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Fundraising: Getting from Half-Full to Fully-Funded

While often we try to verbally convince people they can, or even try to motivate them through fear or guilt, the best way is to give them the opportunity to see how they can make a difference - a real difference, right now.

by Deedra Abboud in Social Views, Solutions
April 15, 2016 0 comments

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more; you are a leader. – John Quincy Adams, U.S. President

I recently attended a fundraiser for a non-profit focused on underprivileged children. The event included an overview of the many organizational projects and then invited attendees to sponsor a project by adding total funds for the project to an envelope. Those who did not want to sponsor an entire project could add funds to a general envelope. After giving time for donations, the keynote speaker took the stage and gave a beautiful speech – though it had absolutely nothing to do with the organization, its activities, or an invitation to support the organization.

The organization’s leader reached out to me for feedback about the event after a few days. She also shared that the fundraising goal was not met. I advised her that the event was very nice and very well organized, but that I could suggest some improvements to help her get closer to the fundraising goal next time.

First, understand the role of the keynote speaker and choose one accordingly. Many times organizations invite a “popular” or “known” speaker who delivers a great speech for themselves but provides little value for the organization or its mission. Either choose a keynote speaker who has a passion or interest in your organization, or at least express an expectation that the keynote speaker gives a speech that connects with your cause. The best keynote speakers will do this automatically. Unfortunately, speaker fees often put the best keynote speakers out of range of small non-profits. Remember, while a high-profile keynote speaker can be a draw for attendees, a good keynote speech that resonates with your audience and connects to your cause is of greater value. At the very least, the speaker must encourage the attendees to support the purpose of the event – donations.

Second, be unique. Add some unusual or uncommon element to your event. No matter the size or budget of a non-profit, a solutions-oriented leader can find many options if they think creatively. Some suggestions would be:

  1. Offer a book signing of the keynote speaker. Regardless of the status of the speaker, people like autographed books – even if they will never read the book.
  2. Offer interesting entertainment: a singer, a band, a comedian, a magician, a caricature artist. Local talent is often overlooked and inexpensive. Local entertainers will sometimes even show up for little or no money in order to sell their products or increase their own profile. People enjoy entertainment and will attend events of general interest to them for the opportunity to connect with people they know and enjoy some entertainment.
  3. Include a silent auction. Many companies will donate items to a non-profit silent auction if asked. This takes some planning, companies often want several months advanced notice, but the items companies are willing to donate will surprise you. Even individuals will donate items for the cause.
  4. The first time you add a unique element to your event will likely result in drawing more people to your event. If it goes well, people will remember your event as unique and be more likely to attend again. Even if the first time does not draw additional people, becoming known for your unique and entertaining events will draw more people each time because those who attended will talk about attending your event and others will want to experience it next time. Being unique is an immediate draw and a future investment, but it is about providing a unique experience, not necessarily a more costly one for the organization.

Third, choose one or two services or programs to highlight, don’t overwhelm or bore your audience with every tiny project. While an organization may provide many services or offer several programs, the majority of focus should be on the services or programs that resonate most with donors or are most easily demonstrated as effective. The organization should determine what those one or two services or programs are and highlight them at the event.

This could be done by conducting a survey of the people who have donated, or even of identified potential donors. It could also be done by determining which services or programs provide the most documented change or effects, whether statistical or anecdotal.

Fourth, people need visuals. Most problems non-profits are formed to solve are not “in the face” of potential donors on a daily basis. They seem almost abstract, or at least far removed from the everyday lives of people. The problems are also very large and complex, not easily or quickly solved. People often justify their limited donations because they see the problem is simply too big to solve. People are more moved to help when they can literally see how their contribution impacts the situation. They need to see things divided into manageable “stacks of ten.”

Graphs, pie charts, and statistics are possible ways of providing visuals, but unfortunately do not always get the attention they deserve. A solution-oriented leader should go deeper, look for new and visually stimulating visuals.

The non-profit I mentioned did well to create envelopes for full sponsorship of programs. People willing to do a full sponsorship, or even a group that combined their contributions to equal a full sponsorship, were able to see their contribution making a difference. But this system also had two negative effects.

A cap was placed on their contribution. They saw no need to contribute more and they had no incentive to give “partial” contributions.

Those who gave smaller donations to the general envelope had no motivation to give more either.

The organization could have majorly increased their donations by doing exactly as they did, but with one change. During the keynote speech, the organization could have taken the general money, counted it, place it in clear jars – each tube representing one full sponsorship – and writing on, or in front of, each jar the amount inside. After the keynote, the organization would announce to the attendees the remaining amount due for each jar to complete the full sponsorship. The attendees would likely fall all over themselves to add the extra funds needed – they would see their contribution as doable and having an immediate impact – because completing something, “stacks of ten,” always makes us feel successful.

During the keynote speech, the organization could have taken the general money, counted it, placed it in clear jars or tubes – each tube representing one full sponsorship – and writing on, or in front of, each jar the amount inside. After the keynote, the organization would announce to the attendees the remaining amount due for each jar to complete the full sponsorship. The attendees would likely fall all over themselves to add the extra funds needed. They would see their contribution as doable and having an immediate impact – because completing something, “stacks of ten,” always makes us feel successful.

Fifth, create urgency with integrity. Like sales, people only part with their money when they feel a sense of urgency. Though fear can provide urgency, it is not the only way. It is also not an available, or preferable, option for many non-profits.

The above visual of completing the jar sponsorship is an excellent way to create urgency. Anything that makes the problem seem smaller, or the solution seem doable, can create urgency.

Solution-oriented leaders should brainstorm with members of the organization to find other ways to create urgency among donors. Youth are particularly well equipped to provide fresh ideas.

This is about asking. Asking for what you want. Asking for what you need.

And then presenting a doable response to the donor. An ask that can be fulfilled. An ask that can be seen as making a difference.

It is surprising how often fundraising involves explaining the problem, maybe even the “solution,” but failing to actually ask. Never assume donors will “just get it.” Give them a roadmap.

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. – Barack Obama, U.S. President

And lastly, keep on keeping on. Even if your fundraisers come up short, you have to keep pushing forward, doing what you can, with what you have, and constantly looking for new ways to deliver on your mission and connect with donors. You have to keep your eye on your goals despite complaints, apathy, and pushback.

This is easier if you are passionate about the mission and remember why you joined the organization in the first place.

It is also easier if you can divide your goals and tasks into more manageable and motivating “stacks of ten” while always striving to be a solution-oriented leader.

To get people to yes, you have to change the conversation – from I can’t to I can. While often we try to verbally convince people they can, or even try to motivate them through fear or guilt, the best way is to give them the opportunity to see how they can make a difference – a real difference, right now.

You may be able to convince people that they can end poverty or educate every child, but you can break it up into “stacks of ten” so they can see for themselves how what they do can impact one thing, even if it is making a jar completely full.

Change the conversation by helping them see what they “can” do.

 

Do you invite keynote speakers to your events as a draw for attendees without considering whether the keynote speaker adds value, beyond their own popularity, to your fundraising event?

Do you look for ways to make your events more interesting and unique? Did any of the suggestions cause you to think of ideas you could implement?

Have you made efforts to determine what programs or services you provide that resonate the most with your donors?

Do you share statistical or anecdotal evidence of the success of your programs or services so potential donors can see their impact?

What kind of creative visuals could you use to inspire your donors and create urgency?

Are you passionate about your organization’s mission? Do you remember what motivated or inspired you to join the organization?

How do you keep yourself motivated in the face of adversity or disappointment?

How do you keep yourself from becoming overwhelmed with your tasks or “too big to solve” mission? Have you considered dividing tasks or projects into more motivating and manageable “stacks of ten?”

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