Monday, February 18, 2008

what to Say? Part 2

The restaurant is lovely. The food, delicious. Conversation has been lively and you now know all about her trials with the decorator. But whenever you begin talking about your organization, things seems to go south. She listens politely, appears interested, but asks no questions and offers no clues as to what about your organization could be a hot button. You are left not knowing what would make her open up her purse.

You go back to the office, feeling less than excited and your call report (you do write those, right?) is vague. You have no plan, no strategy for the next move, don’t really know what the next step should be.

If this at all sounds familiar, know that you are not alone.

A question I like to ask myself is “Why am I doing this?” It helps to focus me and makes me think about what outcomes I desire from a particular action or activity. What I want to get from something informs what I need to do at the front end.

With fundraising, there are a finite number of reasons—and an infinite number of variations on those reasons—as to why you made that appointment.

In many cases, you’re there because Joe suggested you meet with Judy, or because this person (or that corporation or foundation) is on your suspect list. Maybe you know they have money, or they’ve given to a like organization. You want to qualify them. That is, you want to find out if they have an interest and capacity to become a major donor for your organization.

Perhaps this meeting is because you want to move someone along the cultivation process to the next step on the journey to solicitation.

You might be ready for that solicitation and this is the meeting where you will be asking for the gift.

Perhaps the gift has just been made. You are being a good steward and this meeting is to thank them for their recent generosity. Of course, you are also starting the process for the next gift.

Maybe you happened to run into Stan and he agreed to see you. Or you made this appointment because you could and because your boss has been bugging you get out of the office and do a little of what they are paying you to do—raise some funds.

Let me suggest that if you do not have a clear reason, an outcome that you are expecting, perhaps you are just wasting your time. Fundraising needs to be purposeful. There must be a focus and a goal.

The best fundraiser I ever knew once told me that you should ask the prospect for something at every meeting. Your purpose for that meeting will dictate what you ask for, but it should always be something that connects the person to your organization. And your questions should always be adding information to your donor profile. The more you know about your prospect, the better you can match needs.

What kinds of things should you be asking for? We’ll discuss that next time.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Get ready

The NonProfit Times - The Leading Business Publication For Nonprofit Management:
"How would you feel if you discovered that 500 of your donors had created a group on a social networking Web site like Facebook to publicly discuss their experiences donating to your organization?"

Thanks for the reminder

Nonprofit Communications - Blog Archive - How to Get Reporters Interested in You: Cut the Bull:
"Nonprofits need to cut the bull! Blathering on about your wonky mission statement, the infinitely deep root causes of a problem, and the complicated system-wide solutions required just doesn’t work for print reporters who need to think in terms of hundreds of words, not thousands, and TV journalists who can give you only 30 seconds of airtime."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

California Cultural Data Project Launches

I recently attended a training session for the new California Cultural Data Project, an important new collaboration between major funders including the Getty Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation. Nonprofits applying for arts and cultural grants from these organizations must now submit their application using an online database that collects and systematizes financial data. The hope is that the project will streamline the funding application process and aggregate information on the sector.

The Cultural Data Project was launched in 2004 in Pennsylvania, where nonprofits and charitable organizations found great value in collaborating and systematizing data collection. More funders will be joining this year, and the project may expand to other California sectors if successful. Visit for more details.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

What To Say?

It was one of those questions that crystallized it all. “What,” asked one of the workshop participants, ” do I say when I am finally sitting in front of someone?“

Then she blushed and added, “That’s probably a really stupid question.”

Well….no, that actually is the question and it’s one that I think has stalled many a fundraiser or volunteer. We know we have to get to the ask, but how to get there? Do you just saunter up to the prospect and say, “So how much are you going to give?” If only.

We can probably all talk about our organizations. Tell the person sitting next to or across from us why what we do matters. Most likely you can even describe what your organization does—that is, what are its programs, and how it actually pushes its mission forward. But getting from there to the point where you are thanking the prospect for becoming a donor is a real sticking point.

Over the next few entries, I’ll be talking about the various aspects of what we all coyly call “The Ask.” Really, though, it’s many asks and the issues surrounding them are multi-faceted.

The first issue is you. How comfortable—or uncomfortable— are you with the idea of asking someone for money? You level of ease will create the environment and set the stage. The more awkward or hesitant you are about asking for money, the harder it is to get to that point. As a fundraiser, you feel no qualms about requesting support. Nor should you feel that what you are doing is somehow akin to begging.

I’ve worked with people who like to joke that their organizations are “equal opportunity beggars.” The first time I heard that I thought, “Cute.” The second time, I felt uncomfortable. Maybe I just don’t have a sense of humor, but I strongly believe that fundraising is most definitely not begging. In fact, it is almost the polar opposite.

So here is Rule #1 for successful fundraising: You must honestly believe that you are providing the prospect an opportunity to be a part of your organization and the work that you do. If you don’t believe that, you just may be in the wrong business. At the very least, you are at the wrong organization.

Rule #2 is to put yourself in your prospect’s place. Do the things that you are being told sound exciting? Are they things that you believe are important? Transformational? Necessary? Do you want to be a part of what this organization is doing? And if not, why on earth would you expect that anyone else would?

If you can provide an opportunity and think about it from the prospect’s vantage point, the right words at the right time will come.

Next time, we talk about those words and how you get to say them.

Janet Levine is a fundraising consultant. She can be reached at Her online grantwriting class is available at