Fundraising through advice visits

Wouldn't it be great if someone could give you one piece of fundraising advice which would instantaneously help you to raise more money? That's why you clicked on the blog link isn't it? Well, here you go... drum roll, please...

Ask for your donor's advice!

I know what you are thinking, wait a minute I thought you were going to give me fundraising advice, and now you are asking me to ask my donors. That's not fair!  Give me a few seconds of your time to explain.

Several years ago I was working with a non-profit who had embarked on a capital campaign to build a new building that would literally change their client's lives.  The story was compelling, and the result of the new building would be life-changing. The organization's staff was committed to achieving the goal. So what was the problem? The problem was that this organization didn't have a donor base. Zero. Nadda. Nothing. So how were we going to raise several millions of dollars in less than two years? We had to find dozen of supporters, and quick. We raised the money, and built the building by following one simple piece of  fundraising advice I learned years ago:

"Ask for their advice, and they will give you their money. Ask for their money and they will give you their advice." -Unknown

The way we raised millions of dollars was by rolling up our sleeves, picking up the phone, and calling some of the most wealthy people in the community. Here's the catch, we didn't ask them for their money, we asked them for their fundraising advice! Here are 4 things I learned when asking for fundraising advice:

  1. People want to talk about themselves: People enjoy sharing their experiences and knowledge with others. All you have to do is ask (and listen).
  2. People want to be a part of the solution: Investors want to feel like they are making a difference and help when they can. "Non-profits are good at sharing social problems, but often struggle to simplify and share clearly how others can help (other than giving money).  
  3. People love to say "yes" when you ask for their advice: After asking for an investors' fundraising advice, I often follow up with a question such as "can I count on your help?" The majority of the time they say yes. If they say no, they are usually still willing to help but may need to negotiate the amount of time and resources they can offer.
  4. Fundraising advice visits help others take ownership: By asking for fundraising advice, you are empowering your investors. You are allowing them to choose how they would like to help.

Here are 4 things for you to consider:

  1. Be Prepared: If someone is polite enough to meet with you, please make sure you are prepared for your visit. This means taking the time to do your research on the person you are meeting with, and on the questions, you plan to ask. Don't worry about memorizing all of your questions. It is OK to write them down in a notepad and bring them with you. In fact, a great way to show you are listening is to ask the person you are asking for fundraising advice from if you can take notes. This allows you to ask further clarifying questions to make sure you understand what they are saying, and allows you to have detailed notes on what you discussed.  Be prepared to ask the tough questions.  If delivered correctly, the answers to the questions can provide invaluable feedback. Asking the right questions also increases the potential investor's confidence in your abilities and the non-profit you represent.
  2. Act on their advice: When asking for someone's fundraising advice you are asking them to share their time, experience, expertise and connections with you. You are asking the person you are talking with to invest in your cause. "Don't ask for fundraising advice, if you are not prepared to act in some way on the information you receive." 
  3. Thank them for their help: This may sound obvious, but make sure when someone offers their advice you thank them for their support. I mention this because my guess is, while most non-profits have a written plan to thank people for their donation, they do not have a plan to thank investors for their fundraising advice.
  4. Don't ask them for anything (else): If there is one thing that non-profits are good at, it is asking for something.  It is important when you ask for fundraising advice that it is the only thing you ask for during the visit. Trying to combine multiple asks during this time will diminish the effectiveness of the request and confuse investors. Always be clear on your intentions. Never use an advice visit as a sales pitch platform.

Before you finish the conversation, I would ask one more question "what can I do for you?  This simple question shows your investor that you not only appreciate their fundraising advice but that you are willing to return the favor.  While there is no magic secret that will guarantee you will raise more money, asking for someone's fundraising advice is a tool that can definitely help. Good luck!


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