Andy Robinson on Fundraising

As part of our continuing series on nonprofit effectiveness, Common Good Vermont asked Andy Robinson to shed light on your board’s potential to raise funds. You can sign up for his upcoming webinar slated for 10/28 at 2 p.m. Getting Your Board to Raise Money: Plan B (and C and D and…)

Andy Robinson

Andy, are fundraisers “born” or “made”?

The answer is “yes” and “yes.” Some people will never be comfortable asking for money, despite a lot of training, support and even therapy. Others are born salespeople.

However, we need to understand that the asking-for-money part is only 20% of the work in fundraising; the other 80% encompasses identifying prospective donors, educating and cultivating them, thanking and recognizing those who give, and looking for ways to involve them in your work.

We need to broaden the definition of fundraising to include this entire cycle of activities. Given this broader definition, I believe that everyone involved with nonprofits can be (and should be) a fundraiser. Not everyone will be an asker — this makes me sad, but I am a realist — but everyone can be a fundraiser.

Why is it so hard for board members to raise money?

Oh, let us count the ways: lack of time, poor organization, lack of training, poor understanding of the mission, fear of rejection, etc. The biggest barrier is the money taboo — money is perceived as private, dirty, corrupting, sacred, scarce, powerful, secret, etc.  Until we accept that money is value-neutral — it’s neither good nor evil, it’s just a tool you need to accomplish your mission — fundraising will always be challenging

BTW, 95% of nonprofit boards stink at raising money. I could lead board fundraising workshops 24/7/365. The demand is endless. So if your board struggles with this, take heart. You are not alone.

What do board members need to know to start raising money now?

The most effective way to raise money is face to face — people will give you five to ten times more in person than they will send through the mail. Unfortunately, face to face is also the scariest way to raise money. So if you want to raise money NOW, find someone who has experience raising gifts in person and apprentice yourself. Go along on a couple of donor visits. Observe and learn. Then call your own donors and ask for meetings.

Humility is always good, so try this when you call a donor: “We are learning how to raise money in person, and it’s a little intimidating. With your permission, I’d like to set up a meeting and practice on you. Just so we’re clear, it’s a real ask; I hope you’ll give. But more than the money, we really need someone who can give us good feedback. May I arrange a time to practice with you?”

FYI, I know several nonprofits (including somel in Vermont) that had their best fundraising years ever in 2009, in the middle of the recession. Why? How? They looked for ways to more deeply engage their donors, and they did a lot more face to face asks.

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