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Picking the Apples: Making the Ask
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Picking the Apples: Making the Ask

By Misty Cato Vice President, Diversified Nonprofit Services

Imagine planting an apple tree. One would first decide the location of the tree, prepare the land, plant the seeds, and would then care for the small plant as it grew into a large fruit bearing tree.

As this process occurred the caretaker would take time to ensure the fruit grew ripe and was then harvested. The caretaker would not be afraid to pick the apples from the tree as he would realize the apples would soon fall to ground and become rotten if not picked.

What is described above is logical, reasonable and largely universally agreed upon. This same logic could be applied to fundraising. In that an organization would conduct prospect research, cultivate prospects and then solicit gifts. Yet, in too many instances organizations, board volunteers and staff members fail to actually solicit the gifts or harvest the apples.

While fundraising is a bit of art and science there is one definitive truth: If you are afraid to ask for gifts, you will not receive gifts! There is no question that if your organization and board does not solicit gifts; then your annual campaign, your capital campaign or your black tie gala will fail.

It has often been said that asking for money is the 2nd greatest fear of all people. However, I believe that with some coaching, time spent harnessing one’s passion for the organization, and a little practice; even the most fearful solicitor can be successful. Below are a few tips that can help a solicitor manage the solicitation to a successful conclusion.

  1. Don’t apologize for asking: When soliciting gifts for your organization, do not apologize. You are not asking for yourself; you are asking for the individuals/clients the organization serves. Often these are people/clients without voices. As a solicitor you are providing others in your community the opportunity to invest in something that truly makes a difference.
  2. Focus on the real goal: The goal of any fundraising event or campaign should be to significantly impact or change lives. However, we often see solicitors begin a solicitation with “our goal is to raise $150,000”. It is important to remember that the monetary goal is simply the enabler and the “real” goal is the outcome the campaign/event will have on the clients served by the organization.
  3. Make your own generous contribution first: It is absolutely necessary that any solicitor first make their own generous contribution to the organization. This not only demonstrates personal commitment but aids in validating the organization.
  4. Face to Face solicitations are ALWAYS the most effective: While it is much easier to send an email, make a phone or write a letter; it is a proven fundraising principle that face to face, one on one solicitations yield a much higher return. Having a face to face meeting demonstrates the importance of the conversation, allows for dialogue, and provides the solicitor the opportunity to convey their passion and commitment to the organization.
  5. Ask for a Specific Amount and Aim High: Be prepared to suggest the maximum amount you believe the prospect can give to the organization. Remind the prospect of the long term benefits to the community.
  6. Say Thank You: Often when organizations conduct prospect research, cultivate and solicit donors they forget to provide the necessary stewardship to donors. It is important that after receiving a gift your organization communicates your appreciation of the gift. A hand written note is only the beginning of appropriate stewardship. Once someone invests in your organization it is your responsibility to communicate with that donor the results of their gift and the impact of that gift to the clients served. Stewardship is necessary to receive future gifts.

These are only a few tips that will aid in making a successful solicitation. Again, it is important to remember that the number one reason people give to an organization is not because of the mission, the scope or the history…it is because they are asked. If you are too fearful to make the ask; you will not receive the gift. Please practice your solicitations, use the tips above and pick the apples from the tree.