Don’t forget to ask!

The single most common mistake in fundraising is not asking for a gift. People are often uncomfortable asking for money, so they skirt the issue. People who are regularly approached for gifts know this! They will take your meeting, attend your lovely gala, enjoy a reception and go on their merry way, with checkbook intact unless someone says, “Bob, I’m giving a gift of $5,000 to support this organization, and I was hoping you would match my gift with $5,000 of your own.”

Don’t just ask for a “gift.”
When soliciting the gift, be sure to suggest a dollar amount. Do your research and ask around just before your meeting to be sure your prospect doesn’t have an unexpected financial constraint, such as medical bills, divorce, etc. Figure out what amount would be appropriate to ask for. You want to include the amount you are asking for, or else Bob will write you a check for $50, and you let a prospect worth $5000 get off $4950 light.

Don’t say anything after you have made “the ask.”
It can be uncomfortable asking for a gift, and any donor is going to want a moment to ponder his or her response. It is one of those silences that feels like an eternity. Just sit tight and keep your mouth shut. Let them respond. Listen to what they say and continue based on that response.

Don’t wait until the last minute.
Start early, really, really early. Many funding processes take anywhere from 3 to 12 months to complete. You need time in advance to develop and describe your program well. If you do a slip-shod job of that, you probably won’t get any funding. So start the process early and write compelling and exciting descriptions of the proposed program, who it will serve, and why you are the best organization to do this job. You sometimes need time to make personal contacts before applying too. Create a calendar of your future events with deadlines and timeframes for your most likely donors.

I’ve got my check; the process is done.
Change your thinking about the process. Most organizations believe the process of fundraising is over the minute they get their check. That is the beginning of the process! You now have the opportunity to build a real partnership and lasting relationship with this donor, if you do your stewardship well. The power to leverage is yours if you use it creatively. Focus more time and energy on this aspect of the process, and you will reap the rewards. If it is corporate gift, offer a discounted night for their employees. This could lead to a matching gift program. Find out when their board meets (yes, the foundations, corporations, and public funders all have board meetings too), and email your contact nice anecdotal information about the progress and success of the program a few days before. Send them handwritten letters from kids, heart-warming stories, photographs demonstrating the successes to date, etc. Don\’t wait until the end to send in your updates. You will create a partnership if you do this right.

Don’t be a chameleon!
Don’t invent new programs in order to go after specific funding without carefully and honestly thinking it through. During the assessment phase, always, always consider how well this will fit with your mission. You can change the direction of your organization by inventing these new programs. Over time they can consume your staff time and resources to a level where you can no longer achieve your original and true mission. The outside world may become less clear about who you are and what you do. Find funding for your programs! Skip the opportunities that aren’t a good fit.

Don’t try to fundraise from the outside in.
When building your base of support, your audience for your programs, and your funding, start with the people closest to you. Once you have them involved, move out to the next circle, and so on. Your first line of attack should be your board of directors. You should secure a significant gift from each member (it may vary from member to member). Once you have 100% of your board giving, you can expand to your patrons. These are the people who attend your events, volunteer in your office, and support what you are doing. These are the people you should target for your membership program. The same rule holds true with public funding; start with your city or county, expand to state opportunities, and then federal. Foundation funding should start with foundations in your vicinity and move outward from there. An established audience is an essential part of demonstrating the need for your organization and its services. You may have to do some programming in order to build the audience that funders will support.

Don’t become too dependent on any one source or type of funding.
A healthy budget is a diversified budget. You want to see as many of these income streams as possible. The more income sources supporting your organization, the less dependent you become on any one of them. Within each income source, strive for diversification as well. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.

Don’t let your board shirk their fundraising responsibilities.
Get your board to help. This requires work, and typically you will only have one or two members who will really go out and raise funds for you. These people should be your biggest supporters, best advocates, and have the connections to introduce you to funders.  See section: When Building a Fundraising Board

Don’t forget to thank your funders. Again. Again. Again.
You may think you acknowledge your funders, but chances are they think you could and should do it better. It is one of the easier things to do. Say thank you several different times and several different ways. Hand-written notes make a big impression. Some funders want a public acknowledgement, others want a more private and personal thanks, but they all want to feel appreciated. Spending more time on this and finding personalized and creative ways to show your appreciation is likely to pay off well in the future.

Involve your donors in your organization.
Once someone has given you a gift, you have an open-door invitation to involve them more in your organization. Significant donors tend to know other potential significant donors. If they feel they are a part of your organization, they are more likely to introduce you to their friends and colleagues. People give to people they know and because of people they know.