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Do-It-Yourself Fundraising: How to Get Money for Your Nonprofit

May 2009

Nonprofits seem always to be looking for money. The panic of making budget seems to make raising money impossible without knowing someone rich and famous such as Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.

But fundraising isn't impossible. It can be an incredibly exciting adventure. Here is a simple plan to get your fundraising off to a good start and that you can use for years to come.

Get R.E.A.L.

To keep it easy, think about the acronym "R.E.A.L." It stands for Research, Engage, Ask, and Love.

Research

The first step of research is to figure out specifically how much you need to raise. This may seem obvious, but most groups never put a specific dollar amount on their need.

Once that need is determined, it's important to research how many gifts you'll need. If you're attempting to raise $100,000, the knee-jerk reaction will probably be "We just need to find 100 people that will give us $1,000." As nice as that seems, decades of fundraising experience have shown that that simply isn't how it works.

A gift grid is one of the most helpful tools for determining how many gifts it will take to reach your goal. A free on-line version can be found at www.GiftRangeCalculator.com. Over the years, fundraisers have found that you need at least one gift equaling 10 percent of the total. The next two should equal 5 percent of the total, etc.

So, to reach your goal of $100,000, you'll need at least one donor to give a minimum of $10,000. Experience also shows that you'll need to have four or five prospects to achieve that gift. Work through the grid until you have names of prospects for each level.

As you're building your prospect list, you'll want to continue your research. Google can be an incredibly helpful tool. So can your board members and a development committee that acts as a peer review committee. Invite these people to review your prospect list with you. At the meeting, remind them of your cause and fundraising goals, then go over the names of prospects.

One simple method for evaluating prospects is conducting what can be called a "CPI screening": rating each prospect on CAPACITY, PHILANTHROPY, and INTEREST.

  • Does the prospect have CAPACITY? I.e., are they financially able to make a gift?
  • Are they PHILANTHROPIC? That is, are they generous with their money? If the prospect can't make a worthwhile gift or doesn’t have a track record of giving, you would be better served seeking donations elsewhere.
  • Are they INTERESTED in your cause? Find out what other causes they've supported.

Have the people on the committee assign a score of 1 to 5 for each category, with 1 being lowest, 5 being highest. CPI screening can be useful because it removes individual personalities from prospect rating, making the process more objective.

You should promptly visit anyone scoring 12 or more. But watch for those with high scores in the first two categories and some inclination to your cause. Although you can't make someone more wealthy or generous, you can help them become more interested in your organization. Which brings us to the second step, engage.

Engage

This step is like the dating part of the relationship. It's important to get to know your prospects before you "pop the question." Although you'll certainly want to share the story of your cause, take time to get to know the potential donors—listen to their stories, discover their interests, hear their goals. If the prospect has C and P, then here's where you work on I.

Ask

The number one reason people don't give money to your cause is that they are not asked. Even if you skip the prior two steps, you'll still reach some level of success by consistently executing this one.

If you've done the first two steps, this step will be quite fun. You'll already have the odds in your favor. You know that your prospective donors are predisposed to saying "yes," and you'll have had time to shape the "ask" around their passions.

It can be helpful to ask people for gifts spread out over a period of time, i.e., "$1,000 a year for three years." This technique shows that you consider your cause important enough for a substantial investment, and it saves you from having to ask the same people for gifts again and again.

Love

This step is easy if the prospect said "yes" when you asked. Be sure to thank him or her about seven times before you ask again.

But fundraising is all about relationships. The work really starts if your potential donor said "no." The big thing is to not burn any bridges. If you made it all the way to the "ask," you had good reason to believe your prospect would say yes. The timing simply might not have been right. If you keep in touch, this person just may give in the future. People will remember you if you're exceptional at handling a "no." And refusing a request can be so difficult, they'll be grateful for your composure.

Closing Thoughts

Remember, every year more than $300 billion is given to nonprofits in the United States alone. Your nonprofit could definitely get a piece of those philanthropic dollars. But you need a realistic goal, a compelling story, and a disciplined approach to fundraising.

Congratulations—you're embarking on a wonderful adventure! Asking people for money is one of the best vocations in the world!

Marc A. Pitman
© 2009, Marc A. Pitman

Marc A. Pitman, author of Ask Without Fear! is the founder of FundraisingCoach.com. A sought-after speaker, his fundraising training both trains beginning fundraisers and re-energizes veterans. For more information, or to sign up for his free e-zine, please visit http://FundraisingCoach.com.