Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lose The Fear

Last night in Georgetown I was speaking before a Board of a small nonprofit about fundraising. Quite by accident I stumbled into a life lesson. I had asked, by way of introduction, why the members of the Board were involved in the organization. I wrote their answers on a flipchart...things like "we save the lives of children" and "we give families a second chance" and even, "we create the future leaders of Georgetown." Powerful stuff. That flipchart page faced the audience for the rest of the evening. What happened next surprised me.

The fundraising committee of the Board decided that their goal should be to raise $64,000 in major gifts in the coming year, major gifts for this organization being a gift of $5,000 or so. I asked who would be willing to ask the local bank President (I made this person up. I was just using that title as an example) for $5,000. Remember, that flipchart page was up behind me, you know, the one with "save the lives of children" etc. on it. The assembled volunteers said that they were scared of fundraising. No one said that they would be willing to ask for $5,000. Someone said, we have to learn to "lose the fear". I almost went down the path of talking about how to make an "ask" fearlessly when I stopped for a moment.

It was not that they were scared of fundraising. With further discussion we found that no one knew what $5,000 would do to help them. They did not know if $5,000 would sponsor a child, pay for a program, expand the supply cabinet, or what. It was not fear. It was not passion (remember that flipchart page). It was simply that they could not bring themselves to ask someone for money when they did not know what the money was for.

The moral of the story is to avoid simple excuses. Instead of fear it was a lack of understanding of how to connect organizational needs to what was staring them in the face...the good the organization does for the community.

We all lost the fear of fundraising once we started talking about marketing materials and how to communicate the need. It was a break through moment that occurred by not letting the easy answer of "I am scared of fundraising" be the last thing heard.


Melanie Kinross said...

There is a brilliant example of excellent fundraising in series 3 (I think) of The Wire when the Boxing trainer is asking major drug baron Avon for some money to kit out his gym. He provides a list of what he needs, which includes new punch bags, appropriate clothes for his trainees to wear in matches and promises that Avon will have his photo above the door. Avon asks him how much he wants and he hesitates and looks very nervous. $10,000 he stutters...
Avon looks at his 2nd in command and bursts out laughing. $10,000! he cries. Boxing guy looks disappointed. 2nd in command goes next door and gives him the money straight away, in cash. Avon was obviously expecting to be asked for $100,000+. A pleasant surprise all round.

George Stevens said...

So Melanie, how do you figure out how much is too much...or not enough? We don't take drug money, but it would be especially hard coming up with a dollar amount for someone who does not advertize their giving potential.

Do you have ideas a small organization in a small town can use to determine ask amounts?