When I tell board members that asking for the gift is, in fact, one of the final steps in fundraising, I'm often met with confused looks. Their experience has been quite different.
Typically, they’ve been handed a list with emails or phone numbers of people they may or may not know and instructed to ask for money. Or they may have been given a stack of letters and encouraged to jot a PS or Post-It note urging the recipient to give. The result? These board members feel disconnected from the process and the donor, and struggle with making calls or writing the notes. The experience isolates the board member in a lonely task that’s most often done poorly, late, or not at all.
In my new book, Transform Your Board into a Fundraising Force, I share the experience that when I was a young professional, I volunteered to ask for money. I felt strongly about the organization’s mission and believed I could do a great job. Following a too-brief training on how to ask, however, I was handed a stack of names. I didn’t recognize a single person and slipped the stack of cards in my desk drawer. Later when I was asked if I had made my calls, I fibbed and said I’d been having trouble reaching the people. In the end, I did make hasty and mutually embarrassing calls with poor results.
Nothing quells the rise of a passionate fundraising force—or individual volunteer—as quickly as this wrongheaded approach. The risk of failure far outstrips the slim possibility of success.
Many board members I meet have no idea where the ask fits in with the ongoing relationship with a donor. They’re told they need to help raise money, that it’s their fiduciary duty. Board members feel the pressure, but few are ever involved in or have explained to them the myriad steps that precede the ask, such as setting a dollar goal, identifying would-be donors, arriving at an appropriate amount to ask for, pinpointing the right individual(s) to approach the prospect, and developing useful materials that can be brought along on the visit.
Once board members are aware of these preceding steps, it comes as an energizing relief to realize that it’s only after these measures have been completed that asking is considered. They come to understand that the process is deliberate, and that there are multiple roles they can play.
For example, board members with a wide swath of connections can play a pivotal role in identifying donors. Those who have lived in the community for years, and know the backstories of residents, can be helpful by suggesting a realistic amount to ask for. Those who are comfortable hosting events in their homes can be instrumental in cultivating donors. And board members who are comfortable asking, and perhaps have like-minded friends on the board, can form powerful solicitation teams.
I’ve heard hundreds of board members say they won’t make cold calls. And we shouldn’t ask them to. Nothing is more awkward for the asker or potential donor than a solicitation that isn’t preceded by relationship building.
When boards understand that asking for money is an endpoint for the roles they can play in making the warm handoff of the would-be donor to their friends, colleagues, neighbors, or family, they are heartened and their confidence and commitment often grow exponentially.