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Seven Keys to Getting Fundraising Donors

May 16, 2015 | Frank Bonanno

(take home goodies for a Children’s Hospital fundraiser at our house)

Our schools are under-capitalized and under-financed, and it’s a sad reality that suddenly every parent is a fundraiser. Heck, maybe you’re not a parent and it’s not even a school you’re raising money for—but somehow you got involved with a non-profit, and you never prepared for this. You’re not a philanthropist by profession; you’ve never been a sales person–yet somehow you’re seated on this board, involved in this cause, working this crowd. You need support, man.

Maybe you called me, or reached out to one of my restaurants for a gift certificate. Maybe I even helped you out, but here’s the deal: I have my own organizations to support. I sit on boards, I donate righteously to causes that resonate with me and if I go off that path, it’s as a kindness. I give because you’re a return client, a friend, a well-regarded peer. That being said, I don’t feel guilty when I turn down a donation request, because I don’t know you personally or professionally–but I do feel like I have some tips to offer that could make fundraising at this level more successful. So here goes (and particularly read that last tip, because even the pros fail there).

Seven Keys to Getting Fundraising Donors

1. Make an extensive list. If you’re asking for products from businesses, go to the businesses that you frequent. Think of every routine activity–daily, weekly, yearly. You cut your hair, get your lawn mowed, go to a certain office supplier. Maybe your kids had braces or perhaps you get your clogs from the same guy in Vail twice a year. However thin your connection may be, it’s a connection to a potential donor that gives you means of contact.
2. Once you’ve made an extensive list, get creative with your ask. Think of items beyond a typical gift certificate—something manageable for the donor. Instead of asking Tessa for a donation of clogs, maybe they’d offer up a certificate for buff and repair. Instead requesting an oil portrait, perhaps an artist would consider donating a 1 hour tutorial for four on water color techniques –more doable for him, and probably more money for your organization. A photo editing class instead of a professional sitting; not a bottle of bourbon, but a tour of the factory. Do you know someone with fantastic penmanship—ask her about contributing services to address graduation or wedding invitations. Maybe you could get a mountain resort to donate a kid’s ski or snowboarding lesson for two.
3. Consider your audience in your ask. Are you selling items at a preschool or is it a black tie event for a big name charity? Your donor wants to see the value of their contribution. Wouldn’t it be a pity to see your jeweler friend’s ten thousand dollar watch go for five hundred?
4. Have a personal contact. Cull from your extensive list and call or email a real person by name. If you’re going off list, take the two minutes to find a contact from online resources. Consider your own daily emails: would you read one that says “To the Smith Family Decision Maker” or “To the Person in Charge”? You’re asking for a favor, have the manners to address the person you are calling upon by name.
5. Make your plea short but specific. Briefly include your connection to the recipient, the cause at hand, when and where your event is, and your ask. In stating your connection (“I’m a big fan of your work”) don’t lie (“I stop by your shop every week”). Everything is computerized. We know.
6. Give the fella you’re asking a choice. Say “anything would be much appreciated, whether it’s a certificate for a shave or a lesson for a new teen on how to do it. I’m new at this so I’ll defer to you” (honesty goes a long long way).
7. For God’s sake, follow up any donations with both a thank you and a summary of what your item went for. This goes back to manners and common courtesy. No matter how great the cause, you’re essentially asking someone for a handout. If they come through, it’s more likely to honor you, not your cause. How nice that somebody did that for you. Thank them, damn it.