Individual Fundraising – How To Do It

Nobody likes to talk about money, but there comes a time in everyone’s life where you need to start having those hard conversations.  Now, you can continue to avoid the dread ‘M’ word issue or you can deal with the fact that every facet of your life deals with money.  The sooner you become comfortable talking about it in everyday conversation the easier this talk is going to be.

Non-profits thrive and prosper on the development team.  This part of the organization is the area that brings in the money and makes all the wheels turn from production to education to everyday operations.  In my research to become more apart of the dance world in Los Angeles I have recently applied for a development position.  In my prep for not only furthering my career, but an overarching understanding of the arts world from commercial to nonprofits it is important to grasp knowledge and research what you still need to learn.  One of the components of this potential position includes individual fundraising, which I do not have experience in, but you have to start somewhere.  Granted I have an understanding of grant writing, fund reporting, fundraising efforts with the community, database maintenance and upkeep, and donor event planning, but I have never done anything directly with individual donors and major gifts.  So, I did what I do best which is research like a crazy person.

Started by talking with a woman who has been in the major gift and solicitation game for thirty years.  She told me that following the 10, 10, 80 rule is the most important rule.  Ten percent of funding are grants – foundations, government, corporate, ten percent are smaller funding donations from annual appeals and e-mail solicitations, but eighty percent are your major donors.  These donors need to be cultivated, courted, and become part of the company’s family.  Understanding this rule I came to the understanding that individual giving is the most important aspect in development.  Needless to say I have gained a tremendous respect for the employees that have taken on this intimidating and daunting task of approaching people for funding.

So my thought to maximizing an individual giving program is to first draw up a plan with short and long term goals that have deadlines attached to them.  For example, start by concentrating on the circles that surround the company.  Around the company you have the executives of the organization and board members.  I would want to uses these people to test the case of support to the leadership by developing the story of the company that could be presented to donors (i.e. mission, artistic work, education, community…etc).  Exciting and engaging the people that are associated with the organization so they (board and other leaders) will participate and are comfortable to participate and give one hundred percent to fundraising plan.

Once you have the leadership on board and the basic pitch it is time to get to know the database of the company.  What do your current donors have in common?  Are their relationships between the donors (i.e. friends, family, or board relation)?  Once you are able to separate your current donors into giving categories take a look at other organizations to see if their giving levels are the same or is their a potential for a higher donation that hasn’t been tapped.  Don’t solicit your donors the same.  Continue to target and ask for the right amount for the right type of area of the company to fund.  Continue to communicate to all donors through multiple channels – social media, mail, e-mail, and individualize calls and letters.

Next it is time to leverage the connections.  You know how I was talking about those circles around the organization?  Well the next circle would be friends, associates, and connections with VIPs of the company.  Enlist board support by getting their inner circle to get to know the organization by hosting a small event in a personal setting.  Educate, inform, and involve them.  Cultivate the relationship long-term.  Getting the donor to go from donation to investment in the organization is key.  You want these people to not only give money but believe strongly in the organization.  To do this you need to develop an investment opportunity, give the donor an opportunity to transform the organization or the community, and then you as the organization need to demonstrate that change.

Donor solicitation is a lot like dating.  First you get to know a person.  What are their interests?  How could their interest connect with the company’s interests?  If both of the parties (i.e. the individual and the company) interests can connect in a positive way you start a courtship with the donor.  Throughout the courtship you educate them about the company, find common interests, and get the donor to connect in a personal way.  From their comes the commitment (i.e. the proposal).  The asking for the funds from the donor and how their investment will be used.  Looking at solicitation like dating makes it a little less scary because it fits on a level that everyone can relate to in society.  The thing to remember is that money isn’t as scary to talk about it if you can find a common ground.

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