Did You Ask?
Have a fundraising challenge you want to crack? Weary of doing the same old, same old yet hoping for different outcomes? Do you want the over-the-top results that come from superior strategy?
Email me with your particular problem and I’ll arrange a quick consultation offering you a practical solution you can implement. I may even use your situation to share with my readers. Names are changed, of course!
When I was speaking with Sarah last week, I kept running through my head the possible explanations for the scenario she was relating to me. Sarah, the executive director of an arts nonprofit, was giving me a detailed review of her organization’s fundraising efforts—and the results.
This is an organization seemingly doing everything right. It does good work with programs that are well received in the community. It uses donor-focused communications and relationship-building events and venues. It has community presence, generated through ample media exposure.
Its fundraising results seem to defy these positives. Although philanthropic revenue is holding relatively steady, more and more it’s being generated from the usual transactional sources—galas, events, promotions. Even the “s” word—sponsorships—is generating a larger and larger share of the revenue pie.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with generating revenue this way.
What worries Sarah is the lackluster performance from individual donors. Arts organizations, as you know, are often heavily vested with individual investors. Sure, she has a handful of stalwarts. They’re getting older and fewer, however.
Sarah is right to be concerned.
The downside with transactional sources is they are far more sensitive to economic conditions than relational giving. They’re not renewable and are difficult to scale. What’s more, the bust of any one event or departure of one significant sponsor will spell havoc to the bottom line.
We reviewed each step in her plan. We discussed the communication calendar for donors. We looked at the cultivation program.
It all looked good.
I was beginning to feel stumped until I asked about the timing and manner of actual solicitations.
Asking is usually the problem, not the solution. Asking too often, at the wrong time, in the wrong way and for the wrong amounts are the top-identified negatives in the donor surveys.
When I asked Sarah, I learned they weren’t actually asking anything of anyone.
Sarah knew the dangers of over-solicitation. So much so, the organization had gradually adopted what I’ll call the “self-evident ask.”
It goes something like this: We’re so good, we do such good work and have such impact on the community it will be self-evident to prospective investors. Our good work alone will motivate people to give.
Principle 1 of The Eight Principles™ is Donors are the Drivers®. Donors drive the philanthropic engine. Every engine needs to be started. Asking donors is the starter.
I can count on one hand the number of unsolicited gifts I have received in my almost-30-year career, which were at a level anything close to being commensurate with ability.
Everyone wants to feel wanted. Everyone wants to be invited. That’s really what an effective solicitation is, anyway. An invitation. An invitation to change the world, make their community a better place, improve someone else’s life.
We often get so caught up in what we’re doing—and the way we see it—the obvious escapes us.
Sarah and I spent a few minutes sketching out a solicitation schedule. I asked her to get back with me in six months or so.
I can hardly wait to hear of the success she’s achieved. Her organization has plenty of friends and supporters. They just need to be invited to come closer.
Let me hear from you. Please share your situation and the challenges you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me and I’ll arrange a brief consult providing you with practical guidance. I’ll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
Success is waiting. Go out and achieve it.
Larry believes in the power of relationships and the power of philanthropy to create a better place and transform lives.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles. His mission is to give nonprofits and philanthropists alike the opportunity to achieve their shared visions. With more than 25 years of experience in charitable fundraising and philanthropy, Larry knows that financial sustainability and scalability is possible for any nonprofit organization or charitable cause and is dependent on neither size nor resources but instead with the commitment to create a shared vision.
Larry is the author of the award-wining book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising." He is the Association of Fundraising Professionals' 2010 Outstanding Development Executive and has ranked in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the United States by the Wall Street Business Network.
Larry is the creator of the revolutionary online fundraising training platform, The Oracle League.
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