Five pointers on requesting a donation for a cause

Most people will need to raise money at some point: The school your child attends has a drive to fund a science retreat. Or your neighbor is soliciting funds for his autistic child and a local autism program. Can you secure five new donors for him?

John Kehe

This column is part of an occasional series about how you, too, can make a difference. It is written by the head of our partner organization UniversalGiving, which helps people give and volunteer in more than 100 countries.

You might not be a professional fundraiser, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be helping to raise funds!

It happens all the time. The school your child attends might have a drive to fund a science retreat. Your university asks you to help raise capital for a project, such as a new teaching position. Your neighbor is soliciting funds for his autistic child, which will also benefit a local autism program. Can you secure five new donors for him?

Let’s be prepared. Here are five pointers:

1. Develop the relationship first. Fundraising is never really about money. It’s about the opportunity to support a cause and support the individual who is asking you.

To be a good fundraiser, we should define people by their qualities of intelligence, kindness, generosity, and caring. You’ll have a community of friends for a lifetime. You’ll have sincere conversations and experience support when you need it (and give it when it’s needed). Then if it’s right, there may be a time to request a donation from someone.

2. Don’t “pitch” anyone. Language is important both when you are speaking to funders and when you are speaking about them, perhaps preparing for a meeting.

We should choose words carefully. For example, I try never to say “pitch.” We shouldn’t be “pitching someone on something.” We should be sharing an experience in a heartfelt way. This kind of sharing motivates people to give.

3. Raise funds at any time of year. So many people focus on fundraising at the end of the year. But again, fundraising is about building relationships – over the long term.

Crises such as hurricane Harvey or the plight of the Rohingya do not necessarily happen at the end of the year. Giving can take place at any time.

4. Be humble when you ask. I’d like to share an interesting story that recently happened. We have a requirement at UniversalGiving for each member of the board to make a $20,000 commitment. One member said he was not able to do it. First, I thanked him for all his wisdom and advice over the years. I expressed that we did not want to lose him.

Then I told him how we were hoping to have full board participation – that every board member give something. And I humbly asked, Would he be able to give $25?

What happened next was a wonderful surprise. The person came back saying he’d be happy to back us – to the tune of $5,000! We were so grateful. If you make a humble request, you might be pleasantly surprised.

5. Don’t be discouraged. What happens if you ask and nothing happens? Well, that’s not necessarily the case. For one thing, you’ll never know how people are moved by what you say. They’re glad to know about the cause you’ve taken up; they’re more educated about a world issue.

Be aware, too, there are many reasons someone might not give. Some high net-worth donors have their funds tied up in one asset. Or they might have their own cause. We should respect their choices.

If there’s no response to your request, it is certainly fine to follow up. If you still don’t hear anything, you can try a softer approach. Send a positive update or an article about your cause. You’ve started building a relationship. In time, the person may begin giving after he or she has seen progress.

To be a good fundraiser, you have to care about the cause as well as the people. Enjoy building these relationships!

Pamela Hawley is the founder and chief executive officer of UniversalGiving. She is a recipient of the Jefferson Award – the Nobel Prize of community service. She also writes the blog “Living and Giving.”

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