it easier for the donor to buy-in.
This is the most important thing — practice with a real person! My favorite format is a “pitch and six” — you get a six-pack of fancy beer and gather six friends that you trust, have them over, and make your pitch. Preferably these friends will not be familiar with your cause — it replicates the actual situation you’ll be in! The “one beer for one person” part is important because drunk feedback isn’t helpful and you want to feel comfortable.
Give your pitch and then ask your friends for feedback. I like starting with the following questions:
- How can I make this better?
- Was anything confusing?
- What did you want to know more about?
- What did you want to know less about?
Go through the pitch three to four times or until you feel comfortable. Once you’re finished, ask those six people to be the first ones to make a donation!
Set a deadline.
Fundraising can be exhausting, so give yourself a finish line to strive toward. Three weeks is usually enough time to make your initial asks, follow up with texts and emails, and give a final deadline (I recommend a Friday or Saturday). After you hit your deadline, assess how close you are to your goal. Did you meet it? Yahoo! Celebrate your achievement. Are you off your goal? Then decide if you have one more week in you. Just take it week by week.
The hardest thing is to do the thing, and you’ll get better at asking for money the more often you do it. Keep asking, don’t take rejection personally, and be proud of yourself for engaging in this effort. The world is a better place because of it!-30-
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