Putting the FUN back in Fundraising

by Shon T. Erwin

I hate fundraising. Asking people for donations is painful and embarrassing, especially when they say no. Even if the donor says yes, you know the other shoe will fall—when the donor asks you for a donation and you must reciprocate. If you are a skilled fundraiser, and actually enjoy fundraising, then stop reading this now.

What is the #1 reason

people give to Charity?

Because it feels good!

What is the #1 reason

people do not give?

Because no one asked.

Last month the Oklahoma Bar Foundation (OBF) and the OBA jointly sponsored a workshop on fundraising for nonprofit organizations. The workshop was led by Andy Robinson, consultant and trainer for nonprofits. Andy is also the author of several books and articles on
fundraising. Andy shared his fresh perspectives on successful fundraising. With Andy’s permission, I will share some of my favorites with you in hopes of making you better, or at least, more informed fundraisers. You may never enjoy fundraising, but the information that follows will likely improve your performance as a fundraiser.

  1. Identifying your prospects. In general, prospective donors must meet at least two of the following three qualifications: Ability—Do they have any available money to give? Belief—Do they care about your issues, programs, etc.? Do they have a relationship with any of your board members, staff, or major donors? Recognize that 75% of all giving comes from individual donors with bequests generating 7% and corporate gifts only 5%. Recognize also the paradox of giving—the poorest states per capita give the most to charity.
  2. The closer you get the more you raise. People give money to people, not organizations. Therefore, you must want as much human contact with the donor as is reasonably possible. In terms of solicitation strategies, the following list descends from most effective to least effective:
    1. Personal face-to-face; team of two preferred over one
    2. Personal letter on personal stationery; telephone follow-up will improve results
    3. Personal phone call; follow-up letter will improve results
    4. Personalized letter
    5. Impersonal letter (direct mail)
    6. Impersonal telephone (telemarketing)
    7. Fundraising benefit/special event)
    8. Door-to-door canvassing
    9. Media/advertising
  3. Gift Ranges. In a typical annual campaign—the money that organizations raise each year for general support follows this pattern: 10% of the donors yield 60% of the money; 20% of the donors yield 20% of the money; and 70% of the donors yield 20% of the money. In other words, most organizations rely on a handful of major donors to generate the majority of their unrestricted income. Using this principle, you can set your goal and then calculate how many donations at each level you’ll need to meet that goal.
  4. The Ask. When asking for money you should listen more and talk less. If you want money, you should ask for advice. If you want advice you should ask for money. The point is that a fundraiser should ask why the potential donor gives— get that person to tell you what charitable organizations they feel passionate about and why. Know your organization, be prepared to identify what makes your group unique. More importantly, have a heartwarming story you can tell which describes the work of your organization. Statistics may raise eyebrows but emotions raise money—so go easy on the data and jargon. For law related nonprofit organizations, the fundraiser should transform the abstraction of justice into concrete examples of various legal service providers helping vulnerable adults and children find shelter, safety and assistance.
  5. Please and thank you. Most of you don’t need a purple dinosaur to remind you that please and thank are truly magic words. Many fundraisers lack the discipline to write a personal thank you note to a donor. There is power in personal correspondence and even more power in offering an in-person thank you.

I still hate fundraising, but what I hate more is that every day equal justice under the law is being denied Oklahomans. Equal justice under the law means nothing without equal access to justice. As the nation with the most lawyers, it is both shameful and ironic that so many of our citizens are without meaningful access to legal counsel; and that so many of our citizens are woefully ignorant of their basic legal rights and responsibilities. This is a cause to which we, as lawyers, are all called— let’s do some fundraising.

Shon T. Erwin is President of the Oklahoma Bar Foundation and may be reached at Judge_Shon_T_Erwin@okwd.uscourts.gov. Andy Robinson may be reached at andyfund@earthlink.net.